It's a pretty safe bet that Dominique LaBauvie is the only denizen of the Heights who has created a 50-feet-long, 20-feet-high, 10-feet-wide cast-iron sculpture that overlooks the River Seine in Paris. "Suspended Horizons," which required 25 tons of metal, was commissioned by the city and erected in 1997.
Since 1998, LaBauvie, a French native, has resided with his wife, Erika Greenberg-Schneider (who grew up in New York City) and daughter, Esther, in a live/work space on Columbus Avenue in Tampa Heights called Bleu Acier. The 4,200-square-foot building acts as a gallery, as well as a print and sculpture studio.
A newly minted 60, LaBauvie oozes joie de vivre and artistic passion. In heavily accented and sometimes fragmented English, he waxes rhapsodically on the creative process and the importance of arts in society. Besides sculpture, the artist's other disciplines are drawing in charcoal, pastels and pigment, as well as woodcuts and lithography.
He started drawing at an early age, studied art, taught art at two French universities and worked as a chiseler on unfinished Rodin sculptures (including "The Gates of Hell") before landing his first solo exhibition in Paris at age 38. For several years, he has shown in galleries in New York, Paris and Germany. Several of his large metal sculptures are situated in public places in France, Spain and, closer to home, Tampa General Hospital and Vandenberg Airport.
If you're fishing for a litany of tortured-artist complaints about Tampa being a wasteland, don't darken LaBauvie's door.
"I don't want to compare no city like Paris or any old city in France with Tampa," he says. "Tampa, for me, is a new city. In Tampa, we build bridges and highways, big institutions. The city grew up very quickly, like a mushroom. The artist is not the star of the movie. What is important is that the artist lives and works in the city of Tampa — with or without celebrity, is not important. What is important for our city is to maintain artists in our walls."
LaBauvie is currently showing in two solo exhibitions: Drawings and Prints at Bleu Acier until April 19; Recent Sculpture at Michael Murphy Gallery M (2701 S. MacDill Ave., Tampa) until March 29.