WEST STOCKBRIDGE – Two clay heads nestle cheek to cheek, hidden inside a large outdoor wood-burning oven that has been burning since dawn. In the dark of night, the sides of the oven are lowered, like petals on a tulip, revealing an 8-foot glowing sculpture, flames licking at its base and leaping from perforations in the form. Soon the walls of the kiln will close, leaving the work to cool slowly before taking its place among the sculptures of TurnPark Art Space.
“Earth & Sky”, a rare fire sculpture by world renowned Estonian/Ukrainian American artist, Sergei Isupov, is made in collaboration with Estonian master furnace builder Andres Allik. It complements “Proximal Duality”, an exhibition of Isupov’s large graphite drawings and smaller ceramic heads in the Gate House Gallery at TurnPark. It’s also the culmination of the former Marble Quarry’s annual summer festival on June 11, a celebration of creativity that includes music, art and theater themed around ‘healing flames’.
“This will be the second festival at TurnPark,” TurnPark Special Projects Associate Alex Zaretsky said in a phone interview. “Last year’s strong turnout motivated TurnPark founders Katya [Brezgunova] and Igor [Gomberg] to make it an annual tradition.
Contemporary group Chingiz Dub will perform in the stone amphitheater at 9 p.m. before the unveiling of the sculpture at 10 p.m. Led by Sasha Drey, it features didgeridoo player Dima Kim in a mix of traditional Tuvan throat singing with experimental electronic music and live video mixing.
Georgian-born multimedia artist and wearable sculpture maker Uta Bekaia will create four tableaux vivants of actors disguised as spirits. A longtime contributor to TurnPark, his work will take place in the field throughout the day, Zaretsky said.
Food will be offered for sale by Handcrafted, with stuffed seashells, meatballs, quinoa veggie bowl and popcorn on the menu.
There will also be acoustic music scattered around the pitch and a short rehearsal play in recognition of the situation in Ukraine. The festival will add to TurnPark’s ongoing fundraising for the war-torn region through donations and merchandise sales.
The cause is particularly meaningful for Isupov, who grew up in Ukraine until he was 20. His father, mother and younger brother, all artists, still live in his capital, Kyiv.
“Every time I hear the news, it makes me so emotional,” he said in a phone interview.
His brother’s wife left the country with their two young children, but his parents do not want to leave, he said. “They are 83 years old, there is a feeling of security at home because art is everywhere, it’s like their children. Mom even loves it because there aren’t many cars or people around, it’s spring and it’s so quiet and peaceful downtown.
Isupov attended art school in Estonia, home of his artist wife Kadri Parnaments. He immigrated to the United States in 1993, first to Kentucky. Living in the Berkshire area since 2006, they share their time with their daughter between studios in the United States and Estonia.
“I think it makes an artist richer emotionally not having physical ties to a space,” he noted.
He first worked with Allik in 2016 at STARworks in North Carolina, where Allik had been shooting for several years, and a year later in Denmark.
“It’s not super difficult to build the oven,” Isupov reported, “it uses simple materials you can get at regular stores and is shaped like a bottle.”
“This will be my third fire sculpture. I do something slightly different each time, I learn each time, I feel like I’m still not done with this design.
Isupov’s indoor exhibition “Proximal Duality,” which runs through October, includes four sculptural ceramic heads and five large-scale drawings. Each larger-than-life head is adorned with intricate designs, painted with a thin layer of colored clay.
“My father is a painter, my mother is a ceramist. I like to combine these two different sides, but in the same powerful thing.
“The students think I have some tricks, a special tool. But the biggest thing is discipline and experience. And imagination.”
Many ideas come from the technical side, he explained. “And later the story goes into the process.”
The designs use different techniques to create the same 3D illusion as ceramic paintings, he said.
He wants to inspire wonder, “to make people feel like, wow!, how did he do it? And stop for a minute.
He studied painting for seven years in his first art school, and ceramics for seven years in his second.
“Sometimes education gives handcuffs, in Ukraine drawing and painting was very academic. Ceramics helped me forget everything and gave me freedom. Sometimes you have to break the rules.
“In the United States, I’m able to do both well,” he noted. “And my fire sculpture also tempts me to be a performer.”
TurnPark’s exhibits are curated by architect and long-time associate Grigori Fateyev.
“Sergei is very well known for the art of ceramics,” Fateyev said, “very detailed small-scale objects, with lots of narrative stories. He draws all the time, he’s a classically trained artist and his hand-eye coordination is impeccable.
“I wanted to show his other side as a remarkable cartoonist,” he added. “The scale is remarkable. Usually drawings are a secondary art mode, [done] in preparation for a table. But when you make a design nine feet tall, it’s a piece in itself.
“The title of the show is a geometric term that means something nearby [that] becomes reflected and duplicated, but differently. It’s also a commentary on the polarization in our culture.
Very often in Isupov’s work there is a narrative structure happening on one side of a sculpture and something else happening on the other, Fateyev noted.
The open-air shooting at TurnPark illustrates the creative process, Fateyev said, how work comes to fruition. “The process is integral to what we’re trying to show – seeing how the magic happens, being able to see the artist’s inner world.”
An exhibition of Isupov’s small sculptures, “Past & Present”, is on view at Ferrin Contemporary in North Adams, through June 26.