“As much as I have ideas floating in my head, I get linear on these big scary projects,” he said. “There’s so many moving parts. It’s pretty daunting.”
That “big scary project” is a massive steel-relief sculpture for the new First North building in Massillon. Its large seven panels will tell the story of the city. The sculpture was unveiled October 21, so in late September, when interviewed, Close was laser-focused on finishing it to perfection.
The project is a collaboration with Patrick Buckohr, one of Close’s frequent partners and a featured artist in our May 2015 arts issue.
“We almost have a second language kind of thing … almost telepathic,” he said. “We work really well together.”
The sculpture is about a year in the making and required a lot of planning.
“We took a lot of new materials and expanded what we can actually do with our collective experience … We’re pushing the medium a little bit,” he said.
Close is one of the area’s most well-known artists and has appeared multiple times in About magazine. His work is a combination of oil paintings and fabricated sculptures. And you can find his unique pieces everywhere, including downtown Canton, which hosts three large Close murals. The first, a 90-foot-by-8-foot sculptured steel mural titled Gaia’s Hope was installed in 2006. The most recent, a five-story painting of football legend Jim Thorpe on the side of a building on the corner of Fifth Street and McKinley Avenue NW, was unveiled last October.
When he isn’t focused on commissioned work, Close concentrates on his own project: a series of sculptures called “Travelers” made of up-cycled musical instruments and steel.
“They have this sort of odd unearthly look to them but they’re very figurative,” he said. “They’re almost human-like but sort of a mix between human, animal and musical instrument.”
As an artist, Close is always evolving. He spent a few years at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh studying industrial design. He learned from books while working in a book store. He came to Canton around 2000 to help build a glass shop and stayed to learn the craft.
He works with a collaborative of artists—builders, fabricators, tech people—in Cleveland, absorbing their knowledge and picking up new skills in things such as engineering and lighting.
“That’s where my art shifted and changed over the years,” he said.
Close also has worked with artists outside the Buckeye state.
In the spring, he traveled to Napa Valley with a group of artists—all Burning Man veterans—to participate in the art and fashion fundraiser NIMBASH, which benefits the nonprofit Nimbus Arts.
“It’s this odd, fun culture that pushes and stretches what you can do with art and fashion and the whole bit,” he said.
He’s eager to return next year.
“It was out of this world. It was awesome,” he said.
For more on Close’s work, see josephclosegallery.com.