“Sometimes you go days and just make objects, and then one moment something will happen and it kind of clicks, and you’ll suddenly realize that you’ve gone from just making things to actually making art. It’s exhilarating.”
(American, born 1947)
For the past four decades, Michael Dunbar has worked continuously as a professional sculptor building monumental abstract works of art in steel or bronze.
Visually, Dunbar’s sculptures address an ongoing investigation into the aesthetic images of scientific equipment that has been instrumental in the evolution and advancement of civilization. With a modernist’s enthusiasm for science and technology, Dunbar continues to produce grand structures that amalgamate science and art.
An important aspect in the creation of his monumental works is the smaller scale models which he refers to as the “Machinist Studies”. The bronze Machinist Studies are an essential step in the progression from ideas to the fabrication of large-scale sculptures. Not only are they used in the concept presentation for major commissions, they are the pattern models for the fabrication of each component as well as the build manual for the step by step process as each piece comes together for the final assembly of the large scale sculpture. These “Machinist Studies” are works of art on their own.
On both large scale and small, the work is driven by mathematical relationships and machined precision. Threading through the sculptures are references to clocks, armillary spheres, astrolabes, sextants, compasses, or some essential component in a scientific instrument used in the aerospace industry to chart a course or mark passage in our quest to explore the unexplored.
All the forms and detailed components fit together as accurately as the working parts of a fine chronograph or a telescopic tracking platform. In addition to the structural integrity of the fabrication process, the intricate mechanisms reinforce the visual reference to the promise of continued progress through scientific exploration.
Critical to the complexity of the sculpture is the functionality of every nut and bolt and the logic of the precision fit from component to component. In addition to the structural integrity of the fabrication process, the connectors serve as visual accents of scale, dimension and function. Yet the sculptures are also about the craftsmanship of tool-makers and the industrial ingenuity that arrives from the purity of design and the necessity of function.
Volumetrically the contrast of shadows and precision crafted surfaces define positive and negative spaces clarifying the powerful relationship between the inner and the outer mass and formal structures. Aware of the incremental changes in detail and its importance as the scale of the sculptures increase, every element has its part in defining the positive and negative spaces, shadows, connecting joints, counter-sunk bolts and recessed openings.
The result is a greater sense of mass and substance that occurs at every increase in size while maintaining a highly ambiguous sense of purpose or function at any scale. Through the use of complex interlocking connections and repetitive forms, these sculptures imply a sense of animation and levitation as if captured in a moment of transition.
Compelled as an artist to present and preserve beauty, grace, and harmony, there is an intentional elegance to the precision crafted sculptures that make up the body of Michael Dunbar’s art work.
“Precisionist Sculpture for the New Millennium,” Continuum, The Art of Michael Dunbar in the Sculptural Tradition
Thea Burger is a private museum curator, artist representative and consultant involved in the arts for over thirty-five years. She has organized a multitude of private and corporate collections and curated numerous traveling museum exhibitions.