Breaking the Mold: Kansas City Artist Tom Corbin
Artist and sculptor Tom Corbin's creative passion is ever changing.
Photos provided by The Corbin Bronze Team
Nothing about Tom Corbin’s sculpting career is ordinary. He was a full-time ad man before a chance encounter led him to bronze sculpting. His work strays from the norm in its look and purpose. He boasts a wide repertoire of work ranging from sculptures of figures to high-end residential furniture to large paintings. Even his studio, located in an old fire station on Southwest Boulevard, differs from those typically found in the art world.
He’s different, but with clients such as Tom Hanks and Frank Sinatra, universities and major cities, Hollywood offices and more, the owner of Kansas City-based Corbin Bronze proves it pays to be different.
Corbin grew up in Dayton, Ohio, with an art-teaching mom and an engineering dad. Although he enjoyed art as a child, his dad suggested it was more of a hobby than a career, so he studied marketing at Miami University. His first job out of college as a salesman took him to Kansas City, where he later took a job at an ad agency.
He was working at the agency in his mid-20s when he was introduced to sculpting. One of his close friends at the agency had been taking a sculpture class but, due to a broken leg, was unable to attend, so she offered Corbin her spot. “I was single and didn’t have anything going on,” Corbin says, “so I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll check it out.’” It wasn’t long before he decided to make it his profession.
Now, 36 years since his first sculpting class, Corbin’s varied work can be found across the country. His furniture has made it onto movie sets, he’s been commissioned to do pieces such as the famous Firefighter’s Memorial in Kansas City, and his sculptures can be found in numerous galleries and celebrity homes. He’s made sculptures of gorillas, candlesticks, columns and more.
But he’s not getting comfortable. Rather, he’s continuing to push the boundaries of normality with his speculative work — abstract pieces Corbin creates from his mind rather than commissioned pieces based on real-life objects. Inspired by sculptor Alberto Giacometti, these pieces typically feature tall, skinny figures with rough details.
Traditionally in the sculpture world, figures stand alone on a base. Corbin’s, however, feature various elements that work to profile the human condition. A sculpture of a woman sitting on a swing and looking at the worn path where another swing should be suggests lost contact with a childhood friend. A woman balancing on a canoe mirrors the struggle of finding a balanced life. “You’re developing an environment that does have an impact or generates a mood,” he says. “It’s more intentional.”
Photos provided by The Corbin Bronze team
No matter the subject, though, Corbin puts immense time and effort into the process. Generally, it takes Corbin two to three weeks, and up to two months, to create a clay model of the piece, then another two to four weeks to create a mold of the model. That mold is then sent to a foundry — Corbin works with two foundries in Kansas City and Lawrence— where, through a series of steps, the mold is filled with bronze to create a finished sculpture. From start to finish, the entire creation process typically lasts 12 to 24 weeks.
Corbin says two of the most critical aspects of any sculpture are the hands and the face. “There’s so much in the expression of the face and the way the hands are done that can communicate the attitude of a piece,” he says. “Sometimes I can work on a face for a week. It’s so critical that it’s done right.”
As a result, Corbin often studies a subject in-depth before he begins making a clay model — primarily if the piece is commissioned and based off a living subject. When he was commissioned to make a large sculpture of a gorilla for Pittsburg State University, for instance, he spent hours at the Kansas City Zoo observing and photographing gorillas there, trying to capture their appearance and personality. (He also ordered just about every picture book on gorillas he could find.)
Photos provided by The Corbin Bronze team
Corbin doesn’t have any plans to slow down his career, and he’s continuing to keep things interesting and different in his work. He’s recently added painting to his skillset — mostly he features family and friends, so the work stays in his studio rather than galleries. In the future, he’d like to integrate painting with sculptures and continue pushing the boundaries of his work.
The bottom line, he says: “I’m probably more excited about what I do now than I’ve ever been.”