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Not your average stonerLocal artists takes stone balancing to an 'impossible' new level
by Devin Blomquist
Michael Grab thrives on the impossible. In fact, the professional stone balancer has made the phrase “as impossible as possible” the motto by which he creates.
Most of his sculptures, which can often be found among the ripples of Boulder Creek, feature stones of varying shapes, sizes and textures balancing atop one another so methodically, so delicately, it appears as though a single breath could bring them tumbling down.
Every stone is covered in small imperfections, or what Grab calls “natural tripods,” in which another stone can balance. Seasoned practitioners can detect the natural tripods that allow for stones to balance on top of each other by slowly rubbing one stone against another. Some of these point-topoint balances produce an illusion of weightlessness.
Grab’s balancing style combines such point balances with counterbalancing, in which the lower stones depend on the mass of the upper stones to maintain balance.
“The sheer impossibility of most of my creations, I think, is what sets me apart so much and has allowed me to make a living off of it,” Grab says.
Grab’s knack for creating the impossible has transformed from a hobby into a career, booking performances in Canada, Costa Rica, Italy, Germany, Sweden and Scotland, among others. It’s something few practitioners of stone balance can pull off, he says.
“I would say very few people have the patience to actually push through and persevere,” Grab says of becoming a professional stone balancer. “You pretty much have to practice for tens of thousands of hours.”
And practice he does.
He wakes up each morning, brews a cup of coffee and spends the morning at his computer taking care of the logistical side of his business, he says. Then, he heads out to Boulder Creek no later than noon to begin his workday.
“Once I go out to the creek, there can be no other engagements until after dark,” Grab says, noting that his work schedule, more or less, revolves around the sun.
Grab will work in at least two or three hours of practice each day, which has become more than just a way to improve his skill.
“It’s a daily meditative practice,” Grab says. “Actually, I would almost consider it a form of alchemy ... playing with the interaction of spirit and matter.”
Some of Grab’s more baffling balances have garnered questions about their authenticity.
“If someone tells me that I Photoshop my photos [of my stone sculptures], then I give myself a pat on the back,” Grab says amidst a few chuckles.
But in order to make the time to hone this skill, Grab took a risk. He quit his job and lived out of his car for a few months just to make ends meet.
“All I cared about was spending my energy on my art, versus getting some other crap job and spending all my energy on someone else’s goals,” Grab says.
And Grab believes this energy was well spent.
Just this year, Grab performed before some exclusive financial leaders at the annual World Economic Forum in Switzerland, his highest paying gig to date. He executed a seven-minute live, solo performance at one of the forum’s private events. With music blasting and the spotlight on him, Grab balanced a series of rocks right before the eyes of the audience — rocks he gathered from outside of his hotel just before the event.
“I don’t think there is a human being on the planet that could have done that performance,” Grab says looking back on that show.
Having had the opportunity to witness Grab at work, Lisa Bell, the producer of MMMMMBoulder, an event at which Grab performed in 2013, says, “It was very intriguing. … It takes patience and persistence to make the impossible come true.”
Grab says the hardest part of balancing rocks is not giving up. He practiced for nearly four and a half years before he began making money from his craft. Still, he says, the good far outweighs the bad when it comes to being a professional stone balancer. In fact, he wants to balance stones for as long as he can.
“There’s something extremely special about doing or creating something yourself out of nothing, and having the ability to reach so many people around the world,” he says. “And not only reach people, but touch their hearts in such a profound way is something I would never trade for anything.”Published in the February 12, 2015 edition of the Boulder Weekly