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From steel storage racks to sculpture

Matthew Steele and friends install LURE

It took Matthew Steele 3-4 weeks to construct "Lure" out of the tire racks left in the condemned Goodyear auto shop. Steele, with the help of about 20 friends, installed the giant metal sculpture inside the auto shop on Saturday August 29, 2015. V
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It took Matthew Steele 3-4 weeks to construct "Lure" out of the tire racks left in the condemned Goodyear auto shop. Steele, with the help of about 20 friends, installed the giant metal sculpture inside the auto shop on Saturday August 29, 2015. V

Matthew Steele has created one of Charlotte’s most unusual sculptures, and one of its most ephemeral.

Commissioned to develop a work for the Skyline artists in residence project, Steele was confronted with a big, blank slate – the garage area of the old Goodyear building at South Tryon and Stonewall streets uptown. Before the building is razed for Crescent Communities’ Tryon Place development, Amy Bagwell and Amy Herman are organizing monthly artists in residence in the space. Steele and two other artists’ work will be on view Friday.

Steele was attracted to the project because the building would be torn down. He had a month to make something, when he wasn’t working as creative services manager at McColl Center for Art + Innovation. At first he had no idea what he’d do.

Herman said they want the artists to “alter the building in some meaningful way.”

“No parents. No rules,” Steele said. “What could I do that I typically couldn’t do? What could I break?”

Left behind in the storage area were rows and rows of metal storage racks. Steele found his medium, something to break. He spent almost 1-1/2 weeks using a Sawzall reciprocating saw and impact wrench to dismantle enough racks to build “Lure,” his 70-foot sculpture that looks like a lattice-work ship’s hull made out of an erector set.

When he started, he said, he knew it would be a gamble. He usually works in much smaller spaces, with smaller pieces he can control. (His largest piece at an exhibition this year at Central Piedmont Community College was 6 feet.) His space at Goodyear is the four-bay garage. And he would be using material he had never worked with.

After coming up with the idea, Steele worked on the details with Google’s SketchUp 3D program. He determined the size based on how he wanted to affect the space and made a scale model out of wood.

Steele, who was an artist in residence at McColl in 2012, said he built the built the sculpture in 10 days, in a place that is not attractive to many artists because it’s dirty and hot. And it was physically demanding, because he was always moving around the big pieces.

He wanted to go through the roof, but he didn’t think it would work. Then he decided to go through the wall, into the air conditioned waiting room space being used by the XOXO theater group. Going through the wall was his impetus; the sculpture stemmed from that.

Steele and about 17 friends on Saturday hoisted the structure through the triangular hole in the wall, where it extends 12 feet into the waiting room. In the garage, the bow of “Lure” is about 7 feet above the floor while the aft rests on the floor at a width of 8 feet.

He’s taken down long, tall, heavy rows of steel shelving to use as raw material, and he’s gone right through a cinder block wall. He’s taken seriously the charge to alter the space, and we’re thrilled.

Amy Bagwell, Skyline artist host

“I’m excited to see what he’ll do with alternate materials like metals as well as what he’ll do with space,” said Grace Cote, who picked Steele for the CPCC show. “I liked that his work was unlike anything else I’d seen in Charlotte. It is highly architectural, but also infused with abstract concepts.”

Herman expects “Lure” to stay on view as long as the building stands.

Crescent’s Tyler Niess said the artists program is funded through October, and he’s looking for sponsors to extend it until the building is vacated at the end of the year. “Our aspiration is the program will live beyond the building. ... If this has struck a chord with the community,” he said, “what are ways we can make it last?”

“This is a great problem-solving exercise,” said Steele, 28. “So much fun. It’s totally like being a little kid – do something you would totally get in trouble for.”

Skyline Artist Showcase

See the work of Robert Childers (painting and mixed media), Matthew Steele (sculpture) and XOXO_Ensemble Performance (theater) 6-9 p.m. Friday at the Goodyear building, 100 E. Stonewall St.

The project is co-presented by The Wall Poems of Charlotte and Amy Herman, with support from Crescent Communities, Moore & Van Allen; Parkway Properties; Little Diversified Architects; The Wilbert Group; and Charlotte Center City Partners.

Details: Facebook.com and search “skyline artists.”

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