Jonathan Hertzel's sculptures look like pillars of metallic fire. They are figures in motion, undulating and mysterious. His bronze sculpture Narrator seems to wrap its way skyward in a twisting stream of curved metal. Another work, Gathering, appears as a swirling mass — a cross between a whirlwind and a ballet dancer. Hertzel considers himself a figurative sculptor, which is clearly visible in his pieces. But his bronze artworks are more than simple human bodies: They are snapshots of energy and motion.
Recently, Hertzel completed Rooted Family, a large sculpture destined for Le Jardin, an upscale residential community in Atlanta. He began work on the piece in October of 2005, when he presented his first design: a small wax model. He said the developers were looking for works that embraced family life, and his conception fit the bill. He describes the now massive construct as "about a family interconnecting" — two parents with two kids swirling around them, like "little tornadoes."
There seems to be a void in his studio now, which has not yet adjusted to the absence of Rooted Family's once considerable presence. He estimates that the final work weighs in at about 3,800 pounds, and reached to the very top of his high-ceilinged studio in Chalfont.
Hertzel grew up in Westchester, N.Y., and attended the University of Rochester, where he studied history. But throughout his college experience, art was always in the back of his mind.
After graduation, he moved to Philadelphia and attended the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he received a classical training in sculpture. For the past 20 years, his style has continually evolved.
Society Through Art
Indeed, that style has altered from purely narrative to more expressive. He started by being steeped in political narratives, using his history background as a tool to comment on society through art. He crafted, for example, alien-looking "terranauts" to get people thinking about environmental issues. As he progressed, he realized that he was less interested in making a statement than in exploring the sense of movement he could convey.
"I think of my stuff as gyroscopic," he said. "It's what keeps us moving." He said that primal, elemental forces are often the inspiration he tries to embody, whether a burning flame or rushing stream. He doesn't always begin with "an immediate image," he said, and his creative process "doesn't have the classical take on what a sculpture should be."
The 53-year-old shares his studio space with his wife, Linda, in a long-standing arrangement: The two met when they shared similar space at the Academy of the Fine Arts.
The couple has two teenage sons, Elias and Ezra. Hertzel refers to himself as culturally Jewish, noting that it's part of his identity. He also considers himself a very spiritual person, although it doesn't necessarily factor into religious outlets.
While Hertzel thinks of himself as a sculptor of figures, he prides himself on the fact that his art pushes beyond simple representations of a single image or idea.
He noted that when viewers move around his sculpture, they often have a flurry of different impressions, depending on their vantage point. And that's exactly what he strives for: "I don't want to tell somebody what to think," he said.
Rather, he said he is trying to express life's constantly changing senses and feelings, no matter how a viewer might interpret them.