Artist Tim Hawkinson is best known for taking simple everyday objects and transforming them in the most extreme of ways, and by doing this he regularly plays with the concepts of time, scale, and perception. In 2005 The University of California at San Diego approached Hawkinson to do a sculpture for their spacious academic courtyard - and this proposal spawned Hawkinson's most aggressive artwork to date, simply titled Bear. Bear is a 20 foot high, 180-ton sculpture of a bear which is made of eight massive uncarved pieces of natural granite boulders.
“Tim Hawkinson is a virtuoso when it comes to transforming unorthodox materials into works of art of monumental scale and elaborate detail,” said Director of Cultural Affairs for the San Francisco Arts Commission Luis R. Cancel. “His design for the landmark sculpture at the new Transit Center is both awe inspiring and timeless. - Cancel, Luis R. - Cultural Affairs for SF Arts Commission 2005.
The concept was proposed in 2001 and took nearly 4 years to reach completion. Like most of Tim Hawkinson's artworks, this project was unique in many ways. Bear may look simple enough, but was indeed a sophisticated and impressive engineering feat. The entire process of securing the boulders was both unusual and complex, and once the correct boulders were finally found, Hawkinson had them scanned and printed to miniature scale. From there he figured out the best way to construct and secure the boulders together to best resemble a bear, while at the same time making the sculpture resilient enough to withstand earthquakes and other natural elements. Next came the transportation of the boulders which was a feat in itself - the boulders were transported on an 18-axel semi-truck in the middle of the night accompanied by 4 police escorts. The logistics alone of creating a site specific installation of this magnitude is an incredible example of the artists determination and commitment to his work. Regardless of the challenges, Hawkinson's yearning to transform boulders into a living work of art is not just a feat of engineering, but a lesson in the value of persistence for the sake of art.
"Bear exemplifies the artist’s ability to transform and humanize coarse materials, as well as conceptualize the creation of a large-scale work of art from architectural remains. At the time of its debut, Bear was considered a feat of engineering." - Patterson, Kate, SF Arts Commission 2005.
The Bear sculpture itself is a welcoming and friendly presence. Families and children regularly take pictures posing in front of the Bear, and its docile position adds a sense of play to the academic courtyard to which it sits in. The form of the bear resembles that of a toy bear - similar to that of a famous Paddington or Steiff stuffed bear. And this docile resemblance gives the bear a form that associates the sculpture with play, security, and childhood. But the strength and rawness of the material that makes up the bear takes the notion of security one step further. The bear almost acts as a friendly guardian that watches over the various academic buildings that surround it - and the natural and ancient granite gives the sculpture a weathered look that pleasantly contrasts with the high-tech buildings to which it guards. This contrast of materials and setting give the sculpture an old world feel. It transforms the viewer to a medieval and simple time, while also commenting on modernity by acting as an example of what can be accomplished through technology, determination, and engineering. Bear exemplifies the value of childhood play, old world history, and monumental symbolism. Hawkinson's thoughts on the project lean towards the historic value and manner of the installation as he envisions the work as a replica to a modern-day Stonehenge.
"Sometime way in the future, people will see this thing and say, ‘It's like really primitive sculpture. What kind of primitive culture made that? Perhaps a bear-worshiping culture." Hawkinson, Tim - Interviewed by New York Times, 2007.
A very similar installation artwork that very much resembles Hawkinson's Bear is a project by local Denver artist titled Blue Bear. Anyone who has visited Denver has most likely encountered the massive 40 foot tall blue bear who lives downtown and peeks into the Colorado Convention Center. The voyeuristic stance and nature of the bear gives the perception of youth and playfulness - similar to that of Hawkinson's bear. But the immense 40 foot height of the bear (double that of Hawkinson's bear) also gives the sculpture an intimidating nature that resembles a sort of blind curiosity and power. It's position in front of a business oriented arena also speaks to the bear's presence as a way to resemble Denver's infamous welcoming and playful manner. Convention Centers are usually sterile and bland corporate spaces - but Blue Bear stands outside, looks into that boring space and says - Hey! Anything fun going on in there?
A similar, yet somehow drastically different artwork that came to mind was another large infamouss sculpture done in Colorado titled Blue Mustang. A sculpture that locals have since given a different and more ominous moniker - Blucifer. The giant 32 foot horse sculpture adornes the entrance to the Denver International Airport and elicits all types of reactions from visitors - the most common of which is, "What the hell is that?!" Luis Jimenez, the artist who constructed the massive horse was unfortunately and tragically killed by the sculpture in on of the final phases of construction. The artist's death lead to all types of hysteria and conspiracy surrounding the horse - something that the Denver International Airport is no stranger to. But the artwork itself - like that of Hawkinson's Bear- is a truly impressive feat of engineering. Also like Hawkinson's Bear, the horse watches over the airport's entrance almost like a gargoyle watches over a church. But this guardian presence is contradicted by the glowing red eyes of the sculpture and its aggressive attack stance. The horse is supposed to represent the wild spirit of the old American west, but instead has manifested itself as a killer horse - and has unfortunately come to represent bad luck, destruction, death, and the devil.
Bear by Tim Hawkinson is permanently on display in the Academic Courtyard of the University of California San Diego.