Donald Gialanella brings car parts sculptures to Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo

Opening reception March 5, 6-9 p.m.

click to enlarge Celestial Fish by Donald Gialanella, 2018 - HALES PHOTO
Celestial Fish by Donald Gialanella, 2018

I just saw Donald Gialanella’s Project G.O.A.T piece last month during a visit to Rob and Debbie Canton’s barn at Grady Goat Farm. Later that month, Gialanella briefly opened his St. Petersburg studio to the public as part of Florida CraftArt’s “Inside the World of Public Art.” And Gialanella’s sculpture of Dalí’s mustache is always there to greet me on my frequent visits to the museum’s avant-garden. Now, thanks in part to Creative Pinellas, you’ll soon be able to see more Gialanella sculptures in the Florida Botanical Gardens (FLBG).

“Gialanella in the Gardens”

Opening reception March 5, 6-9 p.m.
Starting March 6, 7 a.m.-5 p.m. daily
The Florida Botanical Gardens
12520 Ulmerton Rd., Largo.
(727) 582-2100

“[The Florida Botanical Gardens Foundation] had been looking for a way to collaborate with Creative Pinellas, as we are partners on the 'Pinewood Park' campus,” FLBG’s communications coordinator, Emily Bloxom, told CL, adding that Creative Pinellas’s Barbara St. Clair suggested showing Gialanella’s sculptures in the gardens. “It just seemed like the perfect fit. Especially the contrast of the steel assemblages against the natural landscape—they look right at home in the gardens.”

“The gardens are absolutely magnificent,” Gialanella told Creative Loafing during our chat. Read the full Q&A below.

Three of your sculptures will be on display at FLBG; are these all new or recent works?

They’re all recent works [that have] been on exhibit previously. The largest piece is the 10-foot “Celestial Fish” made from over 500 pounds of welded automobile transmission parts. It stands very elegantly on three fins and took over two months to create, with the aid of several assistants, using a MIG welder, a plasma cutter, and overhead hoist, among other tools. The circular spots on the side are made from a very eclectic combination of gears, pulleys, rings, transmission parts. And that’s where the name came from because these spots, these circular designs on the side of the fish, are like planets. And the perforated transmission plates that make up the skin of the fish—when the sun shines through them, they kind of sparkle, and they could be thought of as stars.

[Another piece] in the show is the Plenum Orb. Plenum is a word I borrowed; it’s used more in a political sense. It’s a meeting where all members are present. That piece is also made up of repurposed common stainless steel objects in the form of a perfect sphere. I’ve done several of those orbs, and I acquired all the materials from scrap yards. Through a very involved process, I got them to be the shape of a perfect sphere, which is the impact of the piece. It’s so baffling how all these odd, irregularly-shaped objects all hit the edge of the sphere perfectly. So that’s a very compelling piece. It’s been very popular. I’ve exhibited it in California, Colorado. Georgia, and several other locations including Lakeland, of course. But we found a particularly apropos place to put it in the garden—in the center of the circular patio, so it reiterates and echoes the circular space that it’s in. It’s going to be really beautiful.

The third piece is another sculpture made out of scrap material. It’s a horse, and it’s made up of fenders, quarter panels—all types of auto body parts. I don’t use those conventionally, but it turned out to be very interesting because of the color involved. Usually, my pieces don’t involve a lot of color, but this one does. And there are some other interesting found metal parts in that piece as well.

How long did it take you to make each of these?

The fish took several months. The orb was a process that took probably half a year, because I had to make a concave hemispherical plaster mold to put the objects in, to get it to be that shape. So I had to make a simple machine to make the mold. It was kind of a process. And the mold ended up weighing 400 pounds. There was a lot of wood and plaster to it, so that took a while. I like to say it took 60 years to get to the point where I can make these sculptures. It’s not just the amount of time that it takes to construct them. It’s like getting to that point where you can conceive of it and execute it successfully, which is the trick.

Why transmission parts, specifically?

I’m very big into recycling. I’ve done several recycling awareness projects in the state of Florida and beyond. It’s something that I think needs to be publicized. Telling people to recycle by conventional means maybe doesn’t have the same impact as when they see a true piece of artwork; they see it through a different eye.

I just happen to have a very good material supply of transmission parts from a friend of mine, who has a transmission repair shop in Pinellas Park. When he saw what I was doing, he gave me carte blanche to dig through his hordes of transmission parts. It was like a sculptor’s dream come true.

Material acquisition is so important when you’re making a sculpture, because if you don’t have the material, you can’t make the sculpture. It’s very obvious. But when you’re working on a giant piece like the fish, it takes a lot of material… so it’s a combination of things; it’s the availability of the materials and the fact that they were repurposed.

How are you able to combine these to make a sculpture?

That’s the magic. I’ve worked in sculpture since my college days at The Cooper Union, where I majored in sculpture and three-dimensional design… and I’ve run my own sculpture studio going on 25 years now. In that time, I’ve developed my skill to be able to envision things in 3D space, and also developed methodologies to realize things in 3D space. I usually start with small maquettes, which are artists’ models. And I often lay the piece out, in full scale, with paper stencils, because when something is translated from a drawing to full scale, a lot of things can happen. It’s not like just blowing up a photograph…

Your fish sculpture weighs 500 pounds; is that a typical weight for one of your sculptures?

You know, it varies. I just finished a piece—well it’s almost finished—that’s 20 feet tall for the City of Jacksonville, and that weighs over 1,000 pounds. So they can vary. It really depends on the scale of the piece and what it’s made of. There’s no typical weight. Moving “Celestial Fish” to the garden is going to be a little bit of a process.

How are you transporting these things?

I was just saying the other day to one of my interns, “People see the finished sculpture, and they’re appreciative. They’re like, ‘Wow,’ but they don’t see the initial idea phase, pitching the idea to the council, the selection process, the insurance, the material acquiring, all the work involved, the transportation, the installation.” This transport is part of the process. I have to put an open crate around the piece so it can be forked up and put on a trailer. Then we tie it down and take it up to Largo where it’s forked off with another forklift at the other end and put into position. The crate is disassembled. Then we anchor bolt it into the concrete. So it’s a process.

You mentioned having an intern; how is mentoring important to you in your practice?

Very important. I’m actually involved in an official mentoring program through Creative Pinellas. They give out an emerging artist grant, and when they choose the emerging artists, they pair them up with a mentor. I had the privilege of being one of the mentors for an artist who’s doing an installation that’s going to be at Creative Pinellas in May. It’s great to have young people around and pass on knowledge because I gained so much when I was an assistant to several artists when I was younger.

Since it’s been getting a little harder—very hard actually—to work [with Parkinson’s Disease], I’ve been using more assistants and more helpers at the studio, and it’s been a great thing. Sculptors sort of want to do everything themselves; at least I did. The fact that that was taken away has ironically expanded my capability because I’m relying more on fabricators and other people to do things. And the results have been great. So I’ve tried to make lemonade out of lemons, I guess you could say.

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About The Author

Jennifer Ring

Jen began her storytelling journey in 2017, writing and taking photographs for Creative Loafing Tampa. Since then, she’s told the story of art in Tampa Bay through more than 200 art reviews, artist profiles, and art features. She believes that everyone can and should make art, whether they’re good at it or not...
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