Renee Rhodes: Sculpting with Energy
Adjectives seem to fall short when interpreting Killingworth artist Renee Rhodes’ works. Renee has built a renowned reputation as a sculptor, with pieces of “feminine energy” that have enthralled patrons throughout the Northeast.
Renee works in several mediums, but her bronze pieces, which are often large female/feminine-inspired works, have the unique ability to appear to be light and in motion, something that is difficult to achieve with such a solid and rigid substance.
According to Renee, she has traveled a long and interesting road to get to where she finally feels her work is expressing her true self. Having gone from an ad executive on Madison Avenue in New York City to graduate school and a doctorate from both Yale and Columbia universities to become a clinical psychologist, which she still practices, Renee somehow still found time to hone her skills to become one of Connecticut’s most respected sculptors.
“I hadn’t even sculpted anything until I was 41. I went through this period after I became disillusioned with academia,” says Renee. “I have a great husband who lets me do whatever I want to do, so I began a bit of soul searching. It first started with a snowstorm in Middletown, and I was stuck in my office. So, I walked over to the then-art supply place, bought some clay, and I began sculpting women with horseheads, and I said this is fun! Shortly after that, I really tamped down my practice and went out to my cabin and literally studied every spiritual system in the world for 10 years.”
That intensive learning period was capped off by attending the Lyme Academy of the Arts and sparked Renee’s renaissance to become an artist, she says.
“I really didn’t know why I was doing what I was doing and what I was doing it for, but then one day I woke up, and I said, ‘I’m going to go to the Lyme Academy of Arts because I love to sculpt. This is fun.’ So, I was 41 and took my first sculpting class,” says Renee.
Despite some early negative reactions to her work and her late start as an artist, Renee’s work impressed the faculty there so much that the institution paid for her tuition, and Renee immediately began gathering patrons who recognized the intense beauty of her pieces.
“I started casting my stuff in bronze because I had some patrons. Things just seemed to take off from there,” she says.
Shoreline residents may be familiar with her public works in New London. Since 2005, Gaia, Renee’s statue at the Hygienic Park, is a beloved form that has become a Whaling City icon, and the more recently installed Athena Stands Watch has also sparked curiosity from downtown patrons.
“It was a big deal for me to do that project. It was such an honor to sculpt something that could inspire people who wouldn’t necessarily see the sculpture. It was an opportunity to make a healing statement,” says Renee. “I connected the earth up into the heavens through the spiral so it would ground New London and not get absorbed into all of the toxicity that can surround us. Others have a different interpretation, and that is a wonderful thing. One of the best aspects about art, I think.”
That energy and form is about to rise to a new level, as Renee, after a decade-long search, has finally found a spot to place what will become a Connecticut landmark. Her new work, Infinity, will be a 30-foot-tall sculpture that will light the entrance to New London Harbor and promises to be an attraction for visitors from around the globe.
As to why she is attracted to the human form, Renee says she simply creates what the piece asks of her.
“Gaia is feminine energy, not necessarily female. It’s what is coming back in this century after 5,000 years of male-dominated political, economic, and artistic thought, where women kind of went underground. And I’m part just of that remnant that came back on earth right now to balance things out. That is true of Athena, that is in the parking lot right now. I’ve taken that female body — it’s a universal language; everybody understands the body. I hope that it is obvious what the piece is saying. To me, it intuitively transmits messages that everybody can take in,” says Renee.
Though bronze is an ages-old medium, it comes with challenges for any artist. However, Renee’s work seems to transcend many of the “traditional” and stolid aspects of the metal. Her sculptures seem on the verge of movement with an explosion of meaning and power.
“Essentially…Oscar Wilde said art depicts unseen forces. So, I think people will recognize this power of movement and uplifting means. I do the female form because I inhabit it; I know it. I know how to express with it. When I first went out to my cabin and began this journey, I was really inventing a new language through sculpture,” says Renee. “But ultimately, you can’t control art. You’ve got to connect to the etheric energies out there that inform art.”
The Infinity Project has taken years of on-and-off negotiations with various property owners and municipalities. At one point, there was hope that twin sculptures would frame the harbor entrance, but those plans never materialized, according to Renee. However, the go-ahead has come to place the project on a small rock outcropping just off Ocean Beach in New London.
“This has been a 10-year project, simply trying to find the site for it. It’s not easy to find a site for a 30-foot sculpture,” Renee laughs. “I do not like to market my work because then you get into who might like this? So, I just let the art come through me and tell me what it wants to be. I truly feel like I am simply a vessel for the art that wants to be created.”
The new piece is described as “…a 21-foot neoclassical style cast bronze female figure that holds aloft a 10-foot infinity loop. The stainless-steel loop will be illuminated at night and will be a beacon of light that can be seen from the mouth of the Thames River, Long Island Sound, and from the shore at Ocean Beach Park.”
Renee’s new work is truly inspiring. Even the rendering makes a unique and powerful statement about beauty and possibilities. The loop the figure holds will be illuminated at night, welcoming ships and travelers to the up-and-coming port of New London as cruise ships and wind farm vessels now pack the docks.
Renee says the piece will be forged in California and set in place by one of the country’s premiere art installers, something which won’t be cheap. Renee and the project patrons are actively seeking donations to help fund the effort, which they hope to have in place by 2025.
For more information or to make a tax-deductible donation to this artistic effort, contact project chair Robert A. Derobbio at 401-524-1638 or info@infinity project.org.