Michael Grab speaks English exclusively, but there’s one question he understands in multiple languages: “Are those rocks glued?” The 30-year-old Boulder artist has gained international fame for his precisely balanced stone sculptures, some of which are nine feet tall. In June, the University of Colorado Boulder graduate will showcase his startling abilities in the Centennial State at the Sonic Bloom Festival in Rye (June 18 to 21), but you can see him practice almost daily this month in Boulder Creek.
Grab first started stacking Boulder Creek’s colorful rocks one sunny summer afternoon in 2008. By 2010, he was spending 20 hours a week practicing his balancing act, even seeking out inspiration from similar artists, such as Bill Dan in San Francisco, to perfect his craft. Now festivals all over the world feature his gravity-defying creations. In the past year, Grab has created rock structures in more than 10 countries, including a performance for international leaders at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. Each city Grab visits provides very different materials—from cubic concrete in Brussels to jagged limestone in Croatia. “My goal is to make it look impossible, to make the balance points as small as possible,” he says.
The rocks’ shapes and sizes dictate how Grab positions them. He looks for three points that act as a natural tripod. As the artist places one rock atop another, he says he feels the rocks’ vibrations on his fingertips until the balance point eventually “clicks” and the sculpture steadies. For Grab, the process is therapeutic. “It’s like practicing yoga,” he says. “It’s all about embracing the moment, the time, the place, forgetting everything else and flowing forward. It’s something that’s become kind of a spiritual thing for me at this point.” Zen, in other words—a sentiment that translates in any language.