It was Ronald Shelley’s father who declared that his son grew up in the middle of a shooting match. In 1940, life on a farm in the countryside outside Rugby, England did not protect the Shelley family from World War II’s Battle of Britain. They just barely managed to escape their destroyed home. Six year old Ron would never forget the violent bombings in his neighborhood, or the nearby factories that kept the engine of war in motion.
Perhaps it was those early influences that eventually manifested into the award winning artist’s latest endeavor, “The Steel Head Sculpture Series” whereby the notion of man versus machine takes on a whole new meaning. In this cautionary tale, Shelley effectively uses his creative powers to deliver a sequence of steel inspired robotic head sculptures. Made from recycled engine parts in a wood frame with a metal finish; they resemble what Arnold Schwarzenneger’s offspring in the Terminator film series might have looked like.
“There are numbers on the side of the sculpture like the tattoos you had in the concentration camps,” said Shelley. Today we have our social security cards and credit cards and all of these things are in batches and tend to look the same-repetitive-and that is important. I hope people will reflect and ask: ‘is that where we are going?’”
The series is based on a painting titled “The Foundry” sold in Chicago years ago where ominous imagery depicts a cavernous rusty orange-hued factory interior aligned with rows of the robotic frames at attention. “I saw the interior of factories when I was a child growing up in Rugby. I could imagine Thor (Norse God of Thunder) inside forging with fire. Factories are impressive but a bit frightening. You have to step carefully around the machines and wires and beware all of the security measures for monitoring.”
Shelley’s imagination was inspired by growing up in a household of painters, actors, and architects where his creative passions were encouraged and guided. Trained at a young age to be a commercial illustrator, his architectural sketches sustained the self- made man throughout the years and during his many travels when art and acting did not always provide a steady income.
“If I say I ran away to join the circus, it wouldn’t be too far from the truth,” said Shelley. In the late 50’s he joined a Texas Company and performed in European arenas as a roustabout stunt driver assistant for smash ‘em up car shows. He then toured all over Switzerland and France as a bronco rider in the old Wild West Buffalo-Bill style pioneer shows performing alongside Pawnee Indians from Oklahoma.
The card carrying Screen Actors Guild member ultimately came back to the states with the company, worked in Los Angeles for some time and then made his way to his current South Miami home and studio; where he has lived for over 20 years now.
In between rehearsal acts while playing the Duke of Venice for a Shakespearean troupe out of the Coconut Grove Playhouse or between shoots on Stacy Keach’s televi- sion show set “Caribe” in the 70’s and 80’s, Shelley continued his architectural illustra- tion work. Interior designers would come to the sites with blue prints in hand and they’d talk in whispers about the projects he was working on for famed architect Kobi Karp or well-known developer Martin Z. Margulies.
Although the recession-affected business of architecture seems to be regaining momentum, Shelley and wife (writer and muse) Donna, have evolved into a dynamic duo whereby their partnership has born exhibit showings throughout Florida. “When we first started getting serious I put together several shows at my museum (Project Manager for the Museum of the Everglades in Collier County at the time).
“We push each other to take a chance,” said Donna Shelley. “We challenge each other to be more prolific and maybe we wouldn’t do so if we weren’t together.”
The “Man as Machine Steel Head Sculpture Series” is on display until July 31 at Frameworks Gallery, 3196 Commodore Plaza in Coconut Grove. For more information contact Donna Shelley at 786-210-9750 or visit www.shelleystudio.com