By Bonnie Gangelhoff
While some artists refer to their studios as quiet sanctuaries, the workspace of Texas sculptor Jesús Bautista Moroles is the polar opposite of a peaceful retreat. On any given weekday shrill sounds from two industrial-strength diamond saws pierce the air of Moroles’ studio, located three hours south of Houston. Oddly enough most of the time such heavy-metal buzz is music to the sculptor’s ears. “I know how the saws sound when they are working properly. That sound means everything is running smoothly,” he says. “If the saws don’t sound a certain way, it’s dangerous.”
Indeed, this cacophonous studio is no solitary oasis for one man to ruminate. The internationally known sculptor employs 18 people who help polish, grind, saw, and crate his artworks. Inside his cavernous 6,000-square-foot space, there is a beehive of human activity amid mammoth chunks of granite that are piled and stacked everywhere. The space is currently home to 15 works in progress including stone, balls, walls, disks, and even a few soon-to-be obelisks.
Moroles works exclusively in granite—one of the hardest stones to carve. But he doesn’t carve it like some sculptors. Instead he “tears” the granite using the diamond saws or by hammering five-inch steel wedges into it, causing the stone to split along its natural grain and let loose a small explosion. One slab of uncut granite can weigh about 10 tons. The magic of a Moroles piece is that despite its mounmental weight, it can appear as delicate as glass.
In his studio the sculptor creates works of art for gallery shows as well as commissions that currently include a fountain plaza for Seattle collectors and a monumental-size nautilus-shaped stone piece that will climb down the staircase of a Southern California home built on the ocean. Moroles ordered 100 tons of Texas rose granite for the nautilus project. It will take a trio of trucks to carry the piece across the country when it’s completed.
Moroles finds much of the granite he uses on forays to Texas Hill Country quarries—hauling the pink and red stone back to his studio in semitrailers. Once home, he sketches his designs not on paper but on the stone itself with a grease pencil to indicate where to “tear” it. While many sculptors farm out their sketches to manufacturers for execution, Moroles has a turnkey operation from finding the stone to installing finished pieces.
In fact, the sculptor’s compound takes up two city blocks in Rockport, a Gulf Coast art community and fishing village peppered with funky seafood restaurants and tackle and bait joints. Moroles first came here as a boy and chose the studio location in part because of pleasant memories that include fishing with a favorite uncle in the summer. He settled permanently in Rockport, four blocks from the sea, in 1983. Each year since, as his reputation has grown, he has added space to his compound which now includes buildings to store granite, equipment, cranes, trucks, and works in progress.
Today, Moroles’ art is also a family affair. His parents live on the property—he describes his father as his wise advisor. His sister Suzanna manages the business, brother Hilario directs the installation process, and Moroles’ brother-in-law is his project manager.
His studio has flourished, going full-tilt six days a week for years now. But Moroles recently turned 50 and says he has set some new goals for the next decade. He has cancelled all gallery shows in 2001 in order to finish current commissions so he can spend more time on personal projects. “I want to create more public art in places where people can go to contemplate, meditate, and reflect. I want to create at least one great work a year for the next 10 years,” he says. “That would be very satisfying.”
Featured in “In The Studio” March 2001