Obituaries

Lawrence Argent, 60, sculptor who was big on whimsy

In Denver, Mr. Argent’s bear sculpture, titled “I See What You Mean,” stands against the Colorado Convention Center.
Argent Studio via New York Times
In Denver, Mr. Argent’s bear sculpture, titled “I See What You Mean,” stands against the Colorado Convention Center.

Lawrence Argent, a sculptor known for whimsical, monumental works in public spaces, most notably a 40-foot blue bear that peers with seeming curiosity into a Denver convention center, died Oct. 4 in Denver. He was 60.

His former wife, Anne Argent, said the cause was cardiac arrest.

Mr. Argent’s creations — a giant panda and a jumbo rabbit among them — have popped up in cities around the globe, but perhaps none more famously than in Denver, where the colossal bear, titled “I See What You Mean,” stands on its hind legs, its paws and nose pressed against a steel-framed glass wall of the Colorado Convention Center.

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Did the bear lumber down from the Rockies? What does it make of the human beings inside the building? Is it blue to reflect its mood, having been uprooted from his natural habitat?

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Mr. Argent rarely provided answers. But as long as people stopped and wondered, he said, he felt his work was a success.

“Public art gives you a chance to embrace peace and inquisitiveness,” he told Colorado Homes and Lifestyles magazine in 2013. “You become a part of it, and you’re changed.”

Creating the sculpture was a prodigious process in itself. Mr. Argent used 3-D printing to create a model out of a digital image. He then segmented the bear into thousands of triangular pieces and used them as molds for its exterior, which is composed of fiberglass and coated in a lapis lazuli blue polymer concrete. The segments, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, were then set into place over a steel skeleton.

Playful flirts with serious in many of Mr. Argent’s public art pieces, and there are dozens around the world. “Leap,” at the Sacramento International Airport, is another that’s tough to miss: It’s red, it’s gigantic and it’s a bunny.

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In fantastical Alice-in-Wonderland fashion, a 56-foot-long rabbit, made of aluminum and glass, hangs suspended by cables from the ceiling in mid-hop as it dives through a terraced opening in an upper floor toward a suitcase on the ground below with a “rabbit hole” in it.

The piece, Mr. Argent said on his website, is meant to convey the anxiety, frustration, nervousness and “personal baggage” travelers feel at the airport.

In the central China city of Chengdu, known for its 247-acre panda breeding center, Mr. Argent created a 50-foot panda weighing 13 tons that scales a shopping mall.

It is impossible to see the entire bear, titled “I Am Here,” from any single vantage point. From the ground, passers-by catch just a tuft of tail and the bottom of a paw; from inside the building, shoppers see a giant nose. The most satisfying view is from the roof, where the panda appears to have hoisted itself just enough to peek over the top of the building, perhaps in search of bamboo.

Lawrence Nigel Argent was born on Jan. 24, 1957, in Essex, England, and raised in Melbourne, Australia. His mother, the former Joyce Fawcett, was an accountant; his father, Kenneth, was an architect.

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Mr. Argent’s original plan was to become a doctor. But after working at a hospital for three years preparing operating rooms, he realized the setting was too restricting for his personality.

“It’s the rebellious nature of myself,” he told The Rocky Mountain News in 2005. “I said, ‘I’ve got to get out of here.’”

Not all of his sculptures are whimsical, and not all are of animals, but each was created to help people feel connected to the work’s immediate environment.

“Venus,” a swirling 92-foot-tall abstract figure adapted from the ancient Greek sculpture the Venus de Milo, is the centerpiece of an art installation in San Francisco called “C’era Una Volta” (“Once Upon a Time”). Sheathed in stainless steel, it rises from a recently built plaza tucked inside an apartment and retail complex. At its feet are scattered 17 smaller marble sculptures to accentuate “Venus’” classical elements.

“I’m not interested in creating an object of decoration; that’s not what I do,” Mr. Argent told China Daily in 2014. “My task is to create something that fits the surrounding or the area. If it were to be removed, you would miss it.”