Larger than Life: the Sculpture of Sean Guerrero

Article by Nancy Ward

Local Artist – December 1998 – Colorado Central Magazine

SEAN GUERRERO’S artistic creations are larger than life.

It might be said they “litter” the countryside from coast to coast, since they’re made from articles discarded by civilization as it embraces newer things. But Guerrero’s art definitely is not “garbage.” Guerrero recycles chrome bumpers and other unwanted metals from vintage cars parked and long-forgotten in pastures, back alleys and junkyards in the Southwest and Midwest, and turns them into sculptures too large to be hidden away in exquisite homes or exclusive galleries.

The sculptor moved to Crested Butte eight years ago from Denver because he liked the town and the environment. “People are friendly and easy going.”

Guerrero’s work can be seen in Central Colorado. One of his horses is pastured in the flowerbed in front of the Poncha Springs Truck Stop owned by Kevin Swift. This horse is Number 15 of the twenty-five that exist so far, all signed on the underbelly by the artist. The gleaming horse stands about ten feet tall and ten feet long, not counting a tail that seems to fly in the wind from the running horse, another four feet. Swift and his family love horses and often ride for pleasure in the mountains, he “dabbles” in roping and his daughter “rodeos a little,” he says. The “Spirit of the West” horse has become the truck stop trademark.

A regal, bugling bull elk stands, radiant, along U.S. Highway 50 in downtown Gunnison, in front of a real estate office. It measures about ten by ten with an eight-foot wide antler spread.

North of Gunnison, west of Highway 135 toward Ohio Creek, a chrome mare and colt frolic in the meadow in front of a home.

Further up the highway, near Crested Butte, the hillside glistens with the battle of a gigantic medieval knight and colossal dragon.

Guerrero, formerly an industrial welder in Denver, says he was “always kind of artistic.” With no formal art training other than a couple basic summer courses in light drawing and industrial design, he began welding small sculptures in his spare time. By 1981 his work frequently sold in personal deals and in minor downtown galleries, so he switched to full-time sculpting. One of his first large creations was a knight on a horse that was sold soon after its completion.

THE LOS ANGELES/HOLLYWOOD crowd “discovered” Guerrero in the mid-80s when he did shows in Beverly Hills. He says that’s where he gained initial success, commissioned by producers and actors, including Kirk Douglas and Jack Palance. Soon he tired of “the L.A. thing” and art shows. In fact, he couldn’t keep enough sculptures on hand to do a show. Since then he makes only private sales.

Guerrero’s deer graze in Maryland, his horses gallop in South and North Carolina, and Kansas, and in Vermont and Texas where the owners decided these mares needed colts by their sides. An eagle with a 13-foot wingspan protects a Sedona, Arizona, jewelry store. Eagles and horses are his most popular pieces.

Though most of his work now is on a large scale and of chrome, he enjoys working with a variety of subjects and materials, producing various sizes and shapes. He creates usable furniture and wind-blown sculptures, skaters, robots, “goofy things,” aliens, “sci-fi stuff.” His mixed media includes aged woods, discarded appliances, light bulbs, and magazine ads of the ’40s and ’50s.

A few years ago his “winged lady in chrome” sold to a memorial garden and soon was featured as “Winged Woman on a Prayer” in National Mortician Magazine. Of course, the sculptor and his creations have also been featured in trendy L.A. magazines, several regional and statewide publications, and a couple of French magazines.

Having visited France a half-dozen times, Guerrero decided that was a good winter location and recently purchased a house there. He plans to spend summer in the Crested Butte area, and winter months in France where he’ll continue with his work. “I believe there’s a good market there, in the Mediterranean area.

“I’ll give it a shot.

“As I get a little older and a little more beat up, it’s harder to take Crested Butte winters.”

Metal fabrication has its drawbacks, even for a well-conditioned, average size man without an ounce of fat on him. A cutting torch to make small metal pieces from large ones and an electric welder to fuse those small pieces into the desired design are Guerrero’s only equipment. To shape each masterpiece he uses few tools, and brute strength. He hefts a weighty ball-peen hammer to pound the hot metal pieces into each graceful curve, uses vice-grips to help hold the pieces in place until welded. Chrome pieces for his artistic jigsaw puzzles range from one inch to a couple of feet in size.

Most of Guerrero’s finished sculptures weigh up to one and one half tons which explains why, after all the lifting, cutting, and holding, and after he twists his body into contortions to get the right pieces welded in just the right locations, his back goes out “a lot.” The welder’s helmet that hides his dark hair and eyes and shields his face from most of the flying sparks and molten metal, weighs heavily on his neck and spine. Wearing the usual welder’s protective gloves is an impossibility for a sculptor. He’s used to daily cuts and scrapes and muscle aches, and many burns.

Although he begins building around a basic square metal frame and tacks smaller pieces to it, in the end the formed sculpture is a strong, solid shell, free standing, with long spikes on the bottom to hold it in place wherever displayed.

In the 18 years since he turned professional, the artist’s prices haven’t changed much, ranging from $1,000 to $30,000, depending on how involved the project is. Sculpting a horse takes about three months, an eagle about two. Smaller projects average six weeks.

Guerrero personally delivers most of his creations via trailer, uncovered. Imagine driving down the highway and seeing a 3,000-pound elk coming at you; or a pair of horses weighing in at a combined two and a half tons.

Returning from the delivery, he brings back a load of bumpers purchased along the way, about eighty weighing at least fifty pounds each. “Chrome bumpers,” he explains, “are being phased out of the car industry as the Environmental Protection Agency cuts down on nickel-plating as an air pollutant. Soon it will all be plastic.”

The artist’s studio is his Crested Butte backyard where the sun toasts his skin, and the wind and occasional rain attack at will. At the time of this interview, a rocket ship fashioned from chrome bumpers and exhaust pipes and a myriad of other metals had touched down at the studio, complete with an alien hanging out the porthole window. Sean is not anxious to sell this creation.

Guerrero donates many of his sculptures to selected causes: Open Space, Adapt-a-Sports which raises money for handicapped skiers, and Jimmy Carter’s Habitat for Humanity.

Occasionally, when not “really” busy, he’ll give an art lesson or help college students get into the artistic flow. Sean Guerrero can be contacted at P.O. Box 1611, Crested Butte, Colorado 81224. Messages can be phoned to 970-349-7148.

Nancy Ward, like other writers, sculpts itty-bitty pieces of information into articles. She roams Central Colorado, where most things are bigger than life for those who take time to notice.