By Blanche Schaefer
Ever since he was nine years old, local Austin artist George Sabra has been drawn to art. Now an established sculptor, George focuses on environmental art using recycled, reused, and reclaimed materials.
"I believe that there is value in the discarded and reclaimed materials,” George said. “My duty as an artist is to bring to the public the value of these materials through the beauty of the art in hopes that it will help people be aware of what they throw away.”
George was inspired to re-create stories through his art after reading a childhood story about a mother and child in a time of war. He wanted to convey their faces and emotions on canvas and began experimenting with paint, eventually sculpting with clay or wire – whatever he could get his hands on.
“My favorite thing as a boy was to collect metal caps from glass bottles,” George recalls. “It was so much fun – I punched holes in the caps and used wire to create a sculpture.”
George’s desire to create art from existing materials stayed with him. He opened his own art studio shortly after college and has been creating and sharing his work in Austin for more than nine years.
“I created my own technique in my own studio and started building small- and medium-scale sculptures,” George said. “I love doing art out of reclaimed material. I have this relation between me and all the used items.”
One particular piece was created with a special purpose in mind. The KNOT sculpture is made of 55-gallon oil-drum barrels and took three months to create. George had to build two special machines out of scrap materials to crush, press, and bend the 35 barrels into the knotted shape. He hopes the sculpture can send a message to the United Nations COP21 Convention on Climate Change in Paris this December.
“It’s the time now to tie the knot,” George said about the sculpture’s message. “The oil barrels are symbolic of the petroleum product. It’s a message to the conference to take caution of burning fossil fuels and petroleum products.”
George hopes the KNOT can influence key world leaders at the conference, but the sculpture has also garnered interest locally. The KNOT is on display around Austin as part of the TEMPO Program, a division of the City’s Art in Public Places Program. This temporary art initiative gives local emerging artists exposure by displaying their work at rotating outdoor locations. The TEMPO program allows artists to explore a range of themes suitable for the outdoor environment and provides the opportunity for innovative, thought-provoking artwork that impacts the way people experience their environment.
“Temporary public art has become a significant player in the environmental movement,” George said. “It has the power to transform the way individuals think and act regarding the environment and sustainability…and is a great way to inform and engage the public in current issues that need to be addressed.”
KNOT was on display at the Austin Convention Center for SXSW Eco, as the sculpture was funded by Art in Public Places Program for the convention with the intention of driving local tourism. The KNOT moved to the new Recycle & Reuse Drop-Off Center on Oct. 12.
“I see the people react to the sculpture, and it’s so amazing,” George said. “When people are standing beside the sculpture, they can feel how much energy I put inside it.”
George strives to affect environmental change through the energy his sculptures emit. He hopes the messages behind his sculptures will engage the community in environmental issues through the excitement and beauty of art.
“A sculpture can start a conversation – why oil barrels, why not?” George said. “It’s the power of the art to transform the message in a different way. Nobody has to read or listen – the sculpture speaks to their hearts through the beauty.”
Thanks to the TEMPO program, visitors at the Recycle & Reuse Drop-Off Center grand opening on Oct. 17 can view the KNOT sculpture and – hopefully – take George’s message to heart.
For more information on the grand opening event, please visit http://www.austintexas.gov/event/recycle-reuse-drop-center-grand-opening
To see more of George’s work, check out his website: www.georgesabra.com