Testing Mettle with Twisting Metal

For graduate student Liz Johnson, there’s something liberating about working with her hands in the studio.

“The feeling I get when I finish a piece and it’s staring back at me is something I have yet to find the words to explain,” Johnson said. “Sculpture is simply good for the soul.”

Johnson started her Bradley career as a graphic design major. It wasn’t until after her first sculpture class, Three-Dimensional Design with Fisher Stolz, that she would add a sculpture major and eventually a marketing minor. The combination has proven effective, scoring Johnson a graphic design internship with the Peoria Chiefs, a job at OSF and an installation at the Peoria Sculpture Walk in 2019, to name just a few of her accomplishments.

It was at Bradley that Johnson discovered her love of working with bronze. A lengthy process of improvisation and patience, the medium tests her mental and physical strength in just the right way. Her affinity for working with bronze would eventually bring her back to Bradley for the Studio Art MFA program.

“I have been a part of every bronze pour, alongside sculpture tech Sydney Ryan, which involves weighing the metal, turning the furnace on, checking the metal, heating the molds we are going to pour the bronze into, and actually pouring the metal,” Johnson said. “It’s a blast, and being a part of every step of the process means the world to me. Where else would I get this opportunity?”

After losing her grandmother last October following a battle with dementia, she’s using her art to talk about it as part of a showcase of her skills at a recent MFA review.

“This semester, my work is heavily influenced by the process of creating bronze sculptures and the inevitable decay of the human body and mind. I tried to show this through my use of negative spaces, the suggestion of the human form, and by creating organic shapes in a very sturdy, heavy and hard material.”

Looking ahead, Johnson plans to branch out into steel sculptures, while still exploring abstraction of the human form in bronze. She plans to have a life-size abstract steel piece on display in her MFA show next fall.

“I wasn’t expecting to declare a sculpture major during my undergraduate career, but I am SO very thankful that I did,” Johnson said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without the sculpture studio at Bradley, Fisher Stolz, Jaci Willis, Sydney Ryan and so many others who have helped me along the way. I’ve not only grown as an artist, but as a person as well.”