By Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
Caleb O’Connor admits that he initially wanted to paint the inside of Skyy Boxing Gym.
“I had seen some photos,” he said. “I thought it was the real deal, which it is. It’s glorious in the way that it’s so real. You can see the years of boxing that’s happened in there.”
Then O’Connor saw Deontay Wilder.
“‘Geez, the Bronze Bomber,’” the artist recalled saying. “If ever there was a subject, there’s one right there. I learned more about his character and personality and I admired that.”
And he found inspiration in them, inspiration that has driven him to create a 7-foot statue of the man who holds the World Boxing Council heavyweight championship with a 38-0 record and 37 knockouts.
“I wanted to give a sculpture back to the community,” O’Connor said in his third-floor studio in downtown Tuscaloosa. “I wanted to put my money where my mouth was. This man is a good man. He’s extremely talented.”
Champ: ‘It’s remarkable’
O’Connor and Wilder met the media at O’Connor Art Studios Thursday afternoon to provide a look at the artist’s progress in producing a statue of Tuscaloosa’s native son. They also told how others can be a part of bringing it about.
Wilder said he is not easily impressed. That said, he acknowledged being taken aback by O’Connor’s effort to date.
“It’s not every day that you see a statue of yourself and you see the creator of it,” the champ said, noting that O’Connor has previously done pictures of him. “It’s remarkable. He’s overdone himself with this one.
“If it looks this good right now, just imagine the finished touches he’s going to add, especially when the belt goes on there.”
Wilder brought his title belt – he calls it Sophia – so O’Connor could photograph it and measure it to be added to the work.
O’Connor said he wanted to make sure his work captured the character and spirit of his subject. Not only does Wilder have a monumental physique, he said, the fighter also has a “monumental personality and an intense inner strength” that outshines that physique.
Capturing Wilder’s character
O’Connor’s prior efforts include a statue of baseball great Willie Mays, which stands outside Birmingham’s Regions Field. A version of that statue, depicting Mays making a catch, stood near the clay structure of Wilder.
While the artist said he gleans inspiration from the movement of athletics, he found a deeper motivation in showing a stationary Wilder.
“I wanted to embody his sense of character,” he said. “He has a strong connection to God. You see his right hand slightly raised and his eyes are looking up into the distance. In many ways, he’s having that inner conversation, that inner connection of conviction in his abilities … a promise to God, a promise to his children, a promise to his community.
“I wanted to make it more about him than just what he does. To me, what’s more impressive is just his character,” O’Connor said. “I wanted to portray that.”
See it at the Y
Organizers of Thursday’s press event said it’s to be determined where the statue will be placed permanently. Officials of the YMCA of Tuscaloosa were on hand, and the finished statue will spend some time at their location.
David Rains, president of the board of the Y, said it’s an honor to be part of the process.
“Deontay’s about family, he’s about dedication, he’s about hope, he’s about community,” Rains said. “That is what the YMCA represents.”
Wilder endorsed that location.
“I’ve done a lot of training there leading up to getting my world title,” he said. “It’s only right for it to go downtown, by the Y or somewhere like that.”
The statue will be cast elsewhere in the U.S. or possibly Europe. O’Connor is donating his effort in the project; the total cost has not been calculated and a completion date has not been set.
Collectors, fight fans and art lovers can help fund the statue. A donation of $250 will get the donor an autographed poster of Wilder, O’Connor and the statue. A donor who gives $1,000 will get a 19-inch numbered sculpture of Wilder in action that is signed by the fighter and artist.
A gift of $1,100 will net the donor the poster and the 19-inch sculpture. For more information, call Jay Deas at Skyy Boxing, (205) 799-1696.