“Swirly Girl” by Karen and Tony Barone stands 8 feet tall.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY DREW METZGER PHOTOGRAPHY
Karen and Tony Barone’s swirled-and-painted aluminum sculptures have been visually prominent in the Coachella Valley for years. At 8 feet tall, “Swirly Girl” marks their third entry in the El Paseo Sculpture Exhibition (their previous subjects include a pair of dogs and a trio of rabbits).
“It is an honor to have artwork on El Paseo,” Tony says. “It is one of the showcase streets where tourists go because of the galleries, fashion and décor, and restaurants.”
Karen adds that Palm Desert “reigns supreme” in city-artist partnerships. In particular, she points to their public art program liaisons on the city staff: Erica Powell and Amy Lawrence.
“They are so amenable and very organized,” she says.
“Swirly Girl” was the Barones’ latest work when the city issued the call for entries in 2022. But, more than its timely creation, the Barones selected it for its powerful aura.
“There are not enough works in sculpture that represent what the female represents in this day and age,” Karen says. “She came to us naturally and had a dynamism that took over. I truly feel there is a personality within that metal figure. She stands tall. She stands proud. She stands to represent womankind.”
She also “ignited a flame,” Karen says, that has resulted in a series of “fashionista” sculptures.
“The subject is easy. I am living with it,” Tony elaborates. “Karen knows herself well and is my total muse.” Indeed, only a woman as confident as “Swirly Girl” would pair a dress in black and silver stripes with boots, over-the-elbow gloves, and a helmet with red polka dots and stripes on orange and silver.
Over the years, the Barones have perfected a signature style for intersecting flat pieces of aluminum to give the illusion of volume. In more recent works, they have incorporated spherical heads — like the one on “Swirly Girl” — by welding together hemispheres formed over hours on a special lathe.
“Circo X” by T Barny weighs 3/4 of a ton.
T Barny’s process for his bronze “Circo X,” also in the El Paseo Sculpture Exhibition, is similarly exacting, with some 20 cast sections welded to form a trefoil knot and then sanded smooth before the application of a sapphire patina. The Healdsburg-based artist begins his designs in stone. From the original “Circo” that he carved in calcite, he made a 3D scan and cast a same-size version (about 2 feet tall) in bronze. After a viewer remarked on envisioning the piece at 6 feet tall, Barny created “Circo X.” He titled the piece “Circo” — meaning “to traverse” — while the “X” indicates its extra-large size. The work, including its pedestal, stands more than 8 feet tall and more than 5 feet wide; it weighs 3/4 of a ton.
Barny credits the city’s installation crew for dealing with the pedestal and trefoil knot masses efficiently.
“It only took about 20 minutes to move the pieces off my truck to the median,” he says, adding that he also enjoyed working with Powell, who streamlined the entire process for his participation in the juried exhibition.
Barny first visited the Coachella Valley for a family vacation in 1978. Whenever he sold his work to collectors with homes here, he offered to deliver it so he could enjoy Palm Springs life for a day or two. He has watched the El Paseo Sculpture Exhibition for the last 10 years and finally had a piece large enough to submit for the 2023–2024 iteration. (His work more typically resides in homes, though he has works in corporate buildings as far away as Atlanta, Boston, and Toronto.) Barny drove to Palm Desert not only for the installation of his piece but also for the opening reception in February.
Karen Barone credits the positivity of the city council and staff for a camaraderie among the artists at the opening reception.
“They were all very giving and excited to be among the other artists,” she says.
Asked if they have advice for their creative colleagues considering a submission for the next El Paseo Sculpture Exhibition, Tony simply asks, “Other than ‘Do it’?”
“Be original, be honest, and do your best,” Karen offers, prompting Tony to finish with this suggestion: “Go look at the exhibition. Nothing else looks like ours, and ours doesn’t look like any of the others.”