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Wednesday, September 23, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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A&E >  Art

Sculptor realizes his artistic vision: Mike Fields, who created Cougar Pride with his father, has found balance with Unity

UPDATED: Mon., Sept. 14, 2020

By Dan Thompson For The Spokesman-Review

Growing up in Spokane, Mike Fields started his career as a sculptor following in the path and aesthetic of his father, Chester Fields.

The two created many wildlife sculptures, perhaps most famously the Cougar Pride statue outside Martin Stadium in Pullman.

But for as much as he enjoys the challenges of the genre, Mike Fields was always rendering his contemporary ideas in the hopes of one day building an actual sculpture.

“I wanted the freedom to escape from it being representational. I was never satisfied to where I was somewhere caught between realist and idealist,” he said.

The statue in Pullman was the perfect example of that balance. Too realistic, and it’s not as appealing. Too far toward idealism, where the piece represents but doesn’t really look like a cougar, well, that’s a problem, too, he said.

“I guess I was never fully satisfied,” Fields said.

With Unity, he is about as close to satisfied as a self-proclaimed perfectionist can be.

It took 10 months – more than twice as long as he hoped – but his project is now complete, installed and marketable, in a hilltop mansion in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles.

Now as he reaches out to architects who might be interested in presenting his work in other homes and buildings, he can offer them a finished sculpture: an example of his artistic vision, realized.

But it was an arduous process complicated by production delays, narrow roads up a tall hill and a pandemic that shut down large swaths of the economy.

“It was exhausting and definitely pushed me to my limit,” Fields said. “I have a life idea that there are challenges that are presented, and your only option is to meet the challenge, and the more you focus on the stress or resistance to it, it doesn’t help anything.”

It was late January, a foot of snow on the ground, and Fields stood in the North Idaho workshop of Gary Watson, where both were unnerved by the journey the sculpture in front of them was about to endure.

Unity stood as two distinct pieces, lit from shop flood lights and shielded from dust by plastic sheets. They were about to box it up and send it to California, where they would install it days later.

“I basically got this huge opportunity to place it in this home,” Fields said at the time, “so I invested all my money to go for it.”

Once assembled, Unity was designed to rotate and intertwine but never touch. But putting them together wasn’t going to be as simple as pushing them closer.

“Right now, there’s no way to bring them together linearly,” Fields said.

Fields designed the sculpture digitally but then had to hire out the fabrication of it. Eventually, he would like to make it out of stainless steel, but with this first piece he didn’t have time or money to produce it that way.

Initially, he planned to paint it with a chrome finish, which is how he found Watson.

Watson made a career out of chroming cars and Marvel character statues in Southern California, but then a couple years ago grew weary of the lifestyle.

When Fields first contacted him, Watson explained that he was no longer in Los Angeles, but rather “in the middle of nowhere.”

It turned out that the middle of nowhere was only about an hour from Spokane in Spirit Lake.

“He’s proved to be one of the best painters in the United States,” Fields said. “He’s taken on all my sorrow through this project and imbibed it to where he didn’t eat and sleep, and I didn’t eat and sleep, and this became as important to him as it was to me.

When Watson moved to Idaho, his reputation – and work – mostly followed him. But, he said, he missed elements of his previous lifestyle.

“There was a big chunk missing,” Watson said, “which was the camaraderie I get from working with an artist like Mike. Sure, work shows up in the mail, and I’m keeping the lights on, but that creative bond you get working with an artist, the struggle, all these hurdles you need to cross to achieve the goal, I missed that a lot.”

And then came Fields, seemingly out of nowhere himself.

The installation in California proved to be another adventure.

As it ended up, chroming the sculpture didn’t work out – Fields said he couldn’t quite get it “100 percent” – so they settled on white. Upon close inspection, it is all but impossible to tell that each part of the sculpture is actually multiple pieces reassembled.

To reach the hilltop mansion, the semi-truck carrying the statue winded up a road with S turns and barely more than a lane of width in spots, Fields said.

“The driver had also driven nuclear material,” Fields said. “He got it up there and said, ‘Please never call me again.’ ”

The two elements barely fit. But once they were inside the foyer, “all my biggest fears,” Fields said, “none of them came true.”

The two statues are designed to rotate on a shared pedestal but never quite touch, and from no two angles does it appear the same. There are no straight lines, no flat curves: Every curve actually changes over the distance of the piece. There is no repetition.

Fields still had to wait, however, before he could mention it on his website – mikefieldsbronzes.com, where it can be seen now – or to potential clients because the property hadn’t yet been put on the market. Then the pandemic set in, further delaying its reveal, and Fields went on unemployment just to pay his bills.

Finally, in late summer, the house went public. Since, he has contacted at least 100 architects, he said, and a handful are seriously interested in helping make more of his contemporary ideas into reality.

“I’m trying to find a way to launch Swan,” he said. “It’s got certain qualities to it that if I can make it super precise. If people see it in person, it’ll be unlike anything they’ve ever seen before.”

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