From brush with death to a new life of sculpture
PUBLISHED: 12:22 09 May 2013 | UPDATED: 12:24 15 May 2013
Plumber Mondo Pena explains how he found a different use for his copper and welding gear after a serious road accident
“Basically, I wasn’t supposed to live. It would be easy for the city to wash their hands of it.”
It sounds like the start of a mafia movie but, for American plumber Mondo Pena, a life-threatening accident stirred an artistic side he never knew he had. Schooled by his grandfather from an early age in the art of plumbing, Pena’s surplus of copper saw him sculpting sharks and octopuses after a fire truck crashed into his car in San Francisco and put him in a coma for 29 days in 1996.
“When I woke up, I had this urge to create something. I just thought, ‘Let’s at least do something positive.’ At this point, we had a lawyer on the case, so I said I’d make him something. I had a huge shop full of copper and welding equipment at my disposal, it was the easiest resource I could get.
“They call lawyers sharks, so I decided to make him some shark teeth. The whole thing dragged on for so long though that I ended up making the whole animal.”
After passengers from a sidecar confirmed the fire truck was at fault for his accident, Pena began a gruelling rehabilitation process, taking years to overcome his severe injuries. Soon, he found his copper sculpting was becoming the best therapy he could ask for.
“I’ve got all sorts of animals now” says 49-year-old Pena, who moved to England with his wife in 2002 and now sculpts from a Belsize Park workshop when not working for Grant Plumbing. “I had a couple of really influential shows in San Francisco which was amazing. I was selling a copper gargoyle at one exhibition, a hammerhead shark at another.”
In England, Pena should continue to swell in reputation after emerging as a successful contestant on Channel 4 show Four Rooms. Eventually deciding to sell his octopus sculpture to renowned interior designer Shaun Clarkson, Pena found the programme’s art dealers were almost fighting for his work, which has been praised particularly for capturing the movement of animals in motion.
“It’s an incredible show,” says Pena. “It wasn’t about the money, more about hooking up with the right person. And Shaun’s great, he’s got the sculpture on display at Selfridges already. He’s come round to have dinner with me and my wife and keeps in touch by phone or email.”
“It’s sad to think what I could have done if I’d started at 15 – I was never put into this sort of situation before. I still couldn’t draw a stick man, but hopefully the show will give me some credibility within the art world. That’d be an absolute dream.”
Mondo Pena’s sculptures can be found at mondoworks.co.uk