The Celestial Fish

Sep. 2016. St. Pete, Florida

After a week of drawing and planning, I started construction of a large fish sculpture. It’s based on a design I did in NY eleven years ago called Tripod Fish. As with that piece, this one stands on two front pectoral fins and one rear fin.

Being much larger than it’s predecessor, it’s going to top off somewhere around 10 feet tall and be almost 11 feet long. I’m using the construction method I developed for the Dream Sparrow and Big Ibis – ¼” round armature strengthened in critical areas with heavier plate steel and sheathed with the perforated transmission valve body plates and gears.

It’s always difficult to layout the first outline of a big piece in ¼” rod. There is nothing to brace the initial large curved circles against and it begins as a very unwieldy process. Slowly the desired form takes shape, but the fish armature was more uncooperative than usual due to it being in essence an eight foot diameter floppy discus shape.

Midway through the first week of work, I decided to give the “discus” a gentle curve, making the body more elegant and fish-like. This curvature added more complexity to the construction of the armature and necessitated unanticipated changes in the design. On a large piece, even small changes are a lot of work.

The sculpture tipped over to facilitate construction.

So far I haven’t had to purchase any major material for the fish apart from $85 worth of rods. I have been very fortunate to get a lot of 14 -16 gauge steel sheets from a local company that makes industrial doors. They have a lot of scrap and excess material and were kind enough to let me have some of it. Also Kris at the transmission shop has been putting gears and valve body plates aside for me and he’s been another dependable resource.

The three supporting fins are each going to be made as a sandwich of two identical plates joined together by a 1/2” solid steel rod that runs continuously around the perimeter edge. The three fins will appear to be made of thick plates and have the rigidity to solidly support the fish. In reality the three fins are made up of six plates and 30 ft of rod.

I made full size stencils for the fins and transferred them to the steel for plasma cutting.

Once I get the fins made I can weld them onto the body and have the piece freestanding. When this is accomplished, it will be a great advantage to be able to construct the rest of the fish from the vantage point of exactly how it will be seen.

The tail fin is likewise made of multiple plates of steel welded together. It will be three plates, the two outer plates being identical will act as supporting crescents to the center plate which forms the full shape of the tail fin.

The head section is the most challenging piece, being 6 feet tall and 30” wide. It has to conform to the curve of the circumference as well as taper out to accommodate the thickening of the body near the gills. It also has to convey the personality of the fish and contain a rather complex mouth and support the eyes.

I drew the head profile directly onto a full sheet of steel based on small scale paper models. After I cut out one side of the head I will use that as a pattern to trace and cut the other side of the head.

I cut one half of the head out of 16g steel this morning with a hand held plasma cutter and after some refinements, I am very satisfied with the way it looks and feel confident it is going to work out as planned. WEDU crew was on hand to video the process. ( see  the  finished video here)

Made stencils for the two inside mouth pieces and cut them out of steel. They fit perfectly and the personality of the face is starting to come through.

Roughly thirty days into the project and the fish is 85% complete. One whole side is basically finished and it really looks terrific. I started calling it Celestial Fish, as the gears on each of it’s sides are reminiscent of the planets in our solar system while the stars are represented by the small holes in the transmission valve body plates.

Welded the base circles together and drilled the anchor holes. All that remains is to fill in the left side, do a little grinding and weld the three supporting fins to the base circles.

Built a 4’ x 6 dolly out of 2 x 4’s and hoisted the fish atop. It’s a relief to be able to slide the fish around, enabling me to clear coat it outside and to make way for the Dali mustache profiles that will be arriving in a few weeks.

Covered the last bit of real estate on the left side and it’s basically finished. Aside from some tweaking and finishing all that remains is to clean and clear coat it.

There’s a slight anticlimactic letdown after finishing a piece that I worked on for so long. I expect it to come alive and swim away, but it just sits there, mute and motionless.  The art selection committee is considering this piece for the new pier in St Pete, so it may be swimming away after all.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *