Art of another dimension.
Walk in the front door of Russell McCormmach's house in the River Road area of Eugene, and the first thing you'll see, mounted in the entryway, is a three-dimensional paint-on-steel rendition of Pablo Picasso's 1932 painting "Girl Before a Mirror," modeled after the artist's latest inamorata, Marie Therese Walter.
In the living room is a painted version of the same picture, which McCormmach copied from the original.
He used to do many of his own original paintings, the 81-year-old McCormmach said, but as he grew older he felt more satisfaction being around the work of the painters he admired most, especially in the form of his own re-creations of their work.
Occasionally, his admiration took a quirky turn, such as a painting he created that combined two portraits that Francisco Goya did of the Duchess of Alba, Maria del Pilar Teresa Cayetana de Silva Alvarez de Toledo.
In one, the duchess is shown in a white dress with a red sash and bow, with a small white dog standing at her hem. The other shows the duchess dressed in black, a mantilla covering her mass of black hair.
McCormmach reproduced them both, the white duchess and her dog on the right and the black duchess on the left, but he added a greyhound in the middle.
"I thought the black duchess should have a dog, too," he said. "I had a lot of fun with that one.
Occasional humor aside, "I do the best I can to represent them," McCormmach said. "And my originality came in translating some of those paintings into three dimensions."
Other favorites that he reproduced included Paul Czanne and Henri Matisse, but eventually McCormmach developed severe peripheral neuropathy, a malfunction of nerves in the limbs, and with the loss of dexterity he had to give up painting.
He turned to steel sculpture, which could be fabricated by other metal artists from his designs, and concrete.
In the yard outside his living room there's a colorful painted concrete assemblage reminiscent of a Czanne still life, with its bright blue concrete tablecloth adorned with a blue and green striped pitcher, red and purple jars, and appropriately colored fruit: apples, pears, lemon and melon.
The rest of the yard is similarly decorated with large circles, triangles and cones in blue and yellow; all-red concrete cylinders, spheres and cones; and, right outside the patio door, a curvy concrete bench in bright yellow with a matching glass-topped table.
"It's the activity of art that interests me, not the result," McCormmach said.
He often painted over paintings he had already done, and when one of his concrete installations doesn't please him, he doesn't hesitate to do it over.
He didn't start out to be an artist, which he refers to as his "peculiar pastime."
As a young man, he earned a bachelor's degree in physics and mathematics at Washington State University, winning a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford in England, where he completed another bachelor's degree in politics, philosophy and economics.
"Later, I brought this scattered learning together in the way of a Ph.D. in history of science at Case Western Reserve University," McCormmach said. "My career was teaching. My main jobs were at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, where I was a professor of history of science."
In 2010, he was awarded the Abraham Pais Prize for the History of Physics, "for the study of German science in the 19th and 20th centu ries and a major biography of Henry Cavendish (with Christa Jungnickel, his late wife), and for founding the journal Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences," the American Physical Society said in announcing the award.
But as long ago as their years in Baltimore, he and Jungnickel "walked by the new sculpture garden of the Baltimore Art Museum on the way to work every day," he said. "We often sat at table there, where we drank coffee, admired the sculptures in their setting and came up with the idea that one day we would have a sculpture garden of our own."
When they eventually moved to Oregon, they started out buying outdoor art by Tom Walsh, who had graduated from the University of Oregon, as well as several indoor pieces by him and another local sculptor, Paul Pappas.
For a long time after Jungnickel died, "I did nothing more with our sculpture garden, but always with the thought that I would return to it one day and continue our idea," he said.
His Czanne still life of table and fruit was one of his first efforts, McCormmach said.
"After that, I used more abstract compositions of geometrical forms in steel or steel and concrete, based on Czanne's work as well as some of my other favorites, Picasso and (Wassily) Kandinsky," he said.
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