Skip to content
added to favourites
removed from favourites
Oops! Something went wrong. Try again
Your account is being created
Your account has been successfully created and you are now logged in
You are logged out.

Poet of the figures

Sculptor Aron Demetz’s works of art are subtly expressive. To achieve this effect, he begins each sculpture figure with a single word.

Many pairs of eyes stare back at anyone who enters the studio of artist Aron Demetz: life-size, human-like sculptures made of wood, bronze, plaster. Figures coated with resin, charred or wildly frayed. They are distributed throughout the spacious hall between piles of logs and huge rootstocks. In the middle of it all, Aron Demetz prepares a new sculpture. With short, precise strokes of spatula, he models white plaster mass around coal-black wood. It almost seems as if the white figure is intended to protect the fragile, charred wooden bust.

Aron Demetz is at the leading edge of the international sculpture scene. But he prefers to work in his homeland, the Val Gardena valley in South Tyrol. Do these mighty Dolomite massifs, which are so close at hand, inspire him? Hesitantly, Aron Demetz shakes his head: "Subconsciously, the landscape definitely plays a role. The mountains here in Val Gardena are themselves figures and stand-alone sculptures." How can he compete with the artistry of nature?

“When I go out into nature, sometimes that which I do simply pales in comparison. The enormity of the mountains are sculptures beyond compare.” I prefer to remain in my own space and in my own little world, and then somehow my art takes on meaning and function," says Aron. And then, according to the modest artist, there is the woodcarving tradition of Val Gardena to live up to. “There used to be a carving workshop in every second house, and you learn all about that from an early age."

In the valley of the wood carvers

The centuries-old tradition of woodcarving, especially for sacred art, earned the Val Gardena valley the nickname “valley of wood carvers." Aron Demetz attended the vocational school for sculpture in Val Gardena where he carved countless sculptures of Christ and Madonnas. “But at some point I had to decide in which direction I wanted to go,” says Aron Demetz. I had learned the technique and I didn't want or need to deny these roots, because I liked working with wood." He consciously chose art, looking for a path that felt right to him: "It opened another door for me, even though at the end of the day we're talking about the same thing, but just communicating through art in a different way."

The human figure in focus

Demetz quickly found his preferred way of communicating, he says: "The figure itself has always been close to my heart. Admittedly, this was not so easy, because when creating figures you are immediately pushed into the category of the figurative and that can also have disadvantages. But I always insisted on doing so, because the figure was important to me." He stuck to this principle even when he went to the Academy of Fine Arts in Nuremberg and figurative art seemed to have become passé. "We weren't even considered to be a class at the academy. It was only after 2001 that a wave of figurative work came back and the figure sculpture became more respected again."

What defines Aron Demetz's art is the subtle communication of his figures with the viewer. Aron Demetz's works are in great demand internationally. But this does not faze him. He says modestly: “I have experimented with how the figure works with the idea, so that both work together. There are several elements that have to be combined, which is always exciting and I like that.”

The blood of the tree

Aron Demetz's sculptures merely stand there, but their eyes are captivating. Aron Demetz explains why: "Early on, I was primarily concerned with the gaze and with an introspective, calm expression. In this way, the sculpture enters into a dialogue with the viewer. Especially when you can't clearly define what kind of facial expression it is, you spend more time with the sculptures."

Looking into the eyes of his stoic, human-like works is almost uncomfortable. Demetz is familiar with this reaction, especially with the figures whose faces are covered in resin, he says: "When people first come, they immediately say the figures look like decomposing bodies. But then, when they come for the second time, they head straight for those figures, because those are the ones that made them feel uncomfortable." As an artist, he has inflicted wounds on trees with the chainsaw; the resin, the "blood of the tree", becomes a healing element and a second skin.

Why Aron Demetz burns his figures

After experimenting with resin, Aron began to burn wooden figures deliberately: "The figure itself was no longer as important as the concept of fragility behind it: By burning, only parts of the figure remain, the details burn away, but the basic framework remains. That's what it's really about for me: that it always carries on. Like resin, wounds are healed, foundation walls can be restored, and even a dead tree can give rise to something new, like mushrooms - all this, after all, is about life."

Even a sculptor sometimes needs a robot

The figure of a boy without eyeballs can be seen in the middle of Demetz's studio. Its surface is finely polished in some places, the rest is covered in long wooden threads and looks like wild hair. "When I taught in Carrara, we had a robot in the class to carve marble in 3D. So I looked into how this could be done with wood and developed a system to roughen the surface of the wood so that this hairiness became increasingly pronounced. Right away I was sure that I only wanted to use a machine if it improved my art.”

Nature as inspiration


The inspiration for this came from a tree that was overgrown with moss on its north side. "I found it fascinating that figures might have both a sunny side and a shady side. The alternating of hairiness and finely polished areas relates to the second skin again. Here, the inspiration came from nature and in the workshop I add something. Then of course it is always to do with you as an artist," Demetz reveals. And so the sculptor moves from one work of art to the next, changing technique and material every two or three years or so.

It all starts with a single word

Aron Demetz's figures, however, do not emanate from the material, but rather from a word. His eyes light up as he explains this surprising detail: "Words are more abstract and are still lacking a clearly defined form. So there are several ways to interpret them. Which is nice, because it leaves open for a while what the figure will look like in detail.” For a long time now, he no longer makes precise drawings like he did at the beginning. "I notice that the thought process in advance is getting longer and longer, and the execution then goes quite quickly. I make sure that at the end there is still something of this initial word in the artwork. Of course, you can still react and make interpretations spontaneously with the material. Sometimes there's nothing left of that word, but that process is still important to me."

Figures, like life itself

In 2018, when Aron Demetz was preparing for his exhibition at the Archaeology Museum in Naples, the word was “fragments.” This was apt because he exhibited his work amidst ancient Greek and Roman figures and many destroyed sculptures. "As a contemporary artist, I was interested in reconstructing something from fragments, in restoration. Negative forms like footprints are a symbol of the past while positive forms stand for the present time. Thus, a period of time is included, that tells stories," says the sculptor.

Stories such as those of the sculpture on which Demetz is currently working: The charred wooden figure lay in storage for a long time, it had broken off when it was burned. Now, it is being rebuilt, explains the artist from Val Gardena: "Plaster is actually a very poor material. Yet it can - as is the case with a broken leg in medicine - support the figure." Vulnerability, destruction, healing processes. All these factors tell us something about life.

Text: Marlene Lobis
Photo & Video: MINT Mediahouse
Year of publication: 2019 - Stories from South Tyrol

Accommodation image
Finish your booking for
Accommodation name
0  room rooms Not selected No board Breakfast Half board Full board All inclusive
Total price: 0 €
(incl. VAT / excl. local tourism tax)