Mixed metamorphic rock
6½" x 4½ x 3½"
after woodblock by Eisen Keisai
3" x 9½"
(the elements of ancient Greece, #1)
18" x 12"
(the elements of ancient Greece, #2)
18" x 12"
12" x 18"
the elements of ancient Greece, #1)
12" x 12"
the elements of ancient Greece, #2)
12" x 16"
12" x 12"
13½" x 9"
12" x 12"
10 ½" x 7 ½"
12" x 12" x 1"
10" x 10" x 7"
Some of the more recent directions of my work are shown here. Sculpture of any kind really is work. The time to complete a drawing may be measured in minutes or hours, a painting hours or days, a sculpture weeks or months. Bas-relief, since it doesn't involve moving large amounts of material large distances, is milder in its time demands. In any event, the intense period of my life as a caregiver is complete, and this is one of the areas that is coming off of hold.
This fellow is weighing into the world at 8 pounds and 3½ ounces, which is 6 ounces more than I did when I entered it. He is casting a suspicious eye on things out there, wondering if it's safe to emerge from his fetal curl. – What do you think?
This piece is modeled after a color woodblock print, A Carp Leaping up a Waterfall, by Eisen Keisei (1790-1848). The original is three times as large, 9½" x 28½". It is highly stylized, with the water represented by just a few stripes, and the fish boldly scaled. There are various things about it that aren't spatially possible, when you think about it: for instance, the tail wraps in a very funny way, and the stripes occlude or are occluded by the carp in inconsistent ways. That's reasonable, I guess, since the fish is in the middle of the water, which is fluid. It all seems to work quite well. The carp is very alive and energetic, and the waterfall is convincing enough. More detail would have been a distraction.
This is the first in a planned series of the elements of the ancient Greeks: fire, air, earth and water. It is intriguing – and not easy! – working to capture the shapes of these. They are all very mutable and hard to pin down. Curiously, the more I look at them, the more the four elements' shapes begin to be related to each other.
I started with water because that seemed the most approachable, with at least a more or less definite boundary between its surface and the space above it. Here, the water is active on a windy day. The representation of this water at this time is fairly faithful, with relatively modest artistic license. At another time, with a different wind, the surface would be entirely different.
For the earth element in the series, I selected an image of windblown sand. Just as water is blown by the wind and forms waves, sand is shaped fairly readily by air moving over it. Curiously, its surface forms curves like the breaking waves of the beach that our minds relate to as water. The forces involved are different, however. Waves of water usually don't crest and break. They only do that when they get close to shore and the close solid bed beneath upsets their rhythm. Sand is much more viscous, able to hold a certain amount of shape after the moving force has gone, and so forms crests with visible hollows in the lee of the wind.
The bluestone I used here turned out to be fairly striated inside, to my surprise. (You can see the imperfections if you look closely.) Though that's not a characteristic I would set out to get deliberately, it's not inconsistent with the idea of "earth" or really problematic for a sketch.
Fire posed more of a challenge than earth and water, for a few reasons. It doesn't have definite boundaries. It is very three-dimensional, making the effort to depict it in relief more of an artifice than a straightforward depiction. It dances around, even more so than roiled water. And finally, seeing it isn't so common in everyday life.
It took me a while, but I found the shapes and patterns more intriguing as I looked at them.
In thinking about the series of the ancient elements, I found myself intrigued by the idea of transparency and the puzzle of how one might represent that in stone. There are a few approaches one could think of. One, for water, is to intersect the surface of the water with something that is actually beneath it, here a fish.
Stone has variety from piece to piece, sometimes seeming intriguing, sometimes surprising. This piece has quite a brownish coloration, with a couple of mild red stripes that don't quite show in this image.
I interrupted the series of four bluestone element pieces for a second view of the earth element. Partly, I found a configuration of wind-blown sand that was very intriguing, Partly, I wanted to try out a piece of near-white marble I had. I am viewing the exploration as very productive on both fronts. The marble is brittle, and its edges chipped significantly in the process of my trimming it with a hand-held diamond saw. But it is very dense and able to hold a fine degree of finish. I can see why it has been such a valued material for sculpture for over two millenia. I certainly will plan to do further explorations with it.
Air has been the most challenging of the four basic elements. I decided, for lack of an idea of what would be both air-like and exciting, to start with something at least air-like. The results was this cloud study. Clouds have neither surface nor edges and so are tricky to define in the medium of stone, but in the end the relief does look like clouds.
Curiously, the four elements end up being much more interrelated – in appearance – than I would have imagined.
In any event, the intended series of the four elements is still short of a real air member. I'd hoped this study might bring me closer to a vision of what that would look like, but I'm not there yet.
I was pleased with this piece, because it built in complexity on the one that preceded it and seems to suggest many promising directions for future work. Although it was four years from start to finish, that includes four years of being on hold while being a caregiver took priority among my activities. Actually, it took only perhaps forty hours of work, some of that slow and tentative as I felt my way through a new process.
The raw material was broken and discarded stone buried in my back yard, perhaps shards from the hearth slab underneath the old coal stove. It had hairline cracks and a lot of dirty stains, but it was very soft and easy to work with. Presumably there are all kinds of possible stones for future use, but I'm not sure which is best or where to go to get them. Stones are heavy, so not well suited for Internet distribution systems.
Artistically, this idea seems fraught with possibilities for further development. The work of moving the physical material is modest in comparison with many other sculptural modes, but still substantial enough that it doesn't seem to fit into my current routines.
A piece of paper may be folded, not as routinely done along a straight line, but along a curved one. In fact, the crease may be along a “French curve” or recurve in the opposite direction.
A piece of sheet metal may be folded in the same fashion. It is not a question of stretching any area of the metal, as it would be to make a simple dish. The mechanics take a bit more attention than for a common straight bend, but you don’t need an anvil and forge, or a mighty hydraulic press. As with many three-dimensional processes, the hard part is apt to be developing an intuition of what spatial effects various transformations will lead to – or, even harder, to know what steps to take to get to a particular spatial configuration.
A flat membrane with repeated folds in the same direction will come back on itself fairly quickly. If the folds are in alternating directions, it will form a “saddle” surface, a kind of helix. I suspect that crisscrossing folds could lead to concavities and convexities, extending the simple case of a cupcake holder, but I have not followed that idea through. It’s one more wrinkle, in a couple of senses, than I’m prepared to deal with at the moment.