Heavy Metal : Sculptor Hal Pastorius Weathers Storms as Well as His Works of Art Do

Times Staff Writer

Harold L. Pastorius Jr. is almost wistful when he talks about the not-too-long-ago days when one of his giant metal sculptures could ignite whole communities, split city councils and bring storms of ugly letters to local newspapers--even, in one case, a summons to the Coastal Commission.

Success, it seems, has taken some of the fun out of his life.

“People take to heart the adage that ‘you can’t argue with success'--so they don’t,” he says. “And that’s too bad, because controversy is a great attention-getting device on a very positive level; it gets the public involved.”

And that’s what Hal Pastorius and his works are all about: getting people and communities involved with art.


Pastorius, a longtime Laguna Beach resident whose monumental pieces dot the Orange County landscape, is considered the dean of the nation’s art-in-public-places practitioners. Not only is he one of the most-commissioned such artists in the country, but his advice is sought from Massachusetts to Alaska by state commissions, schools, private developers and community art councils.

Here in his home county, though, Pastorius and his work have a history of stirring up emotion. On the mild side is his piece on Alton Parkway near Redhill in Irvine, which thanks to a local newspaper is still known in the area as “The Yellow Banana.” The 30-foot bright yellow work actually is titled “Portal,” because its function is to call attention to the entrance to an all-black glass structure from which the lobby is otherwise impossible to determine.

And then there’s “Vestige,” a piece designed to symbolize the remains of once-ambitious building projects in Baja California. At the center is a 16-foot-high piece of steel, supported by curving sections of more steel. And it is a piece the citizens of Laguna Beach are not likely to forget.

“Vestige” was placed in a park area near Main Beach in 1980 and was intended to be a permanent fixture. That was before someone decided that it looked like “a giant index finger being waved at the people,” or a religious symbol (in a certain dim light, it’s possible to think it resembles a cross) or a “blight on the landscape.”


It was also attacked by late community activist Betty Heckel, who even started a petition drive against the sculpture, although she also wrote Pastorius that it wasn’t the art she objected to, but its blocking the view of the ocean.

That’s when the city decided it was a Coastal Commission problem, which only stirred up a whole new battle. What, demanded art experts from San Diego to Eureka, gives the Coastal Commission the right to judge art?

The day before the commission was to meet, the city asked Pastorius to remove the sculpture. Then, after several years’ service as an unofficial landmark on Laguna Canyon Road, “Vestige” was acquired by the City of Paramount as part of its art-in-public-places program.

The sculptor is not bitter at the city in which he lives for rejecting one of his works.


“The debate is important and the involvement of the community is essential,” Pastorius says, “After all, sculpture is not like a stage performance or even a painting. Sculpture has a permanence, a durability, a strength and a power of statement unmatched by any of the other arts.

“It will still be there long after we’re gone.”

If it sounds as if he’s on a crusade, that’s because he is.

He has helped establish art-in-public-places programs in Brea, Garden Grove, Irvine, Paramount, Lakewood, Lawndale, Riverside, Newport Beach, Cypress, Laguna Beach, Oceanside, Oxnard and Anchorage. In addition, he’s worked with the cities of Dallas and Boston and is involved in creating six major pieces for a development in Phoenix.


“Much of what we perceive as greatness in past civilizations has to do with art,” he says.

“Art is more than a function; it helps people understand themselves and is basic to the learning process itself. People in the arts use all their senses--they touch, they feel, they see, they think, they smell, they hear--and there’s a memory attached to each of those senses, so the more you use, the more you enjoy what is enjoyable.

“The simple fact is that people who are involved in the arts enjoy life more.”

Pastorius likes to repeat the first question that the late billionaire J. Paul Getty reportedly would ask any prospective executive: “What’s your involvement in the arts?”


“And the answer,” Pastorius says, “told him everything he needed to know about the person’s personality, about their ability or inability to accept change and, most importantly, to help him guard against hiring what he called ‘somebody just like me,’ which Getty believed could only harm an operation.”

Art, Pastorius says, also tells a great deal about a community’s personality.

“It used to be (that) the only statues or monuments you saw in public places, such as parks, were busts of politicians or military leaders, and they were usually built by relatives of those people. After a few generations, nobody knew who they were--or, frankly, cared.

“Or you had situations you find in politically volatile countries where giant statues of the current leader would rise like smoke all over the country until the guy was deposed, and then out would go the statues. There is no art involved here; it’s a political message.


“But a true commitment to art in public places is a true commitment to the environment and future generations. We are saying, ‘We knew beauty and we saved some of it for you to enjoy, too.’ ”

The concept of art in public places is a wave Pastorius has ridden successfully for more than a dozen years. While insisting he is much too practical to be a mystic, he says his “whole life seems to have been programmed for this endeavor.”

“Everything I have done in my life--my studies in engineering, my early work experiences, people I’ve met and dealt with, my life experiences, when I was born, how my work evolved into large pieces when there was virtually no market for them--all came together in one giant happy coincidence with the birth of the movement to bring art to public places.”

That would have been generally in the mid-1970s and specifically in the town of Brea, previously known for its open fields and oil derricks. The city passed a resolution in 1975 that told developers they would make contributions to the esthetic ambitions of the town or they would build elsewhere. Simply put, the city requires all new residential, commercial and industrial development projects over $500,000 to include art for the public to enjoy.


When first passed, the resolution was bitterly denounced by developers and others as “blackmail” and a “hidden tax” that would be passed on to residents in costs of products and services.

The father of the Brea program was then-city manager Wayne Wedin, and it was later to earn him the U. S. City Management Assn.'s “outstanding management innovator” award in 1980.

“We were on the verge of great growth and I just felt we needed to give Brea a visual distinction from all the other cities in Orange County,” Wedin says.

Now with his own economic development consulting business in Orange County, Wedin credits the city council for its enthusiastic and unflinching support.


“We wanted something both endearing and enduring--and I think we got it,” he says.

Pastorius says developers are now among the biggest boosters of the program, “because it is now obvious that art makes a community more desirable as a place to live and work.”

His initial “happy coincidence” was that he had a large work on exhibit in a local museum when the first developer to fall under the ordinance instructed his staff to “find me a big piece of art.”

Since that time, Pastorius has created 12 pieces for Brea, and the town has become known as “the city of sculptures.”


One that stands out for art dealer Cynthia Shields is “Heat Exchanger,” a 30-foot-high, 4,500-pound stainless-steel sculpture that Pastorius burnish-swirled three times in differing directions so that it would appear to change and even move as it reflected light.

“I have actually stopped and parked my car in the middle of the night to enjoy that piece,” says Shields, whose daily commute to work brought her through Brea for years.

“It was a tremendous undertaking,” Pastorius says. “The swirling process alone took more than 300 hours, and because of the height of the piece, I never saw it right side up until it was on the crane being lowered into its foundation. . . . I have to admit I was impressed with the final result.”

“Heat Exchanger,” like most Pastorius works, is designed to change with time, not only because of age, which certainly is a factor, but also because of the meticulous landscape planning at the site. After 10 years, he says, the piece is “almost at maturity” because the trees and shrubs are almost at their maturity.


Also in Brea is one of the artist’s own favorites, “Rock Wagon,” which he describes as “true landscape sculpture.” From a distance, the piece looks like an old wooden wagon that’s been there so long that nature has conquered it. In fact, the work is made of bronze, copper and stainless steel, and the tree that grows through it was selected with the help of a landscape architect before the torch was laid to the first piece of metal.

Pastorius says it was an interest in art that led him into engineering and architecture, “playing with forms and designs and structuring lines into figures--creating things that simply didn’t exist before.” But it was the abstract that intrigued him more than recognizable objects, so his creative juices began flowing away from T-squares, rulers and sharp pencils and toward canvas, oils, pastels and brushes.

“Fulfillment for me, I discovered, was in three-dimensional art, with objects I could wrap my hands or arms around, things that demanded the complete use of all my senses. So, I became a full-time sculptor.”

He also found that his sculptures were like his frames--they kept growing. It wasn’t long before a simple garage no longer would suffice as a studio, so he shifted operations to an industrial park in Laguna Hills where--with pulleys and grinding machines, welding torches and cranes--he still performs his magic.


That’s when he’s not lecturing to community groups, schools, business organizations and governmental bodies on the importance of leaving a meaningful art legacy for future generations. Or traveling with his wife, Kay, as she researches a new cookbook or searches for new ethnic dishes to showcase at her School of International Cuisine in Laguna Beach.

When he has time, Pastorius does fret that his works have achieved such a level of acceptance that he’s no longer controversial. “Controversy sells art, you know, and brings great attention, from both your supporters and opponents. It rallies the troops and forces the community to focus on where it is . . . or should be going in the area of the arts.”




TITLE OF PIECE LOCATION Warped Cube Corner of Country Hills Road and Wandering Lane Rock Wagon Kraemer Boulevard at Edgemont Lane Link Imperial Highway at Saturn Street Heat Exchanger Imperial Highway at Saturn Street Beam Relay Saturn Street between Imperial Highway and golf course Saturn Sail Saturn Street between Imperial Highway and golf course Cactus Garden Imperial Highway at Randolph Avenue Family Stonebridge Drive at Berry Street Selections Brea Canyon Road at Canyondale Drive Hold Lambert Road between Cliffwood Park Street and Oak Place Wall Warp Lambert Road at Sunrise Road The Windmill Lambert Road at Walden Road City of Orange Motions Taft Branch Library, Taft Avenue near Tustin Boulevard Through and Through Orange National Bank, 1201 East Katella Ave. Fountain Valley Eggs FHP Corporate Headquarters, Slater Avenue and Brookhurst Street Huntington Beach Leg Main Library, 7111 Talbert Ave. Costa Mesa Globe Full Gospel Businessmen’s Assn. Headquarters lobby, 3150 Bear Irvine Opening Hunsaker Development Co., foyer, No. 3 Hughes Road Portal Amberdon Plaza, Alton Parkway at Redhill Santa Ana Building Blocks Santa Ana Athletic Club, across from Civic Center Fullerton Celestial Cal State Fullerton, just south of Education-Classroom Bldg. Laguna Beach Mother and Child Forest Avenue across from Post Office Newport Beach Temple Doors Temple Bat Yahm, 101 Camelback St.