Much of sculptor Tom Czarnopys’ work originated from a profound experience he had in the early 1980s, while bow hunting with his father and brother in a forested-area near his boyhood home in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He recalled being struck by the sight of fallen birch trees whose insides had “rotted away.” This imagery led to what would become his signature sculptural style of bodies entwined and made with bark or casts of bark. He started with chicken wire, but eventually used his own body to create armatures before applying bark to their surfaces. Girdled Figure is a bronze cast of a work originally made in resin and oil, currently in the collection of the Birmingham Museum of Art. Here the title conveys a double meaning, referencing both the binding of a body with a tie or restraint, and girdling or ring-barking, which involves removing a band of bark from around the entire circumference of a tree.
Czarnopys received his BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1982, shortly after arriving at what would become his mature style, which combined the natural world with the human figure. He continues to live and work in Chicago. Curator Lynne Warren described the artist in the catalogue for a solo exhibition in 1989 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, “In the great American tradition of individualism, Czarnopys is a maverick artist, cognizant of current issues in the art world yet interested mainly in going his own way.”