Art in Context

A Signature Forged in Wrought Iron

When I describe the invitation I received from Ogilvy & Mather to create a sculpture for the lobby of their worldwide headquarters two words come to mind — authenticity & serendipity.

It was 2009 and the global advertising agency was moving their worldwide headquarters to 636 Eleventh Avenue on the far west side of midtown Manhattan.

Serendipity…

Cynthia Lindberg, Ogilvy’s Director of Design & Construction, had struggled to find just the right artwork that could be used to intimately greet visitors as they enter the space and also catch the eye of passers by as they passed the building at night.

Not only did she require a piece that fit within the style of the architecture of the building but also artwork that would capture people’s attention, be remembered and garner the approval of quite a few senior brand stakeholders.

Luckily, project Manager Michelle Mandeville, working closely with Ms. Lindberg, was familiar with my previous work and recommended me. I was an unlikely choice – a blacksmith-artist, a sculptor of raw metal. She had faith that I could create something unique and authentic for the lobby. Cynthia was then exposed to my existing work and a dialogue began.

The final work installed. Photo: Fred Gilbert, NY.

Authenticity…

As a creative among creatives, I began to appreciate the brilliance of John Seifert, Chairman and CEO of Ogilvy & Mather, North America. Early in the process, he took a liking to the concept of using hand-forged steel. The forged signature is unique because it uses no digital technology. Compared with the execution of other company logos, this approach would be unexpected and authentic to the Ogilvy & Mather brand and David Ogilvy, the person.

The signature of David Ogilvy serves as the logo of Ogilvy & Mather. The forged version I created is a three-dimensional rendition of that signature. The piece, constructed of a forged three-inch round bar, is six feet long, five feet high, and six inches deep. The thickness of the forged line varies from one and a half to three and a half inches in accordance with the Ogilvy Sign Graphic Standard, a guideline that keeps logo use consistent.

The JG Bend is a knuckle-like form in which a round bar is forged back onto itself before it proceeds in a new direction. Photo by the artist.

I interpreted the two-dimensional standard as a three-dimensional object by using five JG Bends, each one customized for this application. The JG Bend is a knuckle-like form in which a round bar is forged back onto itself before it proceeds in a new direction. The Ogilvy piece sits two feet away from the wall to reduce the confusion of shadows; light is directed as a wash behind the piece. It has a forged patina finish that gives it a dry, flaking surface, a technique I developed. The mill scale, which coats the surface to protect against corrosion, has colors ranging from rich gray to dull black.

Four carbon-steel rods suspend the signature, a quarter inch in diameter, which are threaded into the forging and clamped to the steel girder above the dropped ceiling. This detail is minimal, so the viewer can easily dismiss it. The 900-pound piece appears to hover directly above the attendants at the reception desk.

The key to interpreting David Ogilvy’s signature in forged steel is its continuous line. Each of us is highly capable of grasping that transformation in the wrought iron because the JG Bend embodies the sinuous movement of Mr. Ogilvy’s hand across the page as he laid down the ink on paper. The impression has vitality difficult to create with fabrication processes that rely upon programmable equipment. Its effect is visceral. I was engaged to make a highly conceited statement, and to realize fluid calligraphy with a three-inch solid steel bar. All the forming was done by eye, without a jig; tool marks reveal the increments of extreme physical force used to realize sensuous tapering components.

I felt passion during the Ogilvy project and made this commission my own.

The signature in situ at the Ogilvy Worldwide Headquarters. Photo: Fred Gilbert, NY.

Special thanks to David Zellerford who did the lead filming for the “Create or Else” video by Ogilvy.


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    There are too many artists. When there are so many artists, all possible, all good, then nothing is good. — Marcel Duchamp