Last week, Chris Erney noticed a new endorsement of his work: forehead prints on his studio window. “I guess that’s a compliment!” he says with a grin, pointing out the gently swaying fish sculptures that Torpedo Factory visitors were apparently straining to see—fine examples of one artist’s knack for combining nature’s beauty with mathematics and industrial design.
Erney’s studio is a vast, eye-popping place: Among the brushes, clay, and the usual artist’s tools, you can’t miss the saws and sanders, welding masks, massive wrenches, even flasks of acid—all the rough stuff Erney needs to bring forth works of unexpected grace, from the recently commissioned mobile “Wind and Wings” to angelic sculptures destined for display at the Federal Reserve and a private home in Arlington.
(photo by Greg Knott)
With the coming of spring, Erney’s studio is alive with inspiration. On a wall festooned with mythological figures, a satyr celebrates; nearby, stainless-steel seedlings germinate and spread their leaves in an elegant ode to the season. There’s math behind their beauty: Erney’s seedlings are his latest works based on the Fibonacci series of numbers, and he’s busy using various media to explore the branches and spirals they form.
These days, Erney isn’t just thinking big; he’s working big as well. You’ve seen his creations on building facades around Washington, and in 2009 he spruced up a dingy section of Alexandria’s Mount Vernon Trail with a remarkable 1,200-foot-long mural about the life of George Washington. He’s currently brainstorming designs for large monuments, and his background in designing medical devices means that there’s a practical sensibility behind even his new stainless-steel wave-and-fish panels: They can be hung one at a time or connected in endless, modular rows and installed by anyone who can fit two screws into a wall.
Angels, monsters, curling seedlings, schools of fish—to visit Erney’s studio is to see artwork unbounded by subject and scale and to glimpse deep connections between nature and man. “It’d be wrong to think there are gaps between technology, art, and the way a fern in my garden unfurls,” Erney says. “I like to bridge those gaps.”