Somebody needs to pinch Joe Gitterman. A lifelong metal sculptor who created pieces for his own enjoyment, it wasn’t until just five years ago, after retiring from Wall Street, that Gitterman found success selling his work. Small sculptures for galleries and private collections quickly led to commissions for larger pieces in public and private settings. Since 2011, he’s sold more than forty-five pieces. The transition has been so remarkably swift and successful that even Gitterman himself hardly believes it’s happening. “I’m absolutely awestruck that I get to create sculpture for other people,” enthuses Gitterman. “It’s really taken over my life in the most glorious way possible.”
For forty years, sculpture was Gitterman personal, creative outlet. His wife, who worked in the theater, was often busy in the evenings, so he needed a hobby. So Gitterman, who struggles with dyslexia and had always loved working with his hands, started taking a sculpture class in New York City. Many more classes followed, as did years of self-taught study in Europe and hands-on experimentation, a labor of love that would pay off in a major, unexpected way in 2011, with the help of a little serendipity.
That year he participated in his first-ever professional show, a two-person exhibition at Connecticut’s Behnke-Doherty Gallery with painter Susan Monserud. The experience resulted not only in the sale of a few of his bronze sculptures, but a relationship with the agent who would give him his first commission. He quickly picked up more galleries, other agents, and more commissions. Today Gitterman’s work can be found in galleries, exhibitions, and collections throughout the United States and Europe, and he’s completed commissions for the SL Green Realty Corp in Valhalla, NY, Norwegian Cruise Lines, The Riverside Building in London, and Houston’s Royal Sonesta Hotel, among others.
To see a Joe Gitterman sculpture is to see movement captured in metal. The gesture of a dancer, the billow of a sail, the sweep of a knot: he interprets these motions in static sculpture, looping and curving works he designs and fabricates in bronze, stainless steel, or Plexiglas.
“As a young person, I loved going to the ballet and modern dance,” Gitterman explains of his early inspiration. “I thought about the movements of the dancers as a series of frames in an old celluloid film, and how just one of those frames could convey a fantastic sense of motion. I thought that capturing this ‘single frame of motion’ in a solid piece of sculpture would be a wonderful challenge.”
His study of dancers inspired other types of work. Costumes trailing a dancer’s body evoked the image of a sail, billowing in the wind. A modern dancer’s position summoned the appearance of a knot. “If you look at a knot and think about how it’s made, there’s motion in that,” Gitterman explains. “Capturing that action in a solid work of art perpetuates motion, which is my goal.”
The significance of the knot was further developed when he was asked to create a centerpiece sculpture for the outdoor healing garden at New Milford Hospital in Connecticut. “I proposed the knot design to suggest both strength and a comforting embrace for the patients and families who might be facing stressful times. The idea really resonated with the hospital and its mission to provide the garden as a healing, tranquil place.” The hospital was so struck with Healing Knot, that they commissioned a similar piece for a second hospital in nearby Norwalk, Connecticut, as well as a series of miniature versions that they give as gifts to significant donors.
Gitterman has experimented with a variety of materials over the years, starting with clay, plaster, wood, and marble. “I even took classes in lead sculpture, if that tells you how long I’ve been doing this!” Gitterman laughs. He often sculpts in wax, which he loves for its flexibility and variety of textures, and has recently begun working in Plexiglas, which he feels shares many of the same properties of wax.
His foray into stainless steel, however, was less purposeful. “I had received some mirrored stainless steel scraps from my fabricator, which we put through his bending machine so I could use them,” Gitterman recalls. “I included a few of these mirrored stainless steel pieces in my first gallery show, and the next thing I knew I was making Yin and Yang, two 54-inch sculptures for a family on Long Island who wanted the pieces placed between their house and boat dock.”
When beginning a new piece, Gitterman does not sketch, preferring to work with his hands directly on material. Working from the studio that’s attached to his house, he crafts his models in metal, wax, or cardboard. When he’s satisfied with the design, he takes it to Versteeg Art Fabricators in Bethany, Connecticut, the only fabricator with whom he’s worked, or to Beacon Fine Art Foundry in Brewster, New York. Ellen Rand of Rand Atelier in Clinton Corners, New York, patinates his sculpture. (“She understands me beyond belief,” Gitterman says of Rand.)
“They’re all extremely talented, supportive, and helpful,” the artist notes. “It’s such a collaborative process to work with these professionals. I don’t just come in with my model and ask to have it made. We work together, and I continue to learn so much from them. They’re absolutely instrumental to what I do.”
Though many of his pieces share a common source of inspiration, Gitterman is invigorated by opportunities to create something new. Last year he was commissioned to create his first wall piece for the Arris Building, a new residential development in Washington, DC, designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects. And his forthcoming Bowtie, a stainless steel sculpture he plans to paint bright yellow, will be the first of his knots to be oriented vertically.
For as busy as he is in this second career, Gitterman is keen on enjoying the ride, even when faced with the unexpected. “I haven’t been involved in an installation where there wasn’t some issue—it’s par for the course, I’m told, when you’re installing sculpture,” he chuckles. “In this business, you’ve got to have a sense of humor!”