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Casting his own artistic path

Artist: Greg Polutanovich finds working in bronze is better

Posted: July 10, 2010 8:48 p.m.
Updated: July 11, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Bronze busts of Charles Bronson, left, and Abraham Lincoln sculpted by Greg Polutanovich, of Saugus. The artist’s project is to sculpt all his favorite actors in Western roles.

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Seasoned sculptor Greg Polutanovich draws his inspiration from movies, songs, history and other artists.

Even if those other artists are legends like Michelangelo and even if the art pieces are world-famous icons like the Statue of David.

Polutanovich is not afraid to go there — even though he is his own worst critic.

“An artist should always strive to do better, instead of settling for something less,” he said.

Last year, Polutanovich fashioned his own take on the Statue of David. He created a full-standing Indian with an accentuated muscle structure, a dead goose slung over his left shoulder and a bow and arrow in his right hand.

“I thought it’d be nice to add my own twist to that pose — to add in my own ideas,” he said. “I decided to do my own take on classic world-famous art pieces because of the challenge to come up with an interesting composition and still have the feel for the classic pose that I’m portraying.”

The result was a beautiful bronze masterpiece. But there was no time or need for boasting over his work, Polutanovich said. He cleared off his desk and prepared for his next piece — a pensive cowboy inspired by Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker.

“I am my own worst critic,” he said. “It keeps you on your toes and it keeps you striving to do better.”

Behind that mix of humility and motivation is the raw talent of a Saugus man who has shaped 49 bronzes and countless other sculptures. Polutanovich, 44, never took a sculpting class. In fact, he never even picked up a piece of clay until he was 21.

Creatures and fantasy
Polutanovich’s first canvas was his parent’s bedroom wall. His natural tendency to draw and paint was revealed through depictions of wildlife, landscapes and cartoons.

That was until the Canadian-born artist discovered a fantastical world of emotion and dynamic. On the front cover of a Molly Hatchet record album was a painting by Frank Frazetta.

The painting’s title: “The Death Dealer.”

He began drawing and painting fantasy, sci-fi and horror. He was even more intrigued when he saw FX make-up artist Tom Savini on David Letterman’s show.

It was the first time that Polutanovich considered turning his craft into career. He read Savini’s book, “Bizarro” from front to back. He was lured in by the photos, though he didn’t fully understand the technical terms. After that, he and a college friend began practicing scars and wounds on each other with whatever Halloween make-up and fake skin they could find.

He sometimes found himself having to defend himself when his peers asked if he was obsessed with death.

But it wasn’t death that fascinated him. Actually, he said, he would never take an opportunity to see a dead body. And when he sees a fatal accident on the freeway, he turns his head.

He was simply drawn to the artistry of fantasy and horror, particularly Frazetta’s work.

“I just like the emotion and the dynamics — basically, the quality of the artwork,” he said.

Hands on clay
A neighbor introduced Polutanovich to a make-up effects artist from the film industry.

“He brought me to the store and said ‘Buy this clay and those tools,’” Polutanovich said.

After a personal lesson on some basic techniques, Polutanovich had discovered a new passion.

“I remember it coming pretty naturally,” he said. “I was surprised to have a hidden talent for sculpture.”

But his craft had to be honed. During the day he went to work at an oil refinery and at night he would practice his sculpting.

His first sculpture was a creature of some sort, he said, “something weird and twisted with a pointed up nose.” 

He decided not to go back to school to finish his last year in a college art program.

“I was going to make monsters for the movies,” he said.

He caught his first break working on a fish-man for a Japanese sea food commercial, according to his personal biography.

Then he was hired for a movie called “Darkman.”

When he had completed his chores as a runner, he would assist with painting on faces and hands.

Work held steady for Polutanovich. He worked on movies, television shows, commercials, amusement park sculptures and also created monster model kits.

A westward turn
Polutanovich began to lose interest in monsters and creatures. The work no longer satisfied him artistically and he wanted a new challenge.

He turned his craft westward, focusing on the old West, cowboys, Indians, gunfighters, lawmen, mountain men and historical figures.

“It’s always good for an artist to have different subject matters,” he said.

He focused on his favorite actors from Western roles such as Clint Eastwood, Chuck Connors and John Wayne.

After a casual comment from a friend, he decided he would take his work to the next level and have it cast in bronze.

“I wanted to bring my artwork to a whole new level,” Polutanovich said. “I stopped pursuing jobs in the film industry to focus on my new adventures.”

Getting his work cast in bronze was no simple task, and he also soon found out that it came with a hefty price tag. The fluctuating cost of bronze and copper contribute to the cost as well as the extensive process, he said.

From creating the clay mold to pouring the molten bronze or coloring the bronze, “it takes about 10 different jobs to get to the bronze,” he said.

The first couple of art shows were rough. He didn’t sell one sculpture.

Unwilling to quit, he went onto his next show. There he took home “Best of Show” for an Indian sculpture.

“This put the wind back in my sails and during my next show, the strangest thing started to happen — my work started to sell,” he said, in his biography.

Coming into his own
Polutanovich garnered a following of loyal collectors as he begun to sell tens of sculptures in one weekend. Currently he does commission work and sculpts busts for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, he said.

Polutanovich feels he is finally coming into his own as a sculptor. It was just a matter of fine tuning a talent that was there from childhood and continuing to push himself artistically.

“You can take classes until you’re blue in the face but you can’t reach a high level,” he said. “I think a true artist has to be born (with) it.”

And that “something” is usually inherited, he said. Polutanovich is related to artists on both his mother’s and father’s side.

He’s looking forward to a new series of celebrity busts. He will soon begin working on a bust of Ronald Reagan for his 100th birthday to be called “The Cowboy President.”

“I just want to keep pushing forward — doing newer and better things,” he said. “Always trying to improve my ability.”

Polutanovich has never been motivated by money alone, he said. The work is not always glamorous and it’s sometimes difficult to hunt down money owed, he said, but receiving good reviews for his work makes it all worth while.

“I’m doing what I want and people buy it — every artist’s dream,” he said.

His success comes as a result of his concentration, frustration, dedication, countless hours of work and focus. But compliments are his first reward and the money is secondary.

“I am glad I can touch people with my work,” he said.

His next take on classic world famous art pieces will be inspired by Michelangelo’s Pieta, “but as a western theme,” he said.

When asked how long it takes him to sculpt his pieces, Polutanovich could not give a definitive time limit. It takes the self-proclaimed perfectionist “as long as it takes.”

Until he is somewhat satisfied with it, he said, “or ready to throw it out the window.”

Polutonvich’s website is www.dramaticbronzes.com.  

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