In the trailer for the third-to-last episode of Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston reads the entirety of Percy Bysshe Shelley's sonnet "Ozymandias." The poem's reflection on the impermanent nature of power is built around the image of an ancient statue to a long-dead pharaoh, set in an otherwise barren landscape. By extension, this metaphor can be applied to the show's antihero, Walter White, suggesting his inevitable downfall. While certainly a gripping television trailer, the poem's secondary theme, the persistence of art, is lost. After all, though crumbing, the sculpture of Ozymandias remains, still preserving his legacy. But while power seeks to immortalize itself through art and antiheroes have overrun contemporary popular imagination, perhaps the more fitting subject of sculpture is genuine heroism.
Self-sacrifice, dedication, and devotion are worthy of recognition, and capturing these heroic ideals is central to the work of artist and sculptor Matt Glenn. In a roundabout way, the origins of this focus can be traced back to his earliest artistic endeavors. As a boy, Glenn drew his idols; bodybuilders and superheroes, like The Incredible Hulk, Flash Gordon, and Batman. Heroes are still, several decades later, a frequent subject of his craft. Now, however, he molds and memorializes firefighters, soldiers, police officers, and others whom families, communities, and organizations seek to preserve and commemorate.
"I love working on heroes... I enjoy the opportunity I have to preserve their legacy in bronze."
Matt Glenn did not set out to be a sculptor; though always artistic, he didn't work with clay until he was 25, and that first occurrence was on a whim. Intrigued by a family friend's sculptures, he borrowed (some might say stole) materials and set out to fashion a likeness of American gunslinger Porter Rockwell. Once he began, as Glenn describes it, he literally could not stop himself; from 4pm to 6am the following morning, he molded the clay. There and then, at the intersection of passion and talent, his career was born. Glenn landed his first commission later that year.
"from the day I dipped my hands in clay, I was addicted."
Those early drawings of superheroes where Matt Glenn's introduction to the anatomy and physiology that still inform his work. Now, however, the exaggerated muscle tone of fictional characters is gone, replaced by an ability to imbue bronze with realistic textures and emotions. This, Glenn believes, is at the heart of good sculpture. To paraphrase him, disproportionate anatomy is immediately noticeable and when a sculptor fails to capture facial expressions, the result typically looks like something out of a horror movie. Time and study are essential to avoiding these pitfalls, but Glenn has three additional tips: 1) the use of anatomically correct 3D models, 2) use of live models, and 3) accurate measurements, in centimeters.
The resulting sculptures, like Veterans Memorial -Altamont, Utah, are remarkable. Life-size works of art are made to be experienced in person; something is inevitably lost in their translation to 4x6 or 5x7. Yet even through photographs, Glenn's attention to detail is apparent. The memorial does not feel like a work of metal. The soldier's eyes have a softness, warmth, and depth. His shirt creases naturally at the collar, shoulder, and elbow. The muscles in his forearms appear to press against skin through real flesh and blood. Beyond the purely physical, the sculpture conveys a balance of strength, composure, power, and restraint. It suggests and embodies the willingness that Kennedy described in his inaugural address, to "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty." Which is to say that, in the memorial, Glenn conveys not only the realistic image of a soldier, but also the spirit and ideal.
Like Glenn's other sculptures, this memorial is a fitting tribute, skillfully executed with care and precision. Glenn's artwork clearly emerges from his personal respect and admiration for his subjects. Once a boy who sketched imaginary heroes on notebook paper, Glenn now has his self-described "dream job," building monuments for veterans, officers, and other American heroes.