A Son’s Thoughts

by Michael Malpass (the artist’s eldest son)

Michael Allen Malpass was my father and my best friend. I have tried to justify his death for sanity’s sake but the only thing apparent to me is that my family lost a great friend. My father was an outstanding and devoted family man; a man that was always proud of his wife and children.

So much was left unsaid; so much left undone. It was too late to ever say “I love you.” It was too late to say “thank you”. So much seemed unfinished. So much is unfinished.

My father was taken from us in 1991, at the age of 44. He is too great a man; too great an artist, for me to let his memory die with him.

My father was a man that was too good to be true. His voice rang with sincerity. He was a gorilla with a gentle soul, and an awful lot of physical strength. He was a driven man who asserted his will in his work. He never forced anything. Everything that he created came from precise control, channeling much of his frustration and basic insecurities into his sculpture.

Dad believed that the sphere was the most perfect form. “It is efficient. A sphere has the most volume for the least surface area. The sphere is both amorphic and geometric and the center is always equidistant from the surface. The sphere is whole. The form is simple, yet the surface is complicated. My sculptures are animated, yet peaceful.”

From the discards of society, my father created beautiful objects. His focus and direction was so strong, it was as if the sculpture dictated his next step. He would take this junked metal, change the object, rearrange the object, weld the object, and grind the object to fit a sphere. He recycled, but at the same time elevated. The scrap was given importance because it became part of the whole, visually interlocking with adjoining shapes. It was, in a small way, revitalization.

Most of his metal came from cooperative scrap dealers in Brooklyn. Dad went to the scrap yard and bought metal a ton at a time. Each morning when he went to the junkyard, there was a new sense of discovery and excitement on his face. He loved his metal. I liked to compare him to a pirate with his treasure. Dad always said that discoveries and forms come from the process of working. My father would think of ten different things to do while he worked. He would reject about seven and follow up on three. What came next never seemed to bother him. Nothing seemed to bother him. When he cut an object on his band-saw, new shapes took form. Even with the same piece of metal, he kept discovering new shapes by making small changes. Nothing was wasted, because he could always manipulate it later. When he arranged the pieces and put them together, that was discovery. When he ground them and saw the entire sphere, that was discovery again. When he sold something, he considered that discovery too.

I have always viewed sculpture as a long process, but to my father, it never got boring. It only got better. His entire life was spent creating. It was a job to him. He worked at it every single day of the year. To have those pieces interlock and flow together was his joy. It didn’t matter if a sculpture took six months, because he enjoyed every minute of it. He always said, “Making art is like raising children. You must be firm and gentle.” It took me awhile to understand that.

Externals never mattered to Dad. On the hottest or coldest day of the year, he would be in the garage with his portable, heated stove (about the size of a five-gallon bucket) welding his beautiful bronze shapes. These shapes were first constructed by cutting with a band-saw, then banging them out on an anvil until the shape could take form in a mold that was a half cut sphere (usually a sea buoy). This would give his finished product an almost perfect sphere shape. This method would have to be repeated over and over, in order to get a round dimension. The thing I found most puzzling is how my father got the two halves to make a whole. Remarkably, he had the dimensions figured out in his head. It is as if he were able to solve a 1000 piece puzzle that is scattered in 1000 pieces in his mind.

The work did not end there. After the sphere was welded together, endless hours of grinding and polishing consumed my father. Using his children as the final judges, he would make them look at their reflection in the sculpture. If the piece had a mirror-like shine that they could see themselves in, then and only then would he engrave his name into the piece. He never seemed to worry about what was happening, because, in terms of creativity, something was always happening. When he was impressed by the work of another sculptor, he would let it inspire him. Theodore Rozak, Richard Stankewicz, and Rembrandt were his heroes.

My father knew that success in the art world would come for him in time. He was not a man that was interested in being labeled famous. He had a job teaching at Pratt Institute, and lived in a rundown building in the heart of Brooklyn. To my father, success was being able to sculpt, have nice equipment for it, and be with his family.

Because he worked with metal, it was imperative that Dad be strong. Many of his spheres were well over 300 lbs., and had to be moved and rotated constantly. It was like an Abbot & Costello routine when the time came to lifting these things.

Picture my father and me on either side of this 300 lb. piece of art, with Mom watching in constant fear of one of them being crushed to death. There was something mysterious about moving a heavy object that Dad found quite humorous. A twenty minute job would take two hours between the laughing, picking up, letting down, and insults. As I lifted, he would laugh. He laughed because my legs would buckle (he liked to say ‘shimmy’) under the weight. I weighed about 150 pounds back then. He would say that I had “bird legs,” and every time he did, I would laugh. The old rule, “Lift with your legs, not your back,” had no bearing on this scenario. These things were so heavy and had so much momentum, throwing one’s back out was an everyday occurrence. We couldn’t feel it. We were having too much fun together.

My father was also the gentlest man that I have ever met. To be tough is one thing, but to be tough and gentle is special. Dad had a great fondness for all forms of life. He knew a little bit about everything, but was never overbearing. He was impartial to his knowledge. He would speak when spoken to and answer only when necessary. My father believed that if you are genuine, people will respect you. If you are not, you deserve the people that do.

Michael Allen Malpass was everyone’s best friend. People knew that they could go to him with any problem and he would help solve it. He was open-minded and willing to accept just about anything people threw at him. There was no such thing as a rebellious time in any of his children’s lives because he thought that every stage we went through was terrific.

Memories of A Piece of Steel

by Mark Ebner (friend and former student) (with intro. by Michael Malpass, the artist’s eldest son)Malpass was one to choose his friends wisely. He held the belief that honesty and loyalty, combined with a sense of humor and kind heart were the key ingredients in his definition of the word friendship. “If you can find one good friend in this world consider yourself lucky. If you can find two, consider yourself blessed,” is what he used to say. Mark Ebner was that “good friend” to Malpass.Mark and Michael were entirely opposite people. In Mark’s garage, tools were hung up, nails were in jars (and labeled), and the lawnmower would be pre-gassed and ready to go. The Malpass garage looked like Sanford and Son. Twisted hunks of metal, anvils, buoys, vices, gantry’s, and old sculptures all had a place in the Malpass backyard. It was a metal graveyard. If one of his children was asked to get him a particular tool from the garage, it would be an all day event. Even though this may have bothered most people, he knew exactly where everything was. It always amazed me how a man that could be so messy, could create these beautiful, symmetrical shapes.Most people that knew Michael had a story to tell about him. I will never forget the one Mark told me…It was a bitterly cold, winter day in Brooklyn. I found myself in an unheated, one story garage space on the edge of Park Slope. It was time to sort for shapes. Allen (friends called him Allen) and I had taken a bus to Blue Star Scrap Metal. We stood for hours sorting 55-gallon drums filled with various shapes of metal. The only source of heat was a kerosene fired heater, which, if it was making a difference, was not clearly evident.The conversation and sorting continued and I still remember how cold and pained my feet were. I wish I could remember the conversation but I’m sure it included: army stories, fishing stories, or art moving stories.I do specifically remember how the both of us were impressed and astonished by a piece of equipment inside the garage. It was a power shear that was nothing short of frightening. Bobby (?), the owner, was using the shear to cut long lengths of steel into short nuggets. This machine was so powerful that it was slicing ¾”x 1-1/2″ bar steel into chunks without any effort. Bobby, a powerhouse himself at 250 lbs.+, was lifted into the air with each passing of the shear’s blade through the flat stock. Both Allen and I had attempted to cut steel of equal size using hack saws and understood the raw power that this machine exhibited. Out of respect and fear we never performed sorting with our backs to that machine.Along with the memory of that day, I took home a nugget of that steel and I still have it. Seeing and touching the chunk reminds me of that cold day when two friends found joy in the task and company. To this day, there are so many things that touch a nerve and engage memory cells that are sometimes easier to leave “off” than deal with the thoughts. Frankly, I’m not sure how you and the family have been able to survive the pain that pleasant memories must bring. I hope that someday you’ll visit, touch, remember, and smile at the memories of a cold and rusted piece of steel.

Collected Quotes

“Up from the earth the iron sang like a song from the moon.”
-Betty Parsons, Betty Parsons Gallery

“The three sculptures are absolutely splendid, and everyone in the company, employees and clients alike, got very excited about them. These sculptures are fantastic, and I am extremely happy that I acquired them.”
-Herve Arditty, President, IXCore SAS

“Malpass is America’s finest young sculptor.”
-Richard Stankiewicz, Sculptor

“Even the most accomplished welder must wonder about the way the sculptures are made, the perfection of the spheres, the seamless interlocking of the collapsing New York industrial base that Malpass collected and made into art. Malpass, who grew up in New York in the 1950’s and 1960’s, when it was a big, wonderful, hard working town, scavenged the debris of that lost city for his materials.”
-Pete Hamill, Novelist, Journalist, New York Daily News

“Malpass works in a way that relates to the accumulations of Arman with the high polish of works by Pomodoro, but the intent and content of this work is allied with American welded scrap-metal sculptors such as Chamberlain and Stankiewicz, where disparate elements are brought together in a powerful abstract composition of forms in space. In the case of Malpass, the form is a sphere.”
-David Ebony, Managing Editor, Art In America

“Michael Malpass creates outstanding sculpture that makes a unique contribution to our environment. He is a talented, conscientious artist, with integrity and vision.”  -Anne R. Fabbri, former Director of the Noyes Museum, Oceanville, New Jersey

“You’ve got these profound statements of form in the landscape that transform a place from an ordinary place to a very extraordinary one.”
– Nick Capaso, Curator DeCordova Museum & Sculpture Park, Lincoln, MA