FUSING RAW MATERIALS INTO BREATHTAKING SCULPTURES

by CAROLINA RAMIREZ HERRERA / photograph by HOLGER OBENAUS

Since the earliest of time, artists have been using raw materials such as stone and glass to create unique narratives and reveal their thoughts and emotions translated to fine art. While Joel Shapses became fascinated with sculpture at the young age of 5, much of his life was focused on the sciences, where he excelled as a dental surgeon for many years. Even then, his professors recognized his artistic strengths time and time again. Today, Shapses is devoted to his true passion. He has completed more than 1,000 sculptures, and private collections span the globe—from South America to the United States, Canada and Europe.

From the architectural impact of Shapses’ abstract art forms, illuminated with fluid neon and LED lights, to the sensuous capture of images penetrating stone, the artist is a sculptor for all seasons, personifying an enigmatic constant of precision and release. Shapses was inspired by his muse even as a young child and never wavered in dedicating time to his creative pursuits through all the demanding years of acquiring his higher education. During his travels throughout the world, he developed an advanced knowledge of the various stones that would become an integral part of his creative process. With insight into the capabilities and limitations of his medium, he originates artworks with the drama of an electrical storm and the pathos that even the blind can see: His forms are irresistible, demanding to be touched, and the perfect accent to any residence or commercial space.

Soon after his travels, Shapses relocated to South Florida, which has been his residence since 1972. Early on in his sculpting career, he worked under the same roof as famed sculptor Enzo Gallo. This is where Shapses created one of his largest commission pieces to date, a 6-foot abstract for Saks Fifth Avenue in Fairlane, Michigan. The piece was commissioned as a focal point for the premier anchor store for the Fairlane Mall. Minnesota marble was his choice for this work, as he felt the need to use domestic resources for this project.

“When creating a representational work, the idea is to sculpt a form that looks like a human figure, animal or other object. This type of sculpture is more confining because the sculpture should look exactly like the idea you are creating, be it a bust, torso, full figure or animal,” says Shapses. “Selecting the stone to accomplish this task can be challenging AD because of size, color, material. This leaves little room for error, because if the stone breaks in the wrong place, then the whole sculpture is ruined. On the other hand, creating free forms or contemporary shapes is the most fun because the stone plays a role in suggesting the outcome of the sculpture. Both processes take a lot of time and energy, using various tools such as hammers, chisels, air hammers, air chisels, grinders, sandpaper, files and polishing materials to create the final product.”


Perhaps his most unique pieces, referred to as his Nocturnal Works, are made of stone and LED lights, which create magical and awe-inspiring sculptures best appreciated in dimly lit spaces. “The idea of combining neon with stone came to me over 30 years ago,” he says. “I had been working with some translucent stones, such as alabaster and onyx, when I thought that if these stones could be illuminated from within, it would enhance the artistic effect. Not only would it bring out the internal nuances of the grain of the stone, but it would enhance the color as well. I could also take a stone that was colorless and create new variations of color with that stone.”

About five years ago, Shapses was approached to create unique trophies for body building competitions. “It started out with one for the female bikini division, and the response was huge,” he says. “The following year it expanded to four—two for the male division and two for the female division.” As the competitions grew, so did the demand. Today, Shapses creates trophies for two competitions—one in Naples and the other in Fort Lauderdale. According to Shapses, the trophy has been branded as the “Shapses Trophy.”

Today, his studio is in Naples, where he designs and works on glass sculptures and caters to both residential and commercial clients alike. For the larger pieces, including stone and metal sculptures, Shapses works in a studio in Bonita Beach, Florida.

Carolina Ramirez Herrera is an art-and design-obsessed travel and lifestyle writer, who often contributes to blogs, city guides and lifestyle publications, sharing a page from her little Black Book of personal travels. Based in Miami but usually on a plane, follow her on @Lacarolinda.