USF’s Mendez shaping artistic consciousness in Decatur

July 16, 2016

USF Alum Greg Mendez standing in front of a sculpture he created

Mendez, a mover and shaker with the Decatur Sculpture Tour, turned the consideration of public art into a kind of preparatory Zen exercise while sitting in parks waiting for the next bout as a youth boxer on the road.

That piqued his interest in metal sculpting, and he explored the arts for a while at USF. Since then, he’s made an indelible mark on the Decatur Sculpture Tour, which originated in 2012 with 12 works and marked five years on June 10 with 31 sculptures. The pieces can be seen through April 2017 in downtown Decatur.

Now a sculpture tour committee member, he discussed the awakening of his sculpting interest and his influence on the tour in an interview with Julia Meek of Fort Wayne public radio affiliate WBOI.

Decatur’s sculpture heritage, which dates to the early part of last century and the work of American abstract expressionist sculptor and painter David Smith, captured his imagination and gave him the interest in steel sculpture. “I got an interest, a committee formed and the following year there was a public art event. Public sculptures are now lining the streets,” he said.

Having numerous artists convening for the Decatur event feeds them all creatively. “It’s a treat to have that many artists in one place. We’ve gotten to know each other and look forward to it,” he said. Creativity feeds upon itself, and he finds their work sometimes influencing his own. “All of my favorite artists are still alive and I know them,” Mendez said.

He loves how infectious creative energy can be. “I do enjoy getting feedback from those who’ve seen my work, and it’s an honor and privilege to possibly influence other younger artists,” he said. His younger brother, who is now entering the arena of sculpting, is a case in point. He pointed to the work of United Kingdom’s scagliola artist Neil Wiffill (famed artisan of the Fort Wayne Courthouse project) for large-scale pieces, and People’s Choice Award winner Gary Hovey of Ohio as indicators of the caliber of this year’s show. “(Hovey’s) ‘The Neighborhood’ is a bunch of animals you’d see hanging out in a tree,” he said.

Decatur’s permanent collection has come by way of several sources—purchased by the city, donated by a local citizen or commissioned. “It’s a real treat to walk down the street and see it,” Mendez said. “Other artists are hearing about it and want to know how to get involved.”

Public art and knowledge of the David Smith heritage have awakened the Decatur community’s interest. “Many didn’t know (about Smith) until it was brought to their attention, and they are now embracing that. It shows someone from a small town can follow ambitions and do something great.”

The tour is open to feed the sensibilities of all. “Come to Decatur and do the tour and find one piece that makes you take a moment and consider what that piece might be trying to say,” Mendez said