Q&A with Daniel Tobin, cofounder and creative director of UAP (Urban Art Projects).
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What is UAP and how did it start?
When my brother and I started Urban Artists [now UAP] in the early 1990s, we were interested in connecting with artists and making work for public space. Originally, we encouraged developers to start investing in public works, which helped our business get a foothold in the public art sector in Australia. We set up a small workshop in our hometown of Brisbane on the east coast of Australia, with a team of four. There, we built our own furnaces, bought an old metal workshop, and built our foundry. We started casting in bronze only and we’ve grown from there. Currently, we do wax printing and metal casting of various sorts in ten locations worldwide. But ultimately, we’re makers at heart and we’re very proud of the part that we play in the art ecosystem. We see ourselves as custodians of the making process. Bronze has been cast for five millennia, since the Bronze Age, and we continue doing so today.
The foundry that we purchased about three years ago in New York has been making work for over fifty years. It’s humbling to work with such amazing craftspeople and makers from North America who have created pieces for such great American artists as Frank Stella, Claus Oldenburg, and Roy Lichtenstein. Our most senior maker, who is 85 and the oldest in the country, is still on the floor today, training our younger team and helping to make work. Whether the furnace, the grinders, or welders are running, there’s always this energy of making in the workshops.
What is it like to work with contemporary artists?
Some artists are extremely involved in the process and visit the workshop all the time. Others are more hands off and use more contemporary techniques of digital sculpting. We let artists work in any way they like, but we always love hosting them in the workshop.
Our first sculpture project was with the First Nations artist Judy Watson—a floor piece for the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre. We’ve continued to work together over the last thirty years, and this year so far we’ve made three or four works for
her. One is bara , a monument for the First Nations people of Sydney, installed at the Sydney Opera House. This is a great example of the kind of long-term relationship we like to have with our artists.
Tell me about the metal-working processes at UAP.
In Brisbane, we cast in bronze and aluminum. In Shanghai, we focus on bronze only. In New York, we cast an array of materials—bronze, stainless steel, aluminum, and precious metals like gold and silver. We get our metals from recycled sources. For example, all our silver comes from disused electrical goods. We’ve developed this process in collaboration with Maya Lin, who required that the silver for her casts in the “Silver River” series [2009–ongoing] come from extant sources. Like many artists, we are changing the way we do things in order to build a more sustainable business moving forward.
Do you have any tricks of the trade?
Find someone—whether it’s an artist or some other kind of maker—who’s passionate about what they do, and you can go far. There will be many mistakes along the way. It’s how you fix those mistakes that matters most. It’s how you stand by the artist’s creative intent. People might see what look like perfect works that our team has made, but the process is never that smooth.
What’s most rewarding about your job?
It’s seeing work once imagined by an artist materialize on the workshop floor. I enjoy the journey of a work from inception to physical making to installation in a gallery or city space—and, subsequently, people’s reaction to it. It’s fun to go back, ten to twenty years after a work has been installed, and see it still engaging an audience or having a meaningful connection to a place.
—Interview by Francesca Aton