"I call it man knitting'—it's just like knitting, but more masculine," Spenser Little says of his wire sculptures.
These days, he's doing a lot of work with copper, which he manipulates into everything from art nouveau, European-style portraits of women—some are 6 feet tall—to entire poems that he's able to create in 20 different fonts. Little's favorite byproducts of the work are the shadows each piece creates; he's fit a Dorothy Parker poem to a client's bay window and says that as light hits it throughout the day, the words show up all over the room.
This has been a big year for Little. In April, he was showing his work at Collide, the art show produced by the nonprofit group Sezio at the opening of Downtown's Community @ Carnegie apartment building, where owner Greg Strangman had commissioned several wire sculptures for his property. There, Little met art gallery owner Alexander Salazar, who's been representing him ever since.
At Collide, Little's shadow demonstration—in which he projected lights from different angles at a sculpture in the courtyard—struck Salazar's fancy. Little was soon creating the same effect on the side of Salazar Contemporary Art Exhibits' building in La Jolla, and then again at last weekend's Art San Diego Contemporary Art Fair in Balboa Park, where his shadow play was commissioned for the opening reception.
"It's so amazing how cool just a simple wire can look coming off with the sky as a backdrop, and when someone catches that random peek-a-boo of it," Little says. "It's the only magic I've ever been able to create."
He's been a fulltime professional since 2006, but he's still a street artist at heart—he estimates that he left between 10,000 and 20,000 small sculptures, made from materials less valuable than copper, throughout San Diego from 2000 to 2005.
One of Little's recent forays back into the world of public art happened on his drive from Seattle— where he lives part-time—to Art San Diego last week. Little says that one of his favorite methods is to find a barbed-wire fence, and without disconnecting or cutting anything, unravel an area where he can then sculpt a character. He was doing that at a San Luis Obispo farm when a man pulled a gun on him and said, "Your sculpture won't hold back my cows."
Although Little lives between two cities, he expects to be in San Diego more now that he's selling pieces out of Salazar's La Jolla gallery. Twenty large copper works are there now and will be on display for the next two months. Salazar says the majority of his pieces are being purchased by American, British and Mexican collectors.
At night in Seattle, Little's been experimenting with projecting his work at random locations; he says he'd like to start documenting his pop-up shadow shows. He's also experimenting with wire animations, like how Gumby was made.
For someone who started by selling work at the Hillcrest Farmers Market, Little's career has come a long way. "I have not plateaued," he says. "It feels great to keep learning."
His ability to sculpt beautiful figures using one continuous piece of copper is remarkable. Little drew quite a bit of attention at Art San Diego, where his work also hung at Salazar's booth. There, Little told stories about his art to the many people who stopped to ask about his process.
"It's amazing the amount of love it's generated all over San Diego," Little says of his art. "From the richest parts down to Barrio Logan."