Hugh Holborn is that rare kind of craftsman who is also an auteur in his own right. He brings industrial materials such as steel, iron and salvaged metals to life as metallic marine life, honoring the aquatic creatures around which he lives. Growing up between the New England islands and Florida, Holborn feels blessed to have always lived boating on and swimming in the waters that now inspire his metalwork. Memories from diving and fishing are important parts of his life, yet with climate changed and increased environmental concerns he also recognizes his experience with the ocean as impermanent, and thus his recent series, Albula, is making that experience permanent.
He started his journey when he was 12 as an apprentice for New Mexico sculptor Jim Martin—a man out of time who was simultaneously amazed by Holborn’s “space age” Nokia cell phone, while making contemporary sculpture with his metallic colossi. Being both inspired by and experiencing this life, Holborn started a journey to acquire the tools and skills to bring his own creations to life. Holborn soon found himself stymied in that his artist’s imagination far outpaced his technical ability. To solve this, he attended the American College of Building Art. While there, a leapfrog between his artist’s mind and craftsman hands began. Holborn’s studies and work focused on the English smiths of the 19th century, and the thought of working for an artistic purpose largely lay dormant. Once graduating, he rediscovered his desire to make art, and was able to use his newfound knowledge of pre-industrial craftsmanship to create his artistic style. The artist and the craftsman have learned how to run in tandem, resulting in work that reaches back to the 1800’s and brings that process into the contemporary mind.
He begins his work with cheerful sketches and eclectic doodles, which are then revised in the world of iron craftsmanship . Using ancient methods and various aged and salvaged material, Holborn creates contemporary pieces that simultaneously feel ancient. Holborn wants his “Artwork to resemble those of the past and be in the hands of ancient heroes.” Through his master craftsmanship he achieves his goal of creating artwork that, like his mentors before him, appear to be from the past but still exist in a contemporary dialog.
In Albula, Holborn uses stylized designs from the original cartoons to add depth and texture to the linear medium of ironwork—moving away from gates, columns and railings. Textures in the body of the fish, and swirls of iron piping decorate the image and bring the flow of the ocean into the stoic metal. Holborn says the pieces are “trying to balance humanity.” He uses his art connect the organic and fluid aquatic life and bring them into conversation with humanity’s organized and industrial world.
Albula gives thanks and adoration to the water. Especially the skittish and almost mystical Caribbean Bonefish. Memories of the silver flashes across a cerulean ocean are captured in the iron. The colors of the sea are echoed in the oxidized patina on the metal, the motion frozen in the patterns and stylized designs of the work.
Holborn now lives in St. Augustine, Florida with his girlfriend and their newborn twin daughters. His artwork has given him a sense of self reliance and environmental stewardship—being able to craft functional items for his own home and doing so in a way he knows is environmentally conscious. He plans to keep creating art using historical methods, and wants to keep those methods alive by teaching them to new craftsman and artists.
By Alyk Russell Kenlan
Interview conducted on July 15, 2018