Carl Floyd, Sculptor


Carl Floyd is known mostly for environmentally appropriate scuptures meant to be used and admired by the general public. His works are architectonic in character and dominate a site as only architecture can. This is not surprising in the case of an artist who was trained in engineering and architecture.

Born in Somerset, Kentucky, Floyd studied architecture at Utah State University from 1959–1961 and at the University of California at Berkeley. He earned a B.F.A. from Kansas State University in 1964 and an M.F.A. from Cranbrook Academy in 1967. From his student days onward he exhibited in various parts of the country and had his first one-man show in 1970. He taught at the University of the Kentucky College of Architecture before coming to Cleveland in 1971 to teach in the sculpture department of the Cleveland Institute of Art. Floyd became chairman of the department in 1985 and retired from the Institute in 1998. He has lived in Alabama since 2002.

Carl Floyd’s sculptures of the 1960s and 1970s were often influenced by the strong, masculine forms of the machine. Although not working machines themselves, in their juxtaposition of cylinders, wheels, hooks and blocks they exert the feeling of a working, precision instrument. His large outdoor sculptures, such as Black Environment, feature giant interlocking jigsaw forms pulled apart like open doors. Machines and their parts always fascinated Floyd, who kept a collection of machine parts that influenced him in his sculptural pursuits. A few of his first outdoor sculpture pieces for parks and his proposals for outdoor environments suggest the unsettling feel of gun encampments. The hand of the maker, however, was always hidden beneath the beauty of the polished stone or metal. 

In Cleveland, Carl Floyd enlarged his repertoire of site-specific sculptures with numerous commissions in various neighborhood parks. He often incorporated tiles done by children that are set on massive stone monoliths that reflect the brutalism so prevalent in the architecture of the 1970s. Floyd’s large outdoor sculptures from the 1970s and 1980 typicallyencompass a large environment and allow room for outdoor activities. Usually composed of multiple components, these installations are structured to allow visitors to walk through and around them, experiencing them from many different perspectives.

Floyd cites a sculptor and an architect, Rodin and Le Corbusier, as major influences on his work; but unlike his illustrious predecessors, he has followed interests that go beyond the sculptural and architectural. Always an issue-oriented artist, Floyd seeks to focus awareness on the vulnerability of the environment in the modern world. In some of his drawings and proposals, simplified trees in cut-out form abound and proliferate. Floyd’s favorite work, an impressive installation created at the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1991, depicts a white, ghostly forest. Stark in its purity and fragility, it poignantly suggests the vulnerability of nature to the ravenous consumerism of humankind. It may be, in part, his growing anxiety over the fate of the planet that has led Floyd in some of his most recent work, still focused on ecology, to create installations that are massive in scale, weighing as much as half a ton and extending over 50 or 100 acres.  

—Diane De Grazia

All photos courtesy of the artist.

Cleveland Arts Prize
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