Most of Joe Slack’s artwork is no small feat, and that’s putting it lightly. After all, one of his pieces spans two city blocks.
The native Oklahoman creates sculptures out of weathering Corten steel and painted metals. You’ve probably seen his vibrant and quirky modern artwork around town; his sculptures can be seen all over – from Norman to midtown Oklahoma City to Edmond.
Slack graduated from Oklahoma City University in 2002 with a degree in fine arts. He intended to showcase wood sculptures, but his art form took a different road after a chance lesson with another artist.
“I went out into the world to do wood sculptures, and I was going to do festivals and shows,” says Slack. “I wanted to go big, so metal was the next logical step. Local artist Ron Ferrell gave me a lesson in welding at 26, and I switched to metal. At 30, I got my first big public commission.”
While his sculptures are inspired by primitive and mid-century designs, a college professor influenced the artist himself. The teacher encouraged Slack to stick with his style, and he did.
“I still didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he says. “I was kind of lost. My sophomore year, I transferred to OCU … showed my portfolio to Jack Davis, who was head of the art department at the time. He really liked my stuff and took me under his wing. He was nurturing of my style, and if it weren’t for him, I don’t think I wouldn’t have stuck with my degree.”
Slack contributes his success as an artist to a few key things: failing, fixing and striving.
“I always showed up and consistently applied – [art] is all I wanted to do,” he says. “I’m constantly striving to do the best art. I was going to move to New York or L.A. when I graduated. I think I would’ve been swallowed up. I would’ve been a little fish in a big pond, whereas I stayed here, and I got to be a decent size fish in a really nice pond.”
Slack says his two favorite pieces are the 20-foot Headlines sculpture near I-35 in Edmond and the 660-foot long mural, Birds Watching OKC Lightning Thunder Dance Party. You can see more than 110 dances and 36 birds driving southbound on Classen Boulevard between northwest Seventh and Ninth streets in Oklahoma City. Visit joeslack.com to see more.
How He Does It
Joe Slack’s artwork is simplified, primitive and mid-century inspired, but comes from “intuition and life experience [or] the baggage – the good and the bad that we pick up along the way in life.” He says it may seem easy, but creating his pieces is a process.
“Coming up with an original, simple idea is harder than throwing a bunch of color in and trying to ‘wow’ people with too much,” he says. “I like really simplified designs. ‘Simplified Primitive Modern’ is what I call it.”
Slack mentions he also likes to add a touch of humor to his work.
He keeps the creative process exciting by having multiple ways of developing pieces. If it’s a commissioned piece, Slack starts with a sketch. And then that sketch gets redone until he feels it’s right. He’ll then start cutting the metal out to make the sculpture three-dimensional. Other times, Slack incorporates found objects into his projects and says they can dictate the whole piece. He often pulls new work from old ideas.