“I did it for myself, not for other people,” CHS junior Josh Cui said. “I feel like people would have been supportive of my art, but I just never really talked about it. It was just a personal thing.”
Since elementary school, Cui has spent countless hours hunched over spools of wire, manipulating thin strands of metal into three-dimensional sculptures that depict topics ranging from machines of the future to Transcendentalist philosophy of the past. Despite his devotion to and success in this unique field of art, however, Cui has always kept his creations to himself, preferring the long process of building the sculptures themselves over the celebration of finished products.
“I do art for myself. I love the whole process of making sculptures,” he said.
Cui first fell in love with the art of manipulating metal wire into three dimensional structures at the very beginning of elementary school. As other students learned about coloring within the lines and proper scissor-carrying protocol, Cui taught himself how to bend wire into whatever shape he desired.
“I don’t really remember how I started out, but it came naturally,” Cui said. “I was just playing around with the wire, and then it just kind of happened.”
Although he developed a clear passion for wire working at a young age, Cui temporarily drifted away from art during his middle school years. Not only did he cease to make his unique metal creations, but he also stopped sketching depictions of futuristic machinery from the stories of science fiction that had long fascinated him.
“To be honest, I never really figured out why I stopped making art in middle school. I think maybe I was trying to make some changes, and in the process, I kind of forgot about wire art. It’s weird to think back to those times and try to explain,” Cui said.
Middle school years void of art, however, soon gave way to high school, and Cui returned to the art that had first fascinated him almost ten years previously.
As he learned more about wire working, Cui noticed a unique pattern emerge in his artistic process.
“Sometimes I have inspiration for a project, so I start the project knowing what I want to make. But most of the time, I just start and hope that something good comes out. Usually it all turns out okay,” Cui said.
In fact, Cui is most accustomed to changing directions halfway through the building process and pursuing the creation of something entirely unexpected.
Over this past summer, for example, Cui started making a dragon.
“I had completed the spine and the skull structure of the dragon, but then I kind of put it aside when summer ended,” Cui said. “But then when my English class got to our Transcendentalism unit, one of the possible assignments was to make an art project and then write about how that art reflected a Transcendentalist philosophy or message. And I’m like, ‘Oh, wait! I have this dragon. I can write about that.’ So then I went back to the dragon and changed it, creating something that connected to transcendentalism.”
When Cui is not deriving inspiration from the concepts discussed in his English class, he is finding ideas for his sculptures in the science fiction pictures that he draws based on futuristic movies and books. Although no two wire sculptures end up looking alike, each piece has a similar effect on the few who get to see them.
In November, for example, CHS senior Daniel Cho got to watch as Cui worked on his dragon sculpture during any scraps of down time he could find while working at the Clayton Fall Classic Speech and Debate tournament.
“Initially, I saw Josh with a spool of wire and was pretty confused why he brought it. But whenever we would have any breaks during the tournament, everyone would see Josh working on his sculpture. He was making this really cool 3D dragon, and everyone was super impressed,” Cho said.
A month later, both Cho and CHS senior Kate Cooper watched as Cui worked on a completely new project – this time, an angel – on the four-hour drive to Independence, Missouri, where the CHS Speech and Debate team would compete.
“I never would have thought that anyone would be able to use wire to make something so intricate,” Cho said. “What was even more impressive was his dedication. He worked nonstop to get the project finished. It was clear that he loved what he was doing.”
Cooper agreed. “I remember sitting next to Josh on the bus the whole weekend. While everyone else was frantically prepping for the competition, Josh was calmly twisting and molding away. It was awesome to see a spool of wire turn into an angel in the matter of a few days,” Cooper said.
Indeed, although the wire structure themselves appear as though they might require weeks or even months to complete, Cui has now progressed so far into the skill of wire working that each sculpture only demands about five to seven hours of work.
However, that does not mean that the process of wire working always comes easily to Cui.
“The most difficult part of the process usually occurs about halfway through, when the sculpture just doesn’t really look like anything and it gets kind of discouraging,” Cui said. “But I just have to keep pushing myself to get through that point and reminding myself that, even if I don’t have a clear vision of what I’m making right then, I eventually will. I try not to think too much about what it looks like at that halfway point. I just want to focus on the final product.”
Although Cui is accustomed to keeping those final products to himself, he is now beginning to look into opportunities to share his work with others. Most recently, Cui considered entering some of his sculptures into a national art competition: the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. He ultimately decided not to submit his work, but he considers his initial interest in entering as an important first step toward developing a willingness to publicize his work.
“I think I might enter stuff in contests later this spring. I don’t often put my art on display, but I’m trying to start submitting my stuff and sharing it with others,” Cui said.
Ultimately, Cui creates art not for any type of recognition or praise; he creates art because he loves the process.
“It’s hard to explain the importance of art in my life. I just really like doing it,” Cui said. “It’s something I’m passionate about. It’s fun.”
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