Symbols of water
Trees, birds, water — Brazilian sculptress Elizabeth Titton immortalizes the beauty of nature in stainless steel.
At first glance, steel seems hard and cold. But it can be transformed in many ways and that serves as inspiration for Brazilian sculptress Elizabeth Titton. With the help of laser light, she breathes life into this inert material and tells stories with her sculptures. By way of example, she shows how the cycles of nature present to humanity a gift — one that some take for granted while others see it as precious. Indispensable for everything living thing is the element of water.
This element is also the key to the business pursued by Sanepar, a water utility located in the south of Brazil. An art competition was declared on the occasion of the firm’s semi-centennial and this artist, born in São Paulo, took the honors. Elizabeth Titton’s sculpture, Sanepar 50 anos, is made of sandblasted stainless steel and measures 1.20 meters across and five meters tall. “I took a very close look at the company and its goals because I wanted to create something both enduring and reflecting the core subject: water,” explains the artist, now 65 years of age. The column-like sculpture comprises four stacked stainless steel rings, crowned by a swarm of birds. Each of the five discrete sections represents ten years of company history.
The first ring is penetrated by wave profiles representing river water. The second shows cutouts shaped like the trees that line and shade the riverbeds. In the third ring, drop-shaped openings stand for both raindrops and drips from the faucet. The fourth part of the sculpture is decorated with clouds, the source of the rain that keeps nature alive. The sculpture is topped with birds whose motion symbolizes water’s perpetual cycle.
Depicting nature in steel is nothing new for the artist who, over the past twenty years, has mentored others in her own Pró Criar art school. In her solo exhibit “In Natura — Elizabeth Titton 2007,” she showed a forest made of 35 steel trees, each taller than a man. “Even then, the Merpe job shop in my home town of Curitiba helped me in its making and did so for the current sculpture, too,” Titton recalls. This is because manufacturing a steel sculpture requires exacting and detailed planning. A sketch by Titton serves as the basis for the technical drawing. Before starting, it is necessary to specify the alloy, the gauge and the size of the plates. When preparing sculptures for public spaces, it is also necessary to consider the material’s resistance to weather and scratching. The procedures that follow are the same as those used in conventional metalworking. The cutting data are programmed and the laser cuts exactly what the artist desired for each individual section.
In the Sanepar structure, the panels were curved to form sections of tubular rings. The edges were bent to form flanges that were then bolted together. When installing birds the artist, who was on site throughout the production operations, got in on the action herself. “It is one thing to arrange the birds on a drawing and quite another to see them in three dimensions. That makes it necessary, before welding, to analyze the overall effect of the individual elements,” she emphasizes.
Today the sculpture stands on the Sanepar company grounds and radiates nothing of the coldness of steel. The delicate cutouts play with light and shadow while the lightness of the birds lends the column an aura of grace. The sheen of the stainless steel reminds the viewer of cool waters and is thus a symbol for what Sanepar has been doing for 50 years. And all this is exactly as Elizabeth Titton envisioned it.
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This article was first published in winter 2014.