Sketchbook: Cuban-American Sculptor Felix Semper

Did you know we are wrapping up Hispanic Heritage month? Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to recognize the impact and influence of Hispanic Americans on our history and culture.

President Ronald Reagan signed a law creating the designation in 1988. The celebration runs from September 15 to October 15. The dates coincide with independence days in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Chile.  

One Hispanic artist we want to recognize is Felix Semper. He is a Cuban-American who has taken sculpture to the next level. No rock carving for him - his pieces are about flexibility and movement.

Our friends at South Florida PBS shared this week’s Sketchbook with us. It's all about Felix and his fascinating work. Take a look.

Read the script:

[Felix] They can't believe that it just does this. If you touch it, I mean, it's solid. And then all of a sudden it becomes something else it expands, and it moves, and it gives you that, that idea of flexibility, of movement. And that's what I was trying to achieve when I made this. You know it's, and not just the top, it goes all the way up to the bottom. Somehow I've been able to change the way that we perceive sculpture. It entertains, it excites.

Hi, my name is Felix Semper, and I am an artist. My first paper sculpture, I glued solid. And I said, how am I gonna prove this is paper? Took me about a year to kind of come up with the whole system. And once that happened, I first sculpted it, I took it to New York, and I went to Washington Square Park and just kind of messing around with people. I just wanted to get people's feedback and reaction. It started going viral.

Most of my stuff is recycled paper, and I try to do that as much as I can. So what I do is I take sheets of paper, individual sheets of paper, glue 'em in stacks. And then I, I cut them to about the size that I think the sculpture is going to be, and then I start carving it. So all this process is eliminating paper. It's kind of like the original technique of sculpting but in a different method. I'm using paper versus, you know, stone or any other media. But the fun part about it, is that I paint it and give it the original look. So you really, a lot of times you can't really tell if it's paper or of what we're talking about.

I was invited to, to a dinner, you know, like a wine dinner, and then I brought this bottle with me, and, you know, everybody brought their own bottle and stuff, and so I, you know, I walk in like that. They said, "Oh, wow. You got a nice, nice French bottle right there." I say, "It's Bordeaux, man. Here, let me-" When that, that is where like, they were freaking out and went crazy.

Things that are, inspire me are things that are around me. I made a Lay's potato chip bag, and then ASAP Rocky bought it. And then, you know, all these celebrities started talking. So it's just, it's just kind of exploded that way.

So it involves painting, it involves sculpture, and it involves performance art because I take these pieces and I go into the public. I open them and show them what, what it does. So it becomes performance art. This is my new series. This is actually, I finished this not long ago.

This is a flexible wood sculpture. So I said, I'm going to make a wood that I can twist and turn. And it goes in any direction. And then of course he has a hat that is flexible.

I went to a place where it had like old junk stuff and this whole TV was just sitting around there. When I saw the TV, it's from the 1950s. I said I wonder how many people watching it? Like, what was the most famous show back in the day, you know, that kids loved? So I was, you know, I did some research and it was, you know, Howdy Doody. So I said, I bet I can put Howdy Doody in there in black and white, and I want to just kinda bring it. You kinda mix all kinds of mediums together. So I develop a motor and put it inside, and Howdy Doody comes up remote control and, you know, he expands.

So that's what this art does. It, it engages the viewer. Not only to look but to participate. You know, it just keeps evolving, and that's the beauty about this art. I think it expands your mind because you don't, you know, you're looking at an object that is solid, and then all of a sudden this object does something else. I can do anything, I think, with paper.

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