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Meet the modern Michelangelo

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Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 05/22/22

This young American sculptor creates works of awe-inspiring beauty in the great Catholic tradition.

When we think of great sculptors, Michelangelo is the first to come to mind. So it’s no wonder that he inspires modern-day great sculptors like Christopher Alles.

“When Christopher Alles thinks about sculpture, he thinks of Michelangelo,” he shared in a documentary about Catholic artisans

Christopher Alles, sculptor, sculpture, artist
A statue of St. Joseph’s death at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Somers, NY

The deep faith of the Renaissance artist came through in so many of his masterpieces. Many of Alles’ creations are overtly religious, too. The Oregon native sculpted a life-size figure of St. Charles Borromeo, the patron saint of bishops, for St. Charles Borromeo Church in Montgomery Township, New Jersey.

For the 31-year-old Alles, who works in a studio in Poughkeepsie, the connection between faith and art “is pretty natural.” An artist, he said, “is a secular monk in a way. You are out in the world, but you are kind of seeing all things in the light of Christ and in the light of this spiritual encounter that you have.”

So who is Christopher Alles, exactly? He is a sculptor who specializes in figurative and sacred art. His work is truly awe-inspiring in its beauty.

Like so many great artists, the star-studded Italian art tradition formed him. After attending college for a year, he dropped out and began formal training in classical art in Florence, Italy, where he assisted artist Dony MacManus on a monumental 16-figure altar relief for a medical school chapel in Rome. 

Christopher Alles, sculptor, sculpture, artist
A statue of St. Joseph at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Somers, NY

He continued apprenticeship under the guidance of sculptor Tomasz Misztal, with whom he studied the European grand manner of sculpture and completed his first near-life-size figure. He also completed a master class in drawing with Vitaly Borovic, head of drawing at the Imperial Academy of Art, St. Petersburg, Russia. 

Christopher has been commissioned for work throughout the United States, ranging from small scale portraits to architectural sculpture to monumental figurative sculpture. His work has been featured in the New York Post, The New Criterion, and Catholic New York, and of course, he is a featured artist in the documentary, Masterpieces

He received the Stanford White Award in the category of “Art and Craftsmanship” for his sculptural contribution on the recently constructed Baldacchino at the Church of St. Michael in midtown Manhattan. 

As though all that weren’t enough, Alles is the father of baby triplets.

Alles shares his work on his Instagram account, where you can see finished artwork as well as pieces in progress. 

We had the chance to interview this extraordinarily talented artist, and here’s what he told us.

What drew you to making sacred art? 

When it comes to the creation of culture and art, one has to love something in order to make something. When a decision needed to be made in terms of what type of art I would do, it was clear it had to be within the realm of the Catholic sacred art. This doesn’t exclude other subject matters for me, but the highest expression of any culture is the sacred, and in the case of Christian culture, it’s the Mass. All other art forms and expressions in the West flow from the art of the Mass.

Christopher Alles, sculptor, sculpture, artist

What is your favorite medium to work in?

Typically I like to work in clay. It’s obviously very flexible to work with; it’s easy to make changes and water-based clay responds instantly to your touch. It’s a very nice medium to sculpt in. Usually, after the clay is modeled, the works are molded and then cast into bronze or other materials for their final stage.

If you could sculpt anything, what would be your dream project?

That’s a tough question. There’s so many things. I would love to do a monumental work of Blessed Karl of Austria. This would be a bit more of a civic project, but it would also be a natural church related project as he is a Blessed. The context for such a piece, though, would make most sense in Austria or Hungary.

Do you pray while you work? Can you share how prayer affects your artistic process?

Ora et labora. Prayer is always an aspect of work, it emerges naturally as one proceeds. There are no particular prayers before my work except morning offerings and a request for the intercession of St. Castorius, patron saint of sculptors. While I work I pray perhaps unknowingly. Anytime one enters into contemplation of a higher order it is prayer.

Is there a passage of Scripture or quote from a saint that guides your life?

Recently, St. Joseph has played a major role in my work. Not only because much of my recent work has been depictions of him, but also due to his example of leadership and fatherhood. As a father myself, I draw on his intercession and guidance to lead my family during difficult times, and in the uncertainties of life. He also is the patron saint of craftsmen and workers in general, so he is a particularly powerful intercessor for the success of my work.

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