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Molding Emotion: Meet Brian Grow of the Workhouse Arts Center

Brian Grow must be a sculptor. He has no choice.

Most days you can find Brian Grow building art with his hands in Building 8 of the Workhouse Arts Center. On Wednesday, as Grow sat for Patch to take his portrait, his fingers worked expertly, and within 15 minutes, we witnessed him transform a large inanimate rectangular slab of moist clay into something with a soul.  

Grow, 42, moved to Falls Church this spring with his wife and two children. The son of a plumber and homemaker is a graduate of the Tyler School of Art, and most recently spent 10 years teaching at Chestnut Hill Academy in Philadelphia. He works about 30 hours a week at his studio, and his pieces range from $25 to $5,000. 

Questions and Answers

Patch: When did you know you wanted to be an artist? 

Grow: I started thinking about it in middle school, I guess. Then in high school I spent three hours a day doing art for three years, and then when it came to college, I wasn't sure what to do. I hadn't applied to any schools, and I applied to Tyler in March - way past the deadlines. 

Patch: Why clay? 

Grow: The physicality of it is really intriguing for me. You can work on three or four projects at the same time, the ideas can evolve, and you constantly go down new avenues. It's really the tactile quality, though - the way you can manipulate the clay in a physical way. 

Patch: What are you telling an audience with your work? 

Grow: I'm a pretty emotional person, and I don't always show that. I definitely have a lot of energy that's held back, and my fingers are an outlet for that emotion.

There's this one constant theme that I work with - the romance of being a working class guy. I'm interested in people who are unappreciated, who aren't interested in being on anyone's radar. 

Patch: So, you think about these things while you're making a piece? 

Grow: Yes. It's about individuality, about tapping into the viewer's emotional baggage. I don't want anything to be cold. I'm trying to trigger an emotional response from my audience.

There are so many things going on inside of my head that it's hard to describe how I convey that. In my piece "Collision", the idea that I was trying to express was the arm from the shoulder and into the small of the neck and into the back of the head. That negative slope in the neck was the entire idea for the piece. It was about that one piece of human anatomy and my own personal response to that beauty.

Patch: What are you thinking about while you were making that new piece today? 

Grow: I was actually thinking about Mitt Romney and his 47% comments. This guy just pulled his hand out of his pocket and it's empty. 

Patch: Big picture - What do you want to do with your art? 

Grow: My initial goals are to get more of my work in galleries and to have a place to call home, artistically, which is the Workhouse. My need is to make stuff. I actually need to make things and I must have an outlet for that. It's not a hobby, not a desire. For me it's like the air. Unfortunately I make big, heavy things that tend to take up a lot of space. 

Patch: Which artists inspire you?

Grow: Stephen De Staebler, James ColavitaJoe Ledbetter and Rodin

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