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ARTIST OF THE MONTH - February 2002

Jim Aleff: Bringing Metal to Life
by Sydney Francis

As I have been writing “Artist of the Month” on Jim Aleff, one question sticks out in my mind: “what makes his metal figures so compelling?” Is it the playful southwestern imagery? Or the mystery of the ancient Fremont figures? Could it be the simplicity captured in a single animated piece of flat metal? Or is it Aleff’s inner personality emanating from the metal work? I do not know the answer, but I suspect it lies within the intersection of all these questions.

Aleff works professionally for Earth Studio as the lead designer and workshop manager in charge of the production of original designs, sculptures and products. He began metal work for Earth Studio about five years ago teaching himself with a plasma torch. Aleff had come to Moab with the owners of Earth Studio from Wisconsin where he did a variety of artistic projects. Aleff creates a range of functional and decorative metal sculptures, including wall figures, vases, luminarias, free-standing sculptures, picture frames, garden art, and so much more. He enjoys working in the Earth Studio workshop because the job is creative and stimulating and every year he finds himself exploring new techniques, designs and projects.

One of the most exciting new achievements of Aleff’s sculpting career is his 2002 Olympic sculpture found at the Moab Information Center. Aleff responded to a “call to artists” posted by the Moab Utah 2002 Committee by submitting a prototype of his sculpture. Aleff’s sculpture was chosen to commemorate the torch visiting Moab on February 4th 2002. This sculpture represents an historic and cultural moment: Delicate Arch epitomizes the natural wonderment of the area landscape; the Olympic torch signifies this moment in time and the spirit of peace, harmony and individual achievement; and the running kokopelli expresses not only the athleticism associated with the Olympic Games, but rather the trans-historical continuity of life and culture in the Moab Valley.

The fun-loving kokopelli is an archetype that speaks to the new Southwest. Kokopelli, the flute player, is widely recognized as the manifestation of masculine fertility, spreading his potency with his music. This particular kokopelli is Aleff’s signature design, which he uses in different wall figures and sculptures. Kokopelli skips with the flute, runs, plays, and hold hands with a family of similar figures.

“Moab Man” less playful than the kokopelli figures shows a very well known petroglyph image found in the Moab area. “Moab Man” is the nickname for this local Fremont figure created circa 1050-1200 AD Some archeologists suggest that these figures are a record of spirit and power in distinctly humanized form.

One of Aleff ’s primary sources of joy and inspiration is his daughter Alie. I have seen some very playful little girls with flowers, which simply portray the basic love a father has for his daughter. I think some of the fun and whimsy found in Aleff s signature kokopelli pieces holding hands or dancing is attributed to the inspiration that Aleff finds in Alie. Alie also has designed some metal pieces, which have been on display and for sale at Earth Studio.

Aleff has some more complex pieces like his landscape found at Dave’s Corner Market above the espresso machine. The landscape has three layers framed into an outer border. The top layer represents the La Sal mountains; the next layer is of the rock formations that characterize the area; and then the bottom layer is the river valley with petroglyph cutouts of bighorn sheep. A kokopelli figure plays his flute in the left-hand corner. And long spiraling lines found on nearby petroglyph sites frame the right and left sides of the scene. Aleff uses different metal textures and colors to express the depth of the landscape and also its varying geological qualities. The landscape is both simple and abstract like the petro-figures it utilizes.

Jim, himself, was friendly but not arrogant. He came off very positive and constructive, while maintaining an inner calm and modesty. Although, Aleff is a professional artist and designer with a public monument and several gallery openings under his belt, I do not think he would include “artist” as the primary definition of his identity. He did not grow up with dreams of being an artist, but rather he followed a series of his talents in design and craftsmanship to very enriching and creative professional artistic career. Although, he is truly an artist in his ability to capture and express the mystery of human culture in his petroglyphic figures.

I found Aleff to be a bit of an enigma. He expresses such a range of design perception from the fun and simple to the complex and mysterious. He did not offer me many clues to piecing the puzzle together, as he was modest and seemingly surprised by my interest in his work. But perhaps it is not necessary to understand in order to appreciate the timeless mystery of the petroglyph archetypes or the childlike joy of a father-daughter relationship expressed in playful families of kokopellis holding hands.

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