Sculptor Chris Navarro: Adventures in Bronze and Beyond
Before he was a bronze sculpture artist, Chris Navarro was a bull and bronc rider. A bull rider’s sense of confidence permeates his approach to sculpting.
It’s an attitude that when confronted with a new challenge such as a commission for a life-size T-Rex.
“I just say ‘yeah, I can do it,’” says Navarro.
Navarro, 64, works out of two studios, one in Casper Wyoming and one in Sedona, Arizona. He also has a gallery in the popular Tlaquepaque Art Plaza in Sedona. Since 2000, Navarro Gallery and Sculpture Garden has been home to the work of several artists as well as his own.
Navarro has been sculpting for almost 35 years, building a body of work that showcases the beauty of the west, particularly bull riders. His work includes Christian pieces such as the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Native Americans including a 15-foot Eagle dancer.
His famous monumental sculptures include the 15 foot bronze of world champion bull rider Champion Lane Frost at Cheyenne Frontier Park and “When Champions Meet,” the 15 foot saddle bronc rider at the Greeley Independence Stampede. Navarro has more than 34 bronze monumental sculptures placed throughout the country.
At 23, Navarro had a strong desire and dream that drove him to gather the necessary books and art supplies needed in order to educate himself on how to sculpt.
His first sculpture of a bronc rider called Spinnin’ and Winnin brought him a blue ribbon in a local art show. That’s when he thought he might be onto something so he kept trying.
He sold his early pieces for the cost to make them, he said. Each one brought challenges and then lessons.
“I sculpted seven years before I took my first workshop,” he says. “I don’t tell people I’m self-taught. I’m self educated.”
Navarro had to dig deep to bounce back after a fire destroyed the Lane Frost sculpture in process -- twice.
The other trait of bull rider that informs Navarro’s sculpture is faith.
“You have to have faith in yourself and your abilities,” he says.
He thinks bronze is the best medium for monuments because of its ability to bring alive earthy tones of the structure.
“You can’t find something more permanent, more durable,” Navarro says.
Also durable is his relationship with the foundry that makes most of his works, Caleco Foundry in Cody Wyoming.
Navarro uses the lost wax method to cast his pieces. The casting process begins with making a soft mold of the original clay sculpture. The soft mold is then encased in plaster to make what is called the mother mold. Then, molten wax is poured into the mother mold to make a hollow wax replica of the original sculpture. Then, the wax copy is encased in a hard ceramic shell. The shell is baked in a kiln at a high temperature until the wax model is lost. Molten bronze is poured into the shell. After the shell cools, it is broken away to reveal the sculpture. Sand blasting and a process called chasing further refine the sculpture. Patinas are added.
Navarro is also the author of three books, Chasing the Wind, Embrace the Struggle and most recently, Dare to Dream Big.
Dare to Dream Big draws on his experience entering the Artprize 2018 competition in Michigan. His piece featured a bronze sculpture of a cat looking in a mirror and seeing a reflection of a lion. The sculpture was accompanied by a chalkboard on which he encouraged visitors to write their hopes and dreams. He includes their writings in his book.
Navarro hopes to inspire others through his artwork and life story that led him to find his passion and make his dream a reality. He now makes a living doing what he loves and believes everyone can have the same.
“It’s good therapy. It just feels good,” says Navarro. “I just want to do something I’m passionate about. When you love what you are doing you look up at the clock after three or four hours and it feels like 20 minutes. I call it being in flow. I love being in flow.”
Also in this Issue:
- Nancy Schön: Bold & Bronze
- Mutu’s Bronze Facade Commission on Display at the Met
- Élan Young: Coming Home to Copper
- Sculptor Chris Navarro: Adventures in Bronze and Beyond
- J. Anne Butler: Inspiration in Emotion