Sculptor John Lopez may be an understated ranch boy at heart but his sculptures are anything but. They are big, bold and magnificent, soaring high into the prairie skies of South Dakota where he was born, raised and still resides.
After starting out sculpting in bronze, John soon discovered the appeal of scrap metal which he re-purposes from ranches and uses to create, in the main, ginormous, powerful beasts from buffalo to bison, horses and rhinos. The Friesian horse featured at the top was created from the leftover remains of a valuable collection of John Deere tractors that were burnt in a fire. John says, ‘My friend Kenny Tomac and I dug through the ruins to find so many plow discs that the Friesian ended up with eight, giving it a more unified feel than the other horses in the Grand River Series. I used the hames for the muscles in the neck and hind leg, a pitchfork in the neck, steel scoop shovels for the shoulders, and real horse shoes on the hooves.’
The success of his work even led him to France in 2015 after being asked by luxury fashion brand Hermès to select items from their Parisian workshop to use in a new sculpture for a window display in Houston.
So how does a guy get from the prairies and welding workshops of South Dakota to a Hermès store in Paris? Please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your background and how you’ve ended up where you are today.
It is hard for me to believe as well but the Paris thing was so much fun. I started doing this hybrid metal art style of work about ten years ago after my aunt Effie died. I did a really cool gate for her new cemetery and after doing the gate out of some of my uncle’s found objects I was hooked. Before doing the scrap iron works I did bronze sculpting for ten years.
What’s the appeal of scrap metal?
I’ve always wanted to do pieces like this since I first saw one by another artist in a sculpture show I was in some years back. To put my own spin on these pieces I try to make them super real and include a few of my cast bronzes with all the other found objects to add some interest.
Tell us about your creative process – how do you like to work, what inspires you?
The ranch country I live in really inspires me – the wide open spaces, rivers and sky. My horse is a huge inspiration to me as well.
What would be your dream project or have you already done it?
I have countless number of things I would love to do – too many to count. I’m working on my masterpiece right now called “The Last Stand”. It is of Custer and Sitting Bull at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. [In 1885, Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer and the Seventh Cavalry launched an attack on Sioux Chief Sitting Bull’s camp on Montana’s Little Bighorn River in which the Indians won].
What are some of your important tools of trade?
I use a wire feed welder and a plazma cutter. Also I have a sedaline torch to heat up and bend things.
Tell us about the importance of upcycling and sustainability for you?
I think it is really interesting to use objects that have been thrown out and discarded and turned into something of beauty. Most of the things I use were used during the Great Depression in the 1930s. So it is a rebirth of those items in a way.
Do you have any big projects in the pipeline? Tell us about them.
“The Last Stand” is my big project. Two Bison Bulls fighting it out and bronze castings of Custer and Sitting bull’s portraits are facing each other as they peer out from within their own bison.
It’s not very cool, but I really like …
Living where I grew up. I love the people and the land here. I hear a lot of people ask me, ‘Why are you here in Lemmon – you could be anywhere but you choose to be in your home town?’ My family is very important to me so I’m glad to be a part of some of their day-to-day things.
Have you ever had a ‘who’d have thought’ moment?
Who would have ever thought that I would get a job for a company like Hermès and they would fly me to Paris to pick out materials for sculptures they wanted me to build? Never in a million. I’m just a simple ranch kid that rode horses and fixed fences. Who ever thought I would meet Dan Brown and he would tell me he was a fan of my work. It’s been quite a ride.