Frank Plant is a Barcelona-based American sculptor who works primarily in welded steel. Recently, Plant shared with me some of his newest work, a series called Organic Matters that features large-scale steel drawings of potted plants. And although these are his most obvious plant-inspired pieces, I found that much of his earlier work touched on the interaction between man and nature. Seeing as Plant went out of his way to get in touch with me, I took the opportunity to ask a few questions and delve a little deeper into his process.
All decorum and professionalism aside, your last name is Plant. I’ve never encountered that before. Is there a background there?
No background more than Irish immigrants on my paternal grandfather’s side . As a child everyone was curious to know if I was related to Robert Plant, but that was the only offbeat thing that I encountered with my name.
Most of your work focuses on humans and their interactions with each other and daily tasks, often mundane: doing laundry, selling hotdogs, going to the beach. You work in steel and often create images of utilitarian items like guns, trucks, chairs, etc. What made you want to sculpt something organic (Organic Matters)? Do you see this as a departure from your usual subjects, or in line with them?
I love the poetry of the mundane and also some objects I pick out solely for their form and composition, others for their symbolism. I first became excited about plants realizing a very small one for the piece The Tea Party. The possibilities immediately struck me and I moved on from there. I knew they had to be a bit larger though. I’ve always been a fan of Rousseau so perhaps the next step would be to do a jungle scene or multiple plants. Also some years ago I did a series of fingerprints which was my first real brush you could say with working with more natural and organic forms.
A lot of your work from 2010 features green flocking, giving the appearance that it is covered in moss. You write that you intended to give the impression that “we are all untended gardens,” and “non-rolling stones.” Can you elaborate on this a little bit? What did you like or dislike about the effect flocking gave your work (considering you seem to have discontinued its use)?
When I taught, as a creative exercise I would ask students if they were a song what kind of song would they be? What kind of car? Etc. etc. The flock pieces are an extension of that except using gardens as the example: would you be manicured? Would you be savage? Would you be Versailles or the Amazon? I like to make comparisons like that as a way of expressing ideas creatively and after all, we are organisms.
Flock I love and someday I will get back to it for certain, it has so much potential I feel that I have only scratched the surface.
You seem interested in the trappings of city life and the conveniences (and inconveniences) of modern life, some of them rather unglamorous: urinals, subways, shoes, blow-up dolls. Some might see your work as a bit bleak. Do you see the future as a Fritz Lang-style Metropolis? Where do plants come in to the picture? Some of your more uplifting work, like “The Idea” and “Sunday in the Park,” both from your 2010 flocking period, seem to imply plants might offer a respite from the banalities of everyday life.
I come at different things from different angles at different times but there is a certain pragmatism in some of the more socially involved work that I do. If I had to break it down it basically comes down to my idea that symbolically as well as compositionally plants are just plain awesome. Symbols of life and growth. Organic and infinite and on and on. Love it, love them.
I noticed your e-mail moniker is “plantlife” – what’s up with that?
Hahaha. I’m Plantlife and my brother is Plantastic. A friend of mine had a t-shirt printed up with the words “plantlife” on it and gave it to me as a birthday gift years ago and it stuck.
Lastly, do plants play a role in your personal life in any way?
Yeah, I have tons of plants. I have a massive terrace full of plants that just keeps growing from year to year. My mother has always been a gardener and as a kid I just didn’t get it but now my favorite 45 minutes of the day are on the terrace watering the plants.
Photos © Frank Plant
For more about Plant and his work, be sure to visit his online portfolio.