From bulldozers to fine art with David Gelfman


David Gelfman, Metal Sculptor

“A visitor to my studio is just as apt to find me repairing somebody’s bulldozer as creating fine art,” says David Gelfman. “To me, the activities are not as different as they sound”. Indeed, Gelfman’s work delivers an exciting fusion of the industrial functionality of a bulldozer, and the form, delicacy and taste expected from fine art.

David Gelfman was immersed in the mechanics of creating at an early age. In his adolescence, Gelfman spent summers working for a metal fabricator, picking up tricks of the trade along the way. He also shared his father’s wood-shop in his own basement, and explored furniture design, along with many other skills. Gelfman’s insatiable fascination with machinery and farm implements has followed him since childhood. As a ten year old, he developed this interest, and continues to collect a range of machinery today. Gelfman realized his destination as an artist during his undergraduate education at St. Lawrence University (New York) and graduated with a BA in 1989. During the pursuit of his MFA (Rinehart School of Sculpture at the Maryland Institute, in Baltimore), Gelfman “began to focus in on the mechanics of creating the imagery that had previously just inhabited [his] imagination.” Since 1994, Gelfman has worked out of his studio in Ridgefield, Connecticut. The studio is a large barn, filled with a collection of mid twentieth century machine tools, as well as Gelfman’s in-progress works.

David Gelfman’s work flourishes from his expertise in manipulating materials. Through his ability to physically construct, Gelfman has produced a myriad of different types of work. Gelfman describes one piece, designed for and displayed at the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art (Ridgefield, CT): “Many of the largest works Iʼve done are the result of [my] preoccupations with older technologies. One piece I did was a submarine which was in a show at The Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art. We were asked to create works that were site specific. I made up a little dreamlike situation of the tide  leaving this submarine behind. I often have a childish beginning to a piece.” Gelfman’s sculptural work is based in concept, as well as the artist’s mental imagery constructed in quite a physical manner. In his purely sculptural work, Gelfman’s inspiration seems ever-changing, but draws from interests in antique machinery (submarines as well as tractors, sawmills and steam locomotives), geometry, and his six months a year spent managing commercial fishing expeditions. He has worked on pieces that are interactive, and considers the relationship between the sculpture and the viewer to be significant.

Along with working on purely sculptural pieces, Gelfman has worked extensively on functional creations. With the advantage of education in both materials and visual art, Gelfman pours much of his focus on artistic architectural metal work: staircases, railings, custom furniture, fans. Although these pieces are as functional as any piece built in a factory, Gelfman’s artistic taste and style shine through; his ability to create a form that balances artistry and operation is truly unique.

As a creative, Gelfman recognizes and speaks on the struggle that a career in the art world presents: “Art-making can be a compulsion that is difficult to control and it can go on hiatus.” Gelfman suggests a “healthy dose” of activities not based in creating art in order to stay balanced, and states that much of his time is spent working technically. However, it is hard to believe that this routine does not, at the end of the day, benefit his art, both in terms of skill and concept. The continued technical exposure to machinery informs his functional designs and influences his sculptural forms. This back-and-forth interaction gives Gelfman’s work the advantage of impeccable craft and the attraction of being conceptually unparalleled. While his sculptures are delicately constructed from the basis in large-scale machinery, Gelfman’s artistic architectural metal designs are decorative and entertaining, yet undeniably conceptual and of course, completely functional. David Gelfman’s harmonic integration of industrial mechanics and artistic finesse allow his work, sculptural or functional, to succeed and grow through his career. “I would say […] that I have been able to create unique things and demonstrate a singular style that is gratifying. I find that my work and materials do evolve…”

Gelfman has exhibited work in galleries in Connecticut and New York. Two large-scale steel sculptures remain on permanent display at the Connecticut Childrenʼs Medical Center in Hartford, CT. Gelfman has worked on private sculptural commissions, custom interior and furniture design and fabrication. He also recently finished renovating his own home.                                                                                  –contributed by Jordan Marker