Moto Ohtake’s new sculpture lends beauty and motion to Santa Cruz
The newest art installation in the Heritage Plaza on Pacific Avenue in Downtown Santa Cruz is a massive kinetic sculpture, which its creator, local artist Moto Ohtake, describes as his “personal self-contained imaginary universe.” On a windy day, the new sculpture, entitled “Aero No. 7,” can be seen wildly gyrating and sending numerous disks orbiting around its base. When the winds subside the sculpture is static and calm. This seems symbolically fitting as both the universe and Downtown Santa Cruz are places that often test the relationship between chaos and order.
“Aero No. 7” is a 16-foot-tall stainless steel sculpture, weighs nearly half a ton and includes a stationary center pole in which dozens of disks, varying in size, orbit around in multiple directions. The complex counter-balanced weights make it so each component of the sculpture turns and orbits independently, and in different directions depending on the force of the wind.
“A scientist would draw a mathematical model of the universe,” Ohtake says. “But I am not a scientist so my art reflects my personal vision of the model of the universe.”
That may be one of the reasons Lorri Kershner of the Santa Cruz Arts Commission originally approached Ohtake to be part of the SculpTOUR program and display his trademark style of kinetic sculptures on Pacific Avenue. The artist not only jumped at the idea, but also went straight to work. Unlike some of the other sculptures along Pacific Avenue, which are on short-term loans from the artists, “Aero No. 7” is the first sculpture that was specifically created for the SculpTOUR program and is specifically designed for its current location.
Ohtake was born in Tokyo in 1952 and moved to the United States after marrying a Bay Area resident. After a short stint as a cabinet maker in San Francisco, he began attending the Academy of Art in San Francisco where he was introduced to and trained in many forms of fine art. It was during his time at the Academy of Art where Ohtake met inspirational sculptors like Richard Shaw and Holt Murray, who honed his style. He also credits the Academy of Art for introducing him to the various philosophies, which he draws from and incorporates into his work.
But Ohtake struggled for years to find the right medium. For a long period he used found materials, often from abandoned boats. Later he switched to polyester resin which allowed him more flexibility and consistency in his creations. But he was dissatisfied with how the materials degraded over time and bored with the static structures he created.
Welding and steel opened up a new world for Ohtake. Steel allowed him to expand the scale of his work. “Seeing the power [of steel] intrigued me.” It was soon after his first steel sculpture that Ohtake began to add elements that utilize kinetic energy and give his art life and motion. With kinetic elements he realized he had found his calling in the art world.
“I sat in front of my first kinetic sculpture for hours,” he recalls. “I was also very drawn to the idea of not being in total control of my own creation.”
The artist’s projects become bigger and increasingly more intricate, adding more pieces onto each new sculpture. Now, his fame stretches far beyond Santa Cruz and the Bay Area, and he is known in the sculpting community for being cutting edge. And during Open Studios here in Santa Cruz, his quaint studio overlooking Arana Gulch is often flooded with spectators. “Aero No. 7” is a perfect example of Ohtake’s work because of the mathematical precision and elegant complexity that is a distinct quality of the artist’s work.
So far, the reaction to the sculpture has been overwhelmingly positive. Local resident Iris Weaver commented that, “I don’t always feel the warmth Downtown but art pieces like these show that someone cares about Downtown and is taking care of it.”
Kershner is optimistic that the sculpture will increase the aesthetic appeal of Downtown. “The piece is dynamic and animated, which makes it a really nice way to enter Santa Cruz. I believe it reflects the energy and atmosphere of Downtown Santa Cruz,” she says.
Ohtake will discuss “Aero No. 7” during the next SculpTOUR event at 5 p.m. Friday, Jan. 6 at the Museum of Art & History, 705 Front St, Santa Cruz.