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Art’s Crockett Broke The Mold

Published: April 16, 2012

When they made Art’s Bryan Crockett, they broke the mold. Then Crockett remade the mold.

Crockett offers more than just movie special effects when he teaches his Art 367A Mold-Making Lab in the sculpture program. He offers a technical and historical introduction to all forms of mold making, ranging from rubber and rigid molds to vacuum forming and life casting. In addition to covering a broad range of casting materials such as resins, foams and composites, the class also covers foam tooling and prototyping techniques.

“Although the class covers several techniques that are often used in industry and the special effects trade,” said Crockett. “The emphasis of this class is on the production of fine art that employs these techniques. In Art 367A, we consider artists like Matthew Barney, Charles Ray, Dario Robleto, Ron Mueck, Patricia Piccinini and Urs Fischer. These artists reflect upon and strategically utilize techniques employed in contemporary industry and popular culture.”

Crockett, who joined the university in 2006, sees a long future for mold making at CSULB.

“Long before I came to CSULB, the late Professor Stephen Werlick established the sculpture program as a leading program in bronze casting and because of Professor Werlick’s contributions, our foundry class is still growing and strong,” he said. He then explained that many of the sculptures you see around campus were cast at the sculpture program’s foundry. “My mold-making lab course is meant to compliment and support the rich legacy of mold making and foundry at CSULB, perhaps just in a more updated way.” Silicone rubber molds reproduce things very accurately Crockett explained, “in fact, one can actually cast a vinyl audio record in a silicone rubber mold and a resin casting from that mold will accurately reproduce the audio on the original record when played on a turntable.”

“Mold making is just one course in the sculpture program,” Crockett continued. “In fact, the program has two tracks. One track offers courses in more conventional approaches to material such as figurative sculpture, bronze casting, mold making and traditional media such as wood and metal fabrication. The other track explores time-based media and includes courses in performance art, video art, electronics, as well as kinetic sculpture. Most of the sculpture program’s B.F.A. students take classes in both tracks rather than just one or the other. Over the past 40 years, sculpture as a discipline has expanded as a field to include more than just material processes; sculpture has incorporated new technologies, media, performance, and video. As the sculpture program head, and thanks to our world class faculty, I have tried to bring highly specialized instruction to a program that is truly interdisciplinary. As the sculpture program head I take great pride in our instructional rigor and diversity. Therefore, one of my specialties is mold making and for years I have employed these techniques in my own work.”

Crockett’s work has been included in numerous major museum and gallery exhibitions internationally and was recently included in a 500-year survey of the phantasmagorical in art at New York’s Maryanne Boesky Gallery. In addition to exhibiting as a professional artist for the past 15 years, while in New York Crockett also ran a commercial business producing projects for Jim Henson’s Muppet Workshop, Disney, and numerous print, television and fashion campaigns.

“When I arrived at CSULB in 2006, there was a mold-making class on the books; however, I revised and updated the class in order to introduce students to more contemporary techniques in mold making and fabrication,” he said.

Students in Crockett’s class need good heads on their shoulders if for no other reason than his instruction in life casting.

“Each semester, in the first few weeks of class, I always demo a full head life cast of a student’s head using alginate,” he said. “In addition to mold making and casting, we also cover numerous techniques in working with rigid and soft foams. Each semester I take the class to a facility that specializes in numerous techniques in rapid prototyping and digital manufacturing.”

Brain Crocket

PHOTO BY DAVID J. NELSON
Bryan Crockett

Students take these techniques and run with them. Crockett recalls a student last fall who cast 400 eight-inch-long tiger models in glycerin to represent the estimated remaining number of a certain species of tiger left in the wild. Another student cast a whole series of old books from his library in clear resin. “The castings were optically clear but when you looked closely you could see all the traces of wear and tear of the old books and in some cases tiny forensic fragments of the originals transferred into the castings,” he said.

“This project was very clear, pardon the pun, it demonstrated the implications of digitizing the written word,” he said. “There are so many strategies to explore with mold making. Students have cast body parts, doors, locks, furniture, televisions, clothes, plants, birds, bones; you name it. I have even had students cast meat, and one student cast dolls in white chocolate.”

Some students produce castings that are technically impressive and others cast things that are provocative, as Crockett recalled a student who cast animal road kills directly on the surface of the road in pristine white plaster. “It’s really interesting how casting something in another material can radically alter your perception of the original, and there is no shortage of interesting solutions to mold making and casting.”

Crockett attended New York’s Cooper Union for his undergraduate degree before earning his graduate degree in sculpture from Yale in 1995. A California native, Crockett came to CSULB for its promising and rich Department of Art.

“Having attended the Cooper Union, a school in which every student is on full scholarship, I have always had a strong conviction that I wanted to contribute to a competitive yet affordable education for artists, and I believe the state university system can offer this,” he said. “Not to mention, being that New York and L.A. are the two national art Meccas, CSULB is well situated to be one of the strongest programs locally. I see it as the sculpture program’s mission to make our program competitive with the research institutions and private schools locally. Last year, every student in sculpture that applied to graduate school was accepted into a top tier program, and this year I have nine students applying to graduate programs at schools like MIT, Yale, USC, and Cal Arts. The word is definitely out there that CSULB is the place to go for sculpture.”

While his instruction is down to earth and pragmatic, Crockett has more in mind than offering just a how-to course.

“The goal of the mold-making course, like many others in our program, is to provide skills and expand the possibilities for each student’s individual art practice; however, many students have also realized there is a commercial demand for these skills as well.” Crockett continued, “Two of my former students have been employed for the past two years making molds and sculpting for artist Charles Ray.”