Now Reading
Sparks Fly When Bruna D’Alessandro Speaks About Metal

Sparks Fly When Bruna D’Alessandro Speaks About Metal

Avatar photo
Bruna D'Alessandro
Bruna D’Alessandro, “Breast Book, ” 2019. Steel, 17.5 x 14.5 x 5 Inches. All images courtesy of the artist. 

“It is enchanting to work with metal,” Italian sculptor Bruna D’Alessandro tells me. She continues, “I like the sparks and fire.” During our conversation, it is clear that she enjoys mastering techniques and pushing the boundaries of her materials. Her metal work traverses, methodologically and poetically, the capacities of metal. The Breast Book (2022) is a prime example, which she explains details the creative process of hammer forming a steel breast. D’Alessandro’s book consists of metal pages. “Each page represents a step of the hammer forming the breast” she explains, the last page is a full breast. Viewers are welcome to handle the book: flip its pages or take it apart completely to view them side by side. “Through touching, the person can get closer to and understand the artwork itself, see the material take shape,” she says.

I interviewed D’Alessandro over the phone, her answers are thoughtful, and her speech with a slight Italian lull is measured—she nearly always circles back to meditation on the process. Continuing about the Breast Book, she says “To craft a soft harmonic breast out of the hard indestructible material allows me to harness the power of the body part through the material.” This interactive component of education and tactility places the piece in the genre of an artist’s book.

In a separate work, D’Alessandro animates her metal sculpture through photography collaborating on the portraits with photographer Olga Antipina. D’Alessandro was drawn to Antipina’s work for its poetic beauty: “she creates photographs that look like paintings,” she says. In the portraits of the artist, D’Alessandro wears two breastplates, portraits of each of her breasts. Like the book, they are hammered from a flat sheet of steel, and the nipple is welded. “Cut in an oval shape, so there is no page,” she notes. Wearing the sculptures activates them while empowering their bearer: “I wanted the photo to poetically express my identity as an artist, sculptor, and woman,” she says.

Currently, D’Alessandro is showing work at Bullet Space in a group exhibition centered around the color red, with the witty title: The Color is the Title. D’Alessandro’s Vase of Roses, is on view, part of her still life series that mimics the painterly genre of the ‘still life’—painting from life, in metal. Realistically looking, with the sculpture of a vase of roses with each petal meticulously rendered she is allowed to “do the same as a painter. Observing the details.” Alongside, artists of The Artist-Blacksmith’s Association of North America she is also included in the online exhibition “Darkness & Light” all created with forging techniques, where metals are heated in a propane or coal furnace.

Bruna D’Alessandro. Photographed by Luigi Ieluzzo.
Bruna D’Alessandro. Photographed by Luigi Ieluzzo.

D’Alessandro started her artistic practice as a painter. Her undergraduate studies at the Accademia in Rome centered painting. Upon arrival in New York in 2014, she attended The Art Students League and took classes in their metal workshop. “Overall, there are very few metal shops in New York City. Many artists establish workshops upstate where they share materials and tools in larger spaces at a lower rent,” she explains to me. However, despite the relative lack of metal workshops, D’Alessandro had found her artistic calling, and has found ways to work with the material in New York and beyond at residencies throughout the country. She adds, that if you look for it, metal is a common component in contemporary artwork “often in conjunction with other material.”

Bruna D'Alessandro
Bruna D’Alessandro, “The Ingredients For Dinner, ” 2022. Hammer-formed steel, 12 x 21 x 36 Inches. Photographed by On White Wall.

On March 7, at Culture Lab LIC, her works The Ingredients for Dinner and Sea Breast will be included in a sculpture exhibition of women-welder artists. She says, “as welding has traditionally been a male-dominated industry, it is exciting to be featured in an all-female exhibition.” Why ‘sea’ I interject “-because the material in the Sea Breast looks like water,” she chuckles. The Ingredients for Dinner took three months to execute, and it is the piece that most tightly connects with her Italian culture—”basil, tomato, wine, zucchini, all feel very Italian to me,” she explains. With a propane forge, a plasma cutter, and a well-equipped blacksmith shop available, D’Alessandro made the work while she was a resident at The Steel Yard in Rhode Island.

“I love rust,” she says. “-it is a chemical phenomenon that brings beauty,” she continues referring to the oxidation process of rusting that changes the surface of metal. In all of her work rust is allowed to form, although she uses wax on the surface of the metal as temporary protection “it will rust eventually.” She continues: “-it is an unstoppable and fascinating process similar to our aging bodies that leave traces of a lived life. If you embrace them, you will realize that they denote beauty.” D’Alessandro works across all metal techniques: welding (a process where two metal parts are joined together); forging (putting the metal under the coal, which is the antique method, or in a propane furnace)—”the metal gets red and then orange then yellow,” she points out; and, hammering (where she uses a hammer to manipulate the cold or hot steel) to fully master the metal craft.

Coming from a context that upholds disciplinary boundaries, as an art historian, I ask how she relates to the word ‘craft.’ “To me it is meditative, requiring full dedication and patience to the material. It attracts me a lot. Transformational, life-changing, powerful, and strong,” she tells me. Is this different than art? “No, I do not distinguish, I do not put that wall between art and craft. They are interconnected, or the same. One shifts into the other. In the craft field, you see art, and vice versa.” An answer that is understandable, as an artist, making it more important than arbitrary boundaries set by the market or institutions.

Painting with volume, heat, grinding, and sanding techniques Dreaming In A Way, steel paintings of sorts manifest the various techniques and their physicality on the steel. A tour de force of metalwork, these works combine all the techniques D’Alessandro knows. “All express different feelings.” Manipulating the steel is aggressive for the body, she must often wrangle the sheet back into place, she is, in her own words, “in a constant fight with the metal while being deeply connected to it.”

Franconia Sculpture Park
Bruna D’Alessandro, “The Acorn,” 2022. Steel, 3 x 3 x 4 Ft. Currently on view at Franconia Sculpture Park, Shafer, MN. .

Sometimes, she must wrangle more than the material itself. Franconia Sculpture Park in Minnesota has a welding machine and an oxygen-acetylene torch outside for their artist residents. D’Alessandro found herself at the two-month residency there during the dead of winter. She worked during snowstorms and 14-degree Fahrenheit temperatures to create her larger-than-life acorn which still stands in the meadowy hill in the 50-acre park.

Bruna D'Alessandro
Bruna D’Alessandro, “Used Magic Wands,” ongoing since 2019. Steel and brass, 20” long. Photographed by On White Wall.

Even though she is extremely technically apt, D’Alessandro maintains a child-like fascination and approach to metal—joyful and eager to explore. Her Used Magic Wands are beautiful, each unique and visibly used—welded, crooked, warped—several of them have been fixed multiple times. “They have made a lot of wishes come true,” she says chuckling. “I like the idea that someone can choose their wand and connect with their imagination, creativity, the feeling of a child that is excited about a fantastic story.” This generosity in bringing viewers into the metalworking process and her dedication to pushing its boundaries is the essence and beauty of her practice.

Bruna D’Alessandro’s work will be on view from March 7-April 28, 2024 in Behind the Mask: The Art of Women Welders, curated by Karen Dimit and Janet Rutkowski at Culture Lab LIC, 5-25 46th Avenue, Long Island City, New York, NY 11101. The opening reception is on March 7, 6-8 PM.

You Might Also Like

Artistry Abounds in “New Glass from Sweden” at Culture Object

Sculptor Jessica Lichtenstein Explores The Limits of Feeling in “Delicious Torment”

What's Your Reaction?
In Love
Not Sure
Scroll To Top