|JIM VILONA AT WORK|
By Devon Jackson
Not all sculptors want you to hold their work in your hands, to feel its smoothness and solidity, to experience it on a tactile level. Many sculptors don’t want you to touch their work at all. But Jim Vilona is not that sort of sculptor. “I want people to interact with my work,” says Vilona from his home in Boulder, CO. “It’s not good enough that it be interesting to look at; it has to make people want to reach out and touch it. If people don’t want to touch it, then there’s something missing.”
Whether functional artwork or purely aesthetic, whether figurative like ALLARIA’S CHILD or abstract like COMMUNITY TOTEM, Vilona’s sculptures—both private and public works—invite the touch. They encourage viewer interaction. His stylized tables and chairs require it, in fact.
|MODERN HORSE, BRONZE, 18 X 7 X 18|
“The whole concept of interaction was deeply ingrained in me during my apprenticeship cutting and setting gemstones back in the early 1980s,” says Vilona. This was long before he even entertained the idea of being a sculptor. It wasn’t until after several careers and near-careers—as a jeweler, a pilot, and a professional ski racer—that Vilona found his ultimate calling in sculpture. Though perhaps it’s not entirely surprising, considering that his father and mother both sculpted in their spare time.
Vilona, who grew up in Elmhurst, IL, outside of Chicago, vividly recalls the many three-dimensional projects his parents made. His mother worked in paper tole, which is the art of cutting, manipulating, and then reassembling a two-dimensional image into a three-dimensional version. His father, a weekend sculptor, welded steel into acrobats and flowers. “All that must’ve had a much more profound influence on me than I realized,” says the 52-year-old artist, “because what I do now is take a flat surface and puff it up—the way my mom and dad did.”
|COMMUNITY TOTEM, BRONZE, EACH PIECE 18 X 14 X 8|
Academically hamstrung by dyslexia, which wasn’t diagnosed until he went to college, Vilona poured his energy into drawing, daydreaming, and especially sports. He ran track and field and played football. He rode horses, working with some of finest trainers in the state. But the sport he really excelled at was skiing. When the trek from Illinois to ski hills in Wisconsin, where he trained, became too long of a commute, he decided to move to Colorado.
Vilona’s initial career plan was to fly planes, and he spent two years studying aviation at Metropolitan State College of Denver. “But this was during the Vietnam War,” he recalls, “and all these guys were suddenly coming back from Vietnam with some 5,000 hours of flight time, and all I had was 400.”
|NORTHERN LIGHTS SERIES: SHOOTING STAR, DANCING SPIRIT, AND METEOR, BRONZE, H 80|
So instead of flying, Vilona enrolled at the University of Colorado in Boulder, where he studied psychology and skied. After graduating, he raced professionally for three years. It was after he badly injured himself that a friend suggested he pursue something a little less dangerous. And so Vilona went east to apprentice at his father’s gem company in New York City.
Over the next several years, he learned how to facet diamonds and carve on gemstones. He traveled back and forth between the United States and Brazil, where he cut stones from the crystals coming directly out of the mines, living in a tent for up to six months at a time.
Eventually, Vilona and his wife, Cheri, who also sculpts, opened their own high-end jewelry manufacturing business. Vilona did all the designs, which required a lot of drawing—consistently, every day. The discipline he learned in ski racing had prepared him well. “It seems unrelated, but the training I did skiing provided a strong foundation for my artwork,” says Vilona of those days spent pushing sand-filled barrels up Colorado’s mountains, Sisyphus-like, to strengthen leg muscles and build character. “I developed an intensity, a work ethic, doing that type of training. I rely on that all the time.” -Featured in September 2008