W hile some dads punch a time clock each day, Tylur French fires up a blowtorch instead. French, an artist and owner of Youngblood Studio, produces public sculptures. I’ll bet you’ve seen his work. There’s the techno-colored bike arch at Overton Park, the stainless steel wave kids love to ride at Tobey Skate Park, the Pebble Sorter at Overton’s Rainbow Lake playground, and most recently, the Broad Avenue Water Tower, which features a topographic image of the Mississippi River. French has also done a number of art installations, like the Genome Project, for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, one of his primary clients.
What this 43-year-old Kansas City, Missouri native likes about his work is its collaborative nature. His employs five artists at his studio but pulls in others for special projects, like painter Jeanne Seagle and mosaic artist Kristi Duckworth. What one couldn’t do alone, he says, they can achieve together.
“I wanted to create a hub for artists in the city because what you see and hear from clients is they want art that reflects our region.” French also likes producing work that people encounter every day. “I like doing art in the community where you’re raising your kids. Public art engages with the environment. As a city, it makes us more forward-thinking.”
Dream and Create
At his home in Cooper-Young, one French shares with his wife, Astrid, sons Lincoln (7) and Sterling (2), and daughter Sage (17), I notice further evidence of his creativity. There’s the playful red rocket ship that soars over Sterling’s crib, made in memory of Tylur’s mother, whose own artistic nature encouraged him to dream and create, and the colorful scribble headboard that encircles Lincoln’s bed. Then just 4, Lincoln drew the design and Tylur forged it out of metal. Once painted, Astrid outlined it in twinkle lights.
“I want the kids to know that if they have an idea, it can be created,” he says. “You have the power to do this, to make it happen.”
In this age of electronic gadgetry, where we passively engage in other people’s worlds, French strives instead to spark his kids’ imagination. They have a cool play space at his studio, located in the old Defense Depot (coincidentally, Youngblood is housed in the huge former metal- fabricating shop) where the kids can draw, craft, or ride bikes in the parking lot. French also guides Lincoln on art projects. He shows me a clever sculpture they created together using a cigar box with an explosion of toothpicks caught in mid-blast. The piece was part of a Midtown art show.
If creativity is fostered by our surroundings, then the French home provides ample inspiration. Lincoln’s bedroom sports playful comic book posters and vintage games, while Sterling has a bookcase lined with 50s-era robots and spacemen (which they are allowed to play with, BTW). All are curated by Astrid, a Montessori teacher who is also an avid collector of interesting stuff, from rare Japanese foil beads and Cracker Jack charms she weaves into handcrafted jewelry to vintage toys, games, and art.
The Bike Arch
Lincoln learned how to ride a two-wheeler while French puzzled out the bike arch. His vision was simple: “I wanted something jubilant, exploding with energy.” The project, which took 18 months to complete, embodied elements the artist most enjoys: problem solving, inventing, and repurposing material. The arch used 320 donated bikes, some of which came with sweet tales, like the 52-year-old man who donated his childhood trike and a pair of bikes ridden by best friends, one of whom died at age 9. The bikes face each other and are painted alike, a tender reminder of their adventures together.
French has done much during his artistic career, from running a foundry to working on a diverse range of projects, all of which have helped him build an impressive skill set as a sculptor. Now, he says with confidence, “People should be able to come to us with anything that’s not normal — and we can do it.”
6 Cool Facts About the Overton Park Bike Arch
Time to build: 18 months
Number of bikes: 320
Types of wheeled objects: bikes, scooters, tandems, trikes, skateboards, and a wheelchair
Coats of paint: 6 per bike
How attached: Each bike is soldered to five others
Number of rideable bikes: Zero — usable bikes went to Revolutions for refurbishing