After months of work, sculptor Joseph Rastovich helped place his “Lazy River” sculpture in Tualatin last week.
Standing 20 feet tall, the winding steel installation sits on the west side of Tualatin Commons Park and is most visible from Martinazzi Avenue between Tualatin-Sherwood Road and Nyberg Street.
True to its name, the sculpture’s distinctive shape was chosen to represent the Tualatin River, an integral part in Tualatin’s very existence. The shape also represents a mastodon tusk, which Rastovich wanted to include as another important part of Tualatin’s history. Covering the sculpture are 32 embossed icons, which further tell the story of Tualatin, past and present.
“The Tualatin Lazy River sculpture very much tells a story with all the icons and the abstract symbolism of the form,” Rastovich said. “Basically, it’s kind of like this static storyteller to tell people the history of Tualatin, where Tualatin is now and about the things that have gone on. It’s nice to be aware of what has happened in your local area.”
This sculpture is one of eight public art pieces that Rastovich has created since his first at age 18. Now 23, the artist has already been sculpting for seven years and doesn’t plan to slow down anytime soon. He feels that public art pieces are an essential element of cities and wants to keep contributing his voice.
“Public art is really great because it creates a space,” Rastovich said. “Personally, I believe it increases the quality of life for the people who interact with the sculptures. It just creates monuments that are a break from the linear world of the city … They make people think. They can make people inspired to do different things. And they also, in many ways, help tell a story.”
To see Tualatin’s story as Rastovich sees it, visit his “Lazy River” sculpture at 7880 S.W. Nyberg St.
Sculptor Joseph Rastovich calls himself a metal wrangler. The work he does can be a little dangerous — sometimes because of the sheer size and weight of his creations.
The 22-year-old Kennewick artist’s latest project includes two 40-foot steel arches that welcome visitors as they enter the grounds to the new Reach center on Columbia Park Trail at the west end of Columbia Park in Richland.
Today is the Reach’s opening day. It’s open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The impressive 14,000-pound beacons can be seen by drivers on Highway 240 along Columbia Park as well as boaters on the river.
The arches are made up of 10 steel sections welded together, with the help of Kennewick welder Tim Hammack.
The criss-crossing arches represent the sun and are the focal point of a science-themed project started by a group of middle school students from Three Rivers HomeLink in Richland, said Lisa Toomey, CEO of the Reach center.
“They were working on a solar system project and the sun is the first piece in the project,” she said.
Sculptures representing the other planets in the solar system will be set up along the Columbia River, with Pluto miles away by the boat launch to the Hanford Reach National Monument near Othello.
Rastovich also said the arches act like a sun dial, casting shadows in the center of the sculpture at the summer solstice and equinox.
“I still have to install the sheet metal skin around the arches,” Rastovich said. “We had a little trouble in the beginning that delayed me getting done before the Reach opened. The skin will make the arches more cohesive and I should have that done within the next couple of weeks.”
An engineering error caused the delay. It took a few days to fix it before the arches went up in time for the grand opening this weekend.
Rastovich has a passion for big sculpture for reasons he doesn’t quite know how to explain.
“I started early, at age 14, making big sculptures,” he said. “And I asked my mom once if maybe I should make smaller sculptures, and she just said, ‘Go big. You’re good at it.'”
Both his parents, Michael and LuAnn (Ostergaard) Rastovich, are well-known artists. His dad is a sculptor and his mother a painter.
Joe Rastovich still lives at his parents’ Kennewick home, saving up to buy his own place one day, which he plans to build mostly by himself to make it eco-friendly and to continue his organic gardening.
There is nary a challenge he won’t tackle creatively, he said. When he was 14, he carved out his beloved grandfather’s casket.
He enjoys building, creating, soaking up knowledge and learning new things.
“I love working because life’s too short,” he said. “If I were a dog, I’d be a border collie, and if I was a horse, I’d be a draft horse because both of those animals are driven and love to work too.”
His current project is creating a 20-foot outdoor sculpture for the city of Tualatin.
To date, he has created eight pieces of public art around the Tri-Cities and beyond.
Joseph Rastovich recently bought a forklift. It’s not the most common tool in an artist’s kit, but it’s just not that easy to move around 20 feet tall steel sculptures by hand.
On occasion, the 22-year-old envies artists with more portable crafts, but he isn’t jealous enough to focus on work with a different medium—you can’t choose what you love.
Last fall, the self-trained sculptor happened to be at a gallery at First Thursday in Portland when he began talking to Diane Kruger with Signature D Art Consulting. She mentioned that Tualatin was accepting applications for a public art piece to celebrate it’s centennial, and that he should apply. With a week left until the deadline, Rastovich whipped together a concept, sent it in and was chosen to create the piece.
“It was really a tight deadline, but I’m used to that,” he said. “People who know me say I’m like the busiest person they’ve ever known, because I’m just always working on something.”
Even with the limited time Rastovich had to create a concept for the piece, which he titled “Lazy River,” as he closes in on its completion, not much has changed from the original blueprint. Standing 20 feet above the ground, the steel sculpture’s bendy shape represents both the Tualatin River and a mastodon tusk, two elements the artist felt were crucial to the city’s history.
The sculpture will be covered in about 32 embossed icons, which Rastovich chose by working closely with the Tualatin Historical Society to discover what makes Tualatin the city it is today. Among the icon representations are local flora and fauna, pioneers, crawfish, hops, railways, Native Americans and agriculture.
“The Tualatin ‘Lazy River’ sculpture very much tells a story with all the icons and the abstract symbolism of the form,” Rastovich said. “Basically, it’s kind of like this static storyteller to tell people the history of Tualatin, where Tualatin is now and about the things that have gone on. It’s nice to be aware of what has happened in your local area.”
This sculpture, along with one more he’s working on, make for a total of eight public art pieces that Rastovich has created since his first at age 18. By that point, he’d already been a professional sculptor for two years. With two professional artists for parents, Rastovich doesn’t really see how he could have gotten involved in anything else.
“It’s kind of hard not to be an artist when you’re immersed in the art world your entire life,” he said. “I just love building things, and I love working with steel because it’s so malleable and so fluid. You can infinitely change it. You can cut it, you can plasma cut it, you can weld it and then you can weld it again … It’s just a beautiful material to work with.”
Rastovich’s first public sculpture measured about 9 feet high, but as his art progresses, the projects get bigger and bigger. Hence the forklift. Most of the pieces are made at his studio in Kennewick, Wash., and then transported to their final destination upon completion. The “Lazy River” sculpture is scheduled to be installed in Tualatin Commons sometime this July. It will rest about 75 feet south of the Martinazzi Avenue/Nyberg Street intersection, just a few steps from the sidewalk.
While the hand-built sculpture is mostly complete, Rastovich is currently in the process of creating the icons, which he will then attach before painting the entire structure. The plan is for the color to be oxidized bronze, which will end up being a kind of muted blue — simultaneously striking and subtle. The ultimate goal with this sculpture as with many of the young artist’s pieces, is to make people stop and think, and to hopefully motivate them to be more creative in their own lives.
“Public art is really great because it creates a space. Personally, I believe it increases the quality of life for the people who interact with the sculptures. It just creates monuments that are a break from the linear world of the city,” Rastovich said. “Without public art, the city is very grey, has very hard concrete and very linear surfaces. But with sculptures, they provide a break for the human mind and the eye and consciousness. They make people think. They can make people inspired to do different things. And they also, in many ways, help tell a story.”
“Few things are more satisfying than the evolution of magnificent sculptures. What was raw plates of steel, becomes a potent symbol of aesthetics.”
These are the words of Joseph Rastovich, a young artist born and raised in Portland, Oregon, USA. Joseph Rastovich is an award winning and well known public artist in Tri-Cities Washington. Working mostly in abstract and symbolic steel sculpture, he finds purpose and joy in creating public works of art that can be enjoyed by many for years to come.
I had the pleasure to speak with Joseph about his work and his life:
Radu: I know that you were born in a family of artists, have you felt from a tender age that art is your meaning in life? And also when did you start to create sculptures?
Joseph: Having been raised by two professional artists, I was allowed freedom and access to a great variety of creative mediums. I was unschooled every other year, which means I was allowed and supported to learn what I choose. As a result, I acquired varied skills and diverse knowledge. This unique childhood and immersion in the art-world influenced my views towards the meaning and purpose of life. After years of searching, I believe that the purpose of life is to gather new and diverse experiences, therefore adding to the “pool” of collective unconsciousness.
An artist is one who develops something new, whether is it through vision, sound, thought, or movement. Creating something new adds to the collective unconsciousness, and thus is the purpose of life.
At age 14, I had a job as a dishwasher at a jazz and wine club. I invested my money in metal-working tools like a welder, plasma cutter, angle grinders, etc. My initial interest in metal-working was to restore a 1957 Mercury Monterey and a 1963 “Farmall” tractor that I inherited. Then when I found a stack of old plow disks at a scrap yard, I welded them into a 4.5 ft. diameter sphere; this sphere was the beginning of my sculpture life.
R: Have you tried to “involve” in any other art form?
J: I appreciate all art forms. Some that I am continuing to explore are abstract painting, original music, improve dance, novel philosophy and gourmet cooking. I am incorporating many of these other art forms into my sculpture. I am painting them abstractly, making them musically interactive, letting them move, and including philosophical symbolism. Still trying to figure how to cook with sculptures!!
R: How do you feel about not being so exposed like other artists? What I mean…I can see that you have created a lot of public works and I presume sometimes people tend to walk by, admire, but never think of the person that created that sculpture.
J: Actually, public art has been beneficial to my exposure! That is the great thing about public art, anyone and everyone can enjoy public art while it enriches culture and creates unity in the community. I have people stop me on the street in other cities, because they know my work. I love conversations and meeting new people; art has enriched my life that way! Socializing and networking with people is absolutely essential for any professional artist.
R: What was the highest amount of time spent on completing a sculpture?
J: The longest time I spent working on a sculpture was around 9 months. This sculpture was a set of three 23’ tall bunchgrasses completed in early 2012. The Desert Bunchgrasses required miles of plasma cutting by hand, grinding, and welding. I was also fabricating the “Fruits of Our Labor” sculpture and creating inventory for the Sausalito Art Festival at the same time. I work on sculptures everyday, wearing full safety gear in temperatures ranging from 120 degrees to 0 degrees. It’s gritty, loud, heavy, and hot, but I love it! Working is in my blood and on my mind! I moderate the hardness of my career with the softness of nature.
R: Have you ever had an idea that couldn’t been put in practice, from a technical point of view?
J: Steel’s strength, durability, and malleability have few limitations as a material in sculpture. I want to start incorporating utilitarian uses into my sculptures. I want to create sculptures that moderate temperature. I want to create sculptures that clean the air. I want to create sculptures that clean runoff water. I want to create sculptures that predict weather. These concepts are not impossible but they present new research and challenges. Since I have worked with steel for many years, I tend to conceptualize within the constraints of the material, so I have yet had an idea that could not be carried out.
R: Besides sculpture, do you have any other hobbies that you invest time in?
J: I have many other interests outside of sculpture. As an avid nature lover… I love to hike, mountain bike, backpack, forage wild-plants, organic garden, practice natural health, and pursue self-sufficiency. In addition, I play piano, guitar, hand-drums, and didgeridoo. I am always exploring and learning something new!
So let’s explore something new and take a look at some of Joseph’s creations:
What is the meaning of life?
This is a question I have asked many people but where I seldom get satisfactory answers. Instead I have found insightful answers from various schools of philosophy. Here is a synopsis of what I’ve found:
Plato-attaining highest form of knowledge
Aristotle-pursuit of happiness, well-being, flourishing, and excellence
Cynicism-self-sufficient and mastering of one’s mental attitude; suffering is caused by false judgments dictated by society.
Stoicism-reason; logic; natural law; free from anger, envy, and jealousy
Kantianism-do that which could be practiced universally
Utilitarianism-greatest happiness to the greatest amount of people
Marxism-to serve each other as equals
Existentialism-each person creates their own essence (meaning) of their life. Existence precedes essence. A man is defined insofar as he acts and that he is responsible for his actions. The world is absurd. You exist then you define yourself; not the other way around.
Absurdism-man desires order, meaning, and purpose to life, but the universe is meaningless. Three ways to resolve this dilemma: Suicide, Religion (philosophical suicide), or accept the absurd.
Secular Humanism–the question of meaning of life evaporates if one is fully engaged in life. The question then morphs into more specific worries such as “What delusions am I under?”, “What is blocking my ability to enjoy things?”
Naturalistic Pantheism (Spiritual Naturalism)–to care for and look after nature and the environment
Theistic Religion–to serve god; afterlife
Buddhism-end suffering by detachment of cravings and materialistic things;
Confucianism-reason, relationships, and minimization of negative energy