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Local artist takes 1st at 'Ding' Upcycle! Art Festival

April 18, 2014
By CRAIG GARRETT ( , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

Jonas Stirner is a heavy metal artist. Really heavy. One of his iron sculptures stands taller than a basketball player and weighs hundreds of pounds. But his abstract sculpting is mostly for tabletop display, the larger pieces of scrap iron and discarded metals is for commission or whimsy. The work is popular with eclectic buyers, displayed throughout the San-Cap region and the world. Serious collectors pay up to $9,000 for individual pieces, he said. A Sanibel resident recently displayed two of Stirner's metal sculptures in an elegant outdoor spot.

Stirner's metal work is ultimately organic and so unique that he recently earned first place in the J.N. 'Ding' Darling Upcycle! Festival that on April 16 attracted artists using recycled materials to create work in plastics, cloth, rubber, cork, cardboard and wood, among other items gathered as junk or second hand. An incredible sculpture of an osprey fashioned of discarded bicycle tires was the featured work. The artist, Andrew Corke, donated the life-like piece to the "Ding" Darling wildlife refuge, which in turn auctioned the work.

Stirner is unique in a region flush with artists: Although he names his work, Cupid or Delicate Wind, for instance, he doesn't talk about inspiration for turning flayed and twisted and welded iron into something of raw beauty. Instead, he wants the viewer to do all the work.

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Jonas Stirner recently won 1st prize at the 'Ding' Darling Upcycle! Art Fest.

"People ask what I'm thinking when I create," said Stirner, a long-time resident of Captiva who studied and worked at abstract giant Robert Rauschenberg's compound. "And my answer is what do you see. I take part of something that I don't know and turn it into something else. Like it's born again. Don't limit yourself to what I see."

In Stirner's case, the very heavy apple didn't fall far from the tree. His father, Karl Stirner, is an acclaimed metal sculptor whose work has been shown in the Musuem of Modern Art, even has an arts' trail named after him near Allentown, Pennsylvania. Jonas Stirner first began welding together railroad spikes as a teen, to get the feel of the work and to interpret his own art. His efforts today are recognized with awards and collectors clamoring to his Fort Myers studio.

"A number of our volunteers and board members collect (Jonas Stirner's) work," said Birgie Miller, executive director of the 'Ding' Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge. "It's fabulous, beautiful."

Jonas Stirner in two decades has established his own identity, using industrial materials he scavenges from scrap yards, things like gears, iron rods, and steel tubes. The tabletop art is mostly welded to iron plates that he signs and dates. He welds the scrap pieces into visual grit and grace that kind of crouches, like a bridge or a battleship.

"I feel like a chemist altering the state of elements," he said. "The larger pieces almost feel human. You can turn around and they will startle you."

Stirner's moods determine the direction his art takes. He, for instance, is newly engaged. This means a happy heart, a joyful feeling that inspired a new tabletop piece he named Cupid. In an abstract way, it does look like a Cupid, considering the piece is a metal sleeve incorporating a vertical reinforcement bar used in roads, like an arrow pointed at the heart. He calls this time his romantic period. His fianc, Florida artist Lia Martino, tries to interpret his feelings by judging the shape and overall design his work evokes.

"She's pretty good at that, too," he said.

And, of course, Stirner, 43, has endured other periods of rejection, sadness, which translate to work that he sees as darker, more melancholy. It is what makes him an artist, interpreting what he sees and feels.



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