If you dislike guarded conversation and the feeling that time is money, talk to Siri Hollander. The Santa Fe, NM, sculptor, who defies any notion that a woman lacks the physicality and self-reliance to form large-scale works in steel and bronze, comes across as refreshingly down-to-earth.
Her unconventional upbringing clearly bears much of the responsibility for her nature. Three years after her birth in New York City in 1959, her painter father and poet mother moved to Spain’s Andalucía region, where Siri grew up amid an abundance of horses while being home-schooled. She played with clay in her father’s studio while he painted, and she went horseback riding daily. “I would go to the river and build things out of sticks and mud and whatnot,” she recalls. “When I started, it was a grand mess. Little by little, it got more logical. But it just happened. There wasn’t much thought behind it.”
More than five decades later, Siri still follows an entirely instinctive approach to art — and to life itself. When she walks out the door of her desert house to her “studio,” which she describes as a carport-like porch that allows her to work with metal and cement unconcerned over making a mess, she lets the moment take command. “It’s however the wind blows,” she says. “Sometimes I start something and get distracted and start something else. Just the act of making something carries everything. It tells you what to do and quiets the buzz in your head.”
In the same vein, Siri doesn’t let precise measurements rule her work. “I can guarantee the proportions will not be correct. That’s just the way my eyes see things. It’s so wrong that it’s right,” she says, revealing that she is dyslexic. “Really lifelike pieces are very annoying. They’re overdone,” she asserts. “The looser the lines, the more I like it. If you are trying to ‘bring life’ to something that is not alive, it is just a lot of work in the wrong direction. Whatever comes out is best — and that is often an abstract line.” Indeed, sometimes, the skewed perspectives of shadows that Siri sees while riding horses inspire her to put a smaller head on a frame with elongated limbs.
When asked what she does by people who don’t know her, she simply says, “I make giant horses. The pieces mostly involve welding, so I guess I am a welder.” That humble response belies what Siri accomplishes. Her work encompasses a range of animals (including bulls, deer, and wolves), as well as human forms (typically in truncated fashion like Roman sculptures — a modus operandi she attributes in part to leaving home at the age of 15 and traveling through Europe). She describes her work as “contemporary, but semi-abstract; in paintings, it would be Impressionist.”
Siri begins her steel sculptures by arc welding the recycled metal. She likens the process to applying ink on canvas, where “every line counts.” If she adds a cement coating, the framework requires considerable reinforcement. She extends her repertoire with cast bronze and aluminum sculptures, as well as with wall pieces that she refers to as “drawings.”
Siri prefers working in life-size scale, but has made pieces as small as 12 inches. One of her largest sculptures is a 20-foot stallion installed at Spain’s Málaga Airport when she was just 17 years old. Multiple exhibitions and installations in hotels and public venues in Spain and North America include Windsor Sculpture Park in Windsor, Canada; Ojai Valley Inn in Ojai, Calif.; and 17 life-size horses at New Mexico School for the Deaf in Santa Fe.
Siri’s background growing up in a country passionate about horses explains her equestrian inclination. Her parents’ interest in spelunking influenced the textures of her work. “They are very much how cave paintings are,” she says. “[Cave painters] used the same pigments I use: iron oxide, manganese, and ochre. So the final effect of my work is almost like a painting in 3-D form.”
A self-taught artist working with materials that require physical strength to manipulate, Siri even takes transporting them in stride. She has a 14-foot flatbed and a 20-foot enclosed trailer (“I’m one of those drivers on the road going slow,” she says with amusement).
Though she creates her pieces alone, Siri enjoys daily companionship from having four children, a grandchild, five horses (a mix of Andalusian, Arabian, and Appaloosa, as well as a plough horse), cats, dogs, and chickens. She moved from Ojo Sarco in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to a 2.5-acre property closer to the school she wanted her children to attend, but her 18 acres in the highlands serve as a retreat.
“I work like crazy every day. Sometimes I burn out, so I do something like farming or horseback riding,” she says. In the summer, she heads north of Santa Fe to unincorporated Ojo Sarco, where she has a vegetable garden and grows grass for the horses. Tending the fields and mending fences give her the same tranquility she gets from sculpting. “Time stops. There’s no ‘I have got to do this.’ You let time pass and watch the clouds roll by. The sun comes up and the sun goes down — and that’s ideal.”