LA Buddha

By Donald Gialanella

An exclusive look behind the making of the sculpture series "The LA Buddha"

Videos by Donald Gialanella


Asymmetric Magazine: Tell us about your contribution.
Donald Gialanella: LA Buddha is a series of found-object assemblage sculptures representing the spiritual wabi-sabi of a materialistic lifestyle. The theme links reincarnation and recycling. The pieces are made of objects that lived their initial lives and are now returning in a new context. Some of the works contain signs charged with graffiti and bullet holes. Some contain poignant personal objects and toys embedded in a new matrix of paint and steel.
       The series explores the problematic juxtaposition of planned obsolescence versus modernity, substance over spirituality, and transience contrasted with perfection. It looks at materialism and probes how we look at permanence. The work is loaded with references to environmental responsibility and our cultural relationship to waste and sustainability.
       All nine sculptures are mounted on pallets made from recycled plastic soda bottles. The pallets create an eight-inch space between the wall and the surface of the work to produce sculptural dimension. They appear to be floating. The pallets themselves continue the metaphorical reincarnation–pallets that once carried other loads, now carry art.
       The work relies on visceral impact and physicality–the inherent beauty of elemental materials and the emotional connection to the spiritual human face. It incorporates abandoned and forgotten objects, imbued with the dignified presence they possess. Collecting discarded objects from around the city streets lends the work native roots, infused with the energy of the city and subsequent re-purposing as art. I envision myself an artistic paleontologist, looking for traces of life in the rubble of society and reassembling these artifacts into something reflective of the culture.
       I believe the work can serve as part of a vital artistic touchstone that serves as a catalyst for social and cultural growth. It is part of an important transformative process where art comments about and reflects the culture we live in.

AM: What inspires you most?
DG: Inspiration is overrated. Edison said, “Success is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration.” I happen to agree.  Although I do experience the rush of inspiration when I hit on a new idea or start a new commission, this initial “falling in love” stage is replaced by planning and hard work if it is to reach fruition.
       Sculpture is hard work. You must put energy into the material to change it. The harder and more resistant the material, the more energy it requires to change. Louise Bourgeois used to say that creating sculpture is aggressive. The sculptor doesn’t want something the way it exists, he wants it his own way.

AM: What else can we expect to see from you?
DG: My recent assemblage art making practice is a shift from being something I’m passionate about to something other people are participating in and that lives outside of the studio, in a larger and more public community. With the conviction that it’s possible to have positive impact on the world of images, I’m excited about the opportunity of further transformation. It’s a greater goal than mere object making, more closely akin to belief making through the intention and soul of art.
       I’m currently working on a major commission for the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital on the campus of Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA. It’s a life-size Cow assemblage sculpture covered with actual children’s toys. I first designed and built a supporting armature made of a welded steel frame sheathed with fire-retardant wood. Imagine staves around a barrel. I have begun the task of covering this wooden sub-structure with plastic toys of every description which will hide the armature completely. A process I call populating the surface.
       This summer I am going to be an artist-in-residence at Arthub in Kingman, AZ. My goal for the residency is to create assemblage sculptures using natural and man-made materials found in and around Kingman. The techniques I will employ to create the sculptures are basic; using simple tools, screws, wire and glue to join together a myriad of objects.
       The finished artwork will be magical, folkloric and mystical–powerful expressions that express our complex relationship with objects. Forks, spoons, plates, car parts, hubcaps, signage, sticks, rocks, and discarded man-made objects will be transformed into temporal visual stories that provide different impressions at every stage of creation.
       I began to work outside ten years ago, finding a renewed meaning of life walking and drawing in the high desert of Taos, New Mexico. It made me feel the vulnerability of the earth and I began to focus my work on peace and environmental awareness. My concern for the earth remains strong, but most enduring is the deep satisfaction I feel simply by being and working in wild, natural places.

Donald Gialanella, originally from Maplewood, NJ, now works out of his studio in Los Angeles. After earning a BFA from The Cooper Union, Donald apprenticed with Louise Bourgeois, an influential figure in modern and contemporary art. He worked as a graphics producer at ABC-TV in New York in the 1980’s and received an Emmy for his work on Monday Night Football in 1990. Donald taught art and design at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey and has completed a host of public and private commissions. He is going to be artist-in-residence this summer in Kingman, AZ. You can find more of his work at

Posted on April 23, 2015 .