Just a few steps away from the Wiehle-Reston East Metrorail Station sits a riveting work of public art, guaranteed to stop passersby in their tracks and arouse a multitude of varied reactions and emotions.
Only recently unveiled at the entrance to the new Aperture apartments, the massive, 108”-by-115”-by-85” bronze and stainless-steel sculpture by nationally recognized artist Zachary Oxman is not precisely a new work. It took years for the dramatic and powerful sculpture to find its permanent home outside the luxury rental apartments of this new mixed-use development. Aptly titled “Convergence,” its journey from Oxman’s studio in Maryland to Reston is connected by a myriad of, what at first seemed, only tangentially related circumstances.
“The sculpture existed before the building existed, before the idea of the building existed. It all aligned; all these seemingly independent pieces came into focus,” said Oxman in a recent conversation. “I’m happy where this child has gone. I can go visit. This is where it was meant to be.”
When longtime Restonian Charles Veatch first saw “Convergence” in Oxman’s studio, it was “love at first sight,” but he had no idea that he would eventually become integral to its purchase for Aperture. He recalled that his visit was simply for him and his wife Beverly to reconnect with a longtime family friend – to have lunch together and to see Oxman’s latest works.
Veatch, a principal and president of the commercial real estate company, Charles A. Veatch Co., had hired Oxman’s father, an architect, to design the business park and mini-storage buildings that would, years later, be demolished to build Aperture. He also had commissioned Oxman, who was born and raised in Reston, to create the bronze sculpture, “Untold Stories,” to commemorate Reston founder Robert E. Simon Jr.’s 90th birthday in 2004. Affectionately known as “Bronze Bob,” the popular public art work depicts Simon sitting on a bench at the edge of Lake Anne, surveying the historic village center’s plaza.
“As soon as I walked in and saw ‘Convergence,’ I knew it was wonderful,” enthused Veatch. Also an accomplished nature photographer and a director of Nature’s Best photography magazine, Veatch immediately related to how the sculpture uses the form of a camera and the act of taking a photograph as a metaphor for the convergence that happens when the intangible becomes tangible.
On the bronze side of the sculpture, an intense human figure – deeply crouching, arms folded and head down – emerges through the symbolic form of the aperture of a camera lens. To the figure’s back is the concave underside of a highly polished, stainless-steel dome. The dome’s reverse convex side, also highly polished, reflects the Aperture entrance or anyone standing in front of it. The sculpture is situated so it can be seen from every angle.
“It’s about the concept of pushing through an idea to reality,” Oxman said. While he had always believed that a work should stand alone without his having to explain it, in “Convergence,” rather than providing “the breadcrumbs of discovery,” he deliberately used recognizable imagery that “pulls you in to explore, not some amorphous concept.”
He explained, “I was creating a story. I was telling it in physical form. … I was creating a visual journal of the experience I was putting myself through as an artist.”
Despite his immediate connection to “Convergence,” Veatch also ruefully thought, at the time, that the sculpture was way too large and way too expensive. “It was not something you could put in the living room or a yard,” he remembered thinking. “This is a piece that needed to be in a prominent place.”
Then the Aperture project came along. And while it seems obvious now, it wasn’t immediately apparent that the two would ever converge.
A joint venture between The Bozzuto Companies and The Charles A. Veatch Family, the partners struggled to find a name for their new mixed-use project. They hired a marketing company and gave them three potential options: something scientific, the area where Aperture is located was supposed to be Reston’s “think-tank,” or something related to nature or the arts, two other major Reston priorities.
The marketers came up with “all sorts of lists” and all sorts of permutations of the suggestions on those lists. “We went through months of rejecting names and even fired two marketing companies,” Veatch confessed. Then one Sunday, “out of blue,” Eric Fenton, a Bozzuto vice president, put together Veatch’s love for photography and the use of Nature’s Best photographs throughout the building. He called and said, “Why not just call it Aperture.”
The name instantly clicked with Veatch and so did the idea of bringing “Convergence” to Aperture. A deal was made, and though it “busted the budget,” he said, “we all agreed it was worth it. It’s such a perfect fit.”
At a time where he was between commissions and free of obligations, the idea for “Convergence,” Oxman said, emerged about five years ago at a time of “risk,” “uncertainty” and profound artistic “unrest.” Speaking by phone, he described its creation as “a perfect example of the overlap of my art with a pretty profound experience for me.” And though initially soul-searching, that experience eventually became a defining moment, “emotionally rich” and “very validating.”
Oxman’s self-imposed two-year sabbatical also was triggered by a devastating fire in his studio, which destroyed “much of the work that had defined him.”
Starting over on both a “physical and personal level” and purposely returning to the mindset of a student, Oxman said that with “Convergence,” his first piece after his sabbatical, he began reinventing himself and his art, experimenting with ideas, materials and technologies and not being afraid to improvise with its exhilarating “roller coaster of crescendos and excitement.”
His marriage of art and technology also required a tremendous amount of physically strenuous labor – the hoisting of weighty metals with heavy chains, the manipulation of their shapes with the heat of a blow torch, and the creation of armatures and other understructure for support. The sculpture’s highly polished lens element, for example, was made from a 1,000-pound piece of raw metal and took about 150 hours to create. Working day after day, Oxman pounded it into shape and ground its surface until the desired high-polish finish emerged.
“I do like to create from a full-body experience,” Oxman admitted, quipping “it’s hard to whisper with a sledge hammer.” And as to the sculpture’s momentous size, he explained, “My ideas wouldn’t translate small; the experience wouldn’t be the same in a smaller scale.”
Although he has not lived in Reston for 30 years, Oxman, 49, who now lives and works in Bethesda with his wife Janna and two young adult children, maintains a strong connection to his former hometown.
“The branch has grown far but the roots are still there. This sculpture has a unique place in my heart. … It perfectly aligns with the start of my career,” he said, marveling that Aperture’s address is 11410 Reston Station Blvd. and his Reston address all those years ago was 11410 Links Drive.
Both Veatch and Oxman are strong proponents of public art, a legacy that dates back to Reston’s founding in 1964, and its significant impacts on a community’s cultural life.
Happily recollecting Simon’s approbation, he recalled Reston’s founder saying about “Convergence”: “This is what public art is all about. It absolutely relates to its environment.” Referring to another unintended but interesting connection, Veatch noted that the date of the unveiling was the second anniversary of Simon’s passing.
Reacting as both an artist and someone whose formative years were spent in Reston, Oxman extolled public art for its unique “placemaking” attributes. “Public art,” he proposed, “has a subtle but very profound impact on a community that’s not always appreciated. It adds a layer to life, a texture. … On the highest level, it educates … gives a chance for reflection … breaks you away from the chatter of life, lifts your head from your phone.”
In addition to “Convergence,” Aperture is home to lots more art. Oxman created another, yet unnamed, “more whimsical” sculpture specifically for the lobby space that was inspired by the parts of old cameras.
Like the frequently photographed “Bronze Bob,” Veatch anticipates that “Convergence” will become another public art “icon” in Reston. “I am really, truly proud of this product and the way it turned out. It is something very different and very cool,” he enthused.