Metal fabricating and plastic injection molding might not come immediately to mind when one thinks about the tools of a sculptor’s trade. But in the hands of Joe Culver, Macomb art alum, they become works of art.
Take Consolidation Attempt #5, which incorporated rejected plastic parts from the shop where he worked with different sized steel levers. He suspended the sculpture from the ceiling of the Anton Art Center for the 42nd Michigan Annual Competition, a juried exhibit featuring works from artists across the state. It took first place.
“The center’s staff helped me unleash my vision in the gallery,” says Culver. “Macomb’s Art program and the Anton Art Center are the oasis of art in Macomb County.”
Culver, who took every art class at Anchor Bay High School, studied at Macomb under Todd Mitchell, art faculty. After transferring to Wayne State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts, Culver stayed on at Macomb for three years as a studio assistant. He helped Mitchell run the fine arts foundry, unique among community colleges, where students learn how to cast in bronze and other metals.
“Todd Mitchell was pivotal in both my career and personal development,” says Culver. “He helped me flesh out what it was that I wanted to do.”
In addition to Michigan Annual honors, Culver took best of show at Wayne State’s annual exhibit of graduating seniors’ work. Since then, his sculptures have been seen at the ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, the Grosse Pointe Art Center, and the Scarab Club, Whitdel Arts and Tangent Gallery in Detroit.
“Inspiration comes from how things work. Materials and processes are everything,” enthuses Culver, who has been drawing study after study of the infamous spike protein associated with COVID-19 in preparation for his next sculpture. “I’m fascinated by its shape and modulation.”
Culver has also been channeling his creative impulses into designing induction heating modules for Koil Boi, a company he and his brother formed during the pandemic. The square boxes come in neon colors and patterns reminiscent of a kaleidoscope.
“I have a passion for making,” says Culver, who is currently renovating his basement studio to provide more room for the burgeoning business. “Hobbies and interests are front and center for me. I’ve made careers out of them, and I always love what I do.”
Despite the confident exuberance that he approaches his work with today, Culver admits that he was unsure of himself as an artist when he enrolled at Macomb directly from high school.
“Under Todd, I learned about sculpture, which can be anything.” relates Culver, who remains close with his former professor. “My time at Macomb was among the best years of my life.”