Ed Kroupa has been professional artist in the Pacific Northwest for 20 years. He has done numerous solo and collaborative works for permanent and temporary art installations. He is a sculptor, master mold-maker and experienced foundry artisan. His commercial artwork is displayed in numerous locations, including various Disney theme parks. Recently he was selected for the public artist roster for the Washington State Art in Public Places Program, which placed some of his work — six buoy balls with sea life as the theme — on the Thea Foss Esplanade, for boaters and other water lovers to enjoy.
Sea: What inspired you to create the Floating Life Forms pieces?
Kroupa: During my initial explorations of the Esplanade, I wanted give people a reason to step off the walkway and interact with the art and the space, and create a substantial piece for the location. As a Tacoma resident and an artist, I feel a strong connection to the coastal area, and its aquatic life inspires me greatly.
The concept of Floating Life Forms addresses the importance of being able to maintain a balance between the human world and the ocean world. Aquatic plants and creatures native to Puget Sound make up the surface of the buoy balls, which represent the presence of humans who also interact with the Thea Foss waterway. Each sphere appears to exist solely on its own but in truth is dependent upon the others for survival in the larger scope of Puget Sound.
The artwork for this project evolved from environmental observations of the abundance of coastal life. Research into the site emphasized its history as a hub for marine activity, from the time of Native American settlements to present day. In talking with the surrounding community, I realized there was a love of local aquatic life, a lot of marine activity and a concern for its effects on the surrounding environment. Hopefully, the artwork will inspire an appreciation and recognition of this delicate connection as people visit and interact with the Esplanade and the Thea Foss Waterway.
Who commissioned you to do these sculptures?
I was commissioned by the City of Tacoma to create something unique for the site.
Which of the six sculptures is your favorite and why?
Tough question, as I have grown attached to something in all six of them. That being said, the tentacle sculpture would be my overall favorite. I have always been fascinated with octopi and still find everything about them interesting to this day.
Can you give us an overview of the process of how the works were created?
After extensive research into the sea life of Puget Sound and selecting what I considered a good representation considering the size limitations I was working with, I created oil-based clay sculptures of each of the six orbs. Once I was happy with my sculpting and the look of each orb, I created silicone molds that were used to create a wax copy of each piece. The wax version was cast into bronze using the ceramic shell casting process. Once I completed the refinements I wanted in the bronze version, I applied the chemical patina, giving each piece the look you see in the finished work. As the co-owner of Two Ravens Studio, a bronze art foundry in Tacoma where the sculptures were cast, I was able to be a big part of the entire process.
What do you hope people to take away from viewing your artwork?
I like providing a sense of playfulness for the everyday viewer, mixed with something deeper if the viewer peels back the layers. Hopefully the artwork will inspire an appreciation and recognition of the delicate connection between humans and aquatic life forms as people visit and interact with my artwork and the Thea Foss Waterway. The greatest compliment I could receive is that my art inspired joyful, lasting memories that passersby will feel inspired to share.
What’s your next project?
I am currently working on a piece entitled “Rapture Of The Deep.” It’s a sculpture of a deep-sea diver who is suffering from oxygen narcosis and is hallucinating; before him he sees a beautiful woman, perhaps his wife or girlfriend.
What do you like best about Tacoma and the Puget Sound area?
I grew up in Southern California and loved my time spent exploring the beach, catching a wave and deepsea fishing to see what I could harvest from the ocean. The Pacific Northwest has that and more! The area is dotted with interesting cities and islands. The mountains are also just a few hours away from where I live in Tacoma, giving me more than I know what to do with. I also find the art community here to be friendly, supportive and growing.
What boating locations do you find most inspirational?
I was a boater in the past and as I find time, I’m sure I will be again in the future. My favorite boating location at the moment is the San Juan Islands. This is fueled by an experience I had seeing killer whales during the day and some truly magical bioluminescence at night.
What has been a seminal experience for you as an artist?
Growing up on and around the Pacific Ocean has and always will be a strong influence on my work.