Leah Aripotch is a metal sculptor based in Oakland, California. She was born is 1987 and raised in Montauk, New York. She received her BFA from Academy of Art University in 2012. In tandem with her graduation, she designed and built a line of jewelry for Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in collaboration with MFA Fashion designer, Teresa Field and Textiles designer, James Thai. Snake Bag, a sculptural handbag made for that collaboration, has since been published in Metalsmith Magazine and CAST, a coffee table book featuring art and objects made using humanity’s most transformational process. Upon graduating, Leah began a paid apprenticeship at a commercial fabrication shop in San Francisco under the mentorship of Brian Martin. Since 2015, she has focused exclusively on fine art sculpture. Her work has been exhibited across the country at venues such as the National Museum of Metal, the Fuller Craft Museum, Museum of Museums, and the Wayne Art Center. She lives in Oakland with her husband and two cats and builds monsters and aliens out of her metal shop.
Well-known for her technical virtuosity within the metal-smithing community, Leah creates steel sculptures with lifelike realism using both forging (blacksmithing) and fabrication (welding) techniques. Her primary tools include welders, a propane forge, hammers (ranging from a tiny ball peen hammer to a 30 lb. power hammer), and an array of steel grinders, with which she carefully manipulates stock industrial steel into stunning organic forms. By adapting traditional and modern metal forming techniques in innovative and unprecedented ways, she is able to shape steel into highly detailed creatures of otherworldly origin that appear as if they were cast.
Drawing from her love of science fiction and her obsession with mother nature’s strangest offerings, her work blends organic forms with the surreal in an effort to cast light on some of the darker aspects of the human condition. Recently, Leah has begun to build steel monsters that are both recognizable - insofar as they are inspired by strange flora and fauna including orchids and carnivorous plants - but also uncanny and even extraterrestrial. These explorations range from anthropomorphized plants with seemingly nefarious intentions, to blind eight legged creatures being controlled by parasitic eyeball monsters. This new series, which features themes like gluttony, emotional armor, and codependency, serves as an outlet for Leah to continue her investigations into other aspects of the human experience, as well as test the limits of her own imagination.
What initially drew you to your medium/media of choice?
I started out as a painter, initially. In art school, I was required to take a 3D class as an elective and became enamored with sculpting. As I took more and more sculpture classes, I was eventually put in front of a welder. I loved everything about the process of building sculpture in steel. I ultimately transferred to a different art school and received my BFA in Fine Art Sculpture with an emphasis on Metal Sculpture.
What aspect of your art do you hope really comes across to you audience?
I find myself having to explain a lot to people that my work is not cast. I build my sculptures using various blacksmithing and fabrication techniques, such as forging, welding, and grinding. Metal sculpture is still in the shadows as a fine art medium and is often misunderstood. I want my work to raise awareness about the unique process that goes into building a metal sculpture. I believe that would deepen the appreciation for the work and also, hopefully, inspire others to push boundaries with the media.
Who inspires you in your life, whether it be artistically or otherwise?
Louise Bourgeois is a big one for me. And I’ve always been a fan of Tim Hawkinson. I remember visiting his show at the Whitney Museum back in 2001 and being so inspired by his work. I’m also really inspired by sculptors like Simon Lee, who sculpts some pretty incredible monsters. I’m inspired by so many Sci-Fi and horror authors and creators. The list goes on and on, really. I suppose I’m drawn to creators working on the dark side.
What keeps you going as an artist? Where do you find that creative drive?
I think my community keeps me going as an artist. All of the people around me are doing cool things. I’m energized by other people’s passions and creativity, and I love having a community to share my work with.
Tell us about your primary goal for the future. Has this goal changed over time?
Recently I’ve started to think a lot about my desire to be a mentor. This is a new goal for me, and something I’ve thought more about as I’ve grown older. I think it’s a pretty important part of growing as a metal artist. My mentor, Brian helped shape me into the fabricator and sculptor I am today. I’d like to be that for someone else.