(after a netsuke by Masanao I of Ise)
12" x 8" x 5½"
7" x 15½" x 5"
18" x 12" x 6"
(after a woodcut by Hokusai)
24" x 24"
5" x 2" x 2 ¾"
11" x 14" x 9"
Alligator snapping turtle
12½" x 7" x 5"
16" x 16"
Banded volcanic stone
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"
16¾" x 9½"
36" x 16"
the elements of ancient Greece, #1)
12" x 12"
the elements of ancient Greece, #2)
12" x 16"
13½" x 9"
12" x 12"
10 ½" x 7 ½"
12" x 12" x 1"
10" x 10" x 7"
Brazed steel rod
12" x 10" x 10"
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.
… comme ces sculptures gothiques d’une cathédral dissimulées au revers d’une balustrade à quatre-vingts pieds de hauteur, aussi parfaites que les bas-reliefs du grand porche, mais que personne n’avait jamais vues avant qu’au hasard d’un voyage, un artiste n’eût obtenu de monter se promener en plein ciel, pour dominer toute la ville, entre les deux tours.
… like those gothic sculptures concealed behind a balustrade eighty feet in the air, as perfect as the bas-reliefs of the great portico, but which no one could ever see but for a fortunate voyage, an artist managing to climb and saunter about in the sky, looking down at the whole village, between the two towers.
Marcel Proust, À l'ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs
Carving stone is a subtractive process and it is hard to put back stone that has already been removed. As a result, most stone carving projects are carefully planned.
Wooton, Russell and Rockwell
Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.
Thomas Alva Edison
In finishing stones, the chisel was driven along its path by a series of taps with the mallet or hammer. In work of better quality, a chisel was driven the entire length of its path before being lifted.
Harley J. McKee, Introduction to Early American Masonry: Stone, Brick, Mortar and Plaster
It took me years to learn to appreciate the wisdom of these words. Carving stone is most a process of chipping away fragments. You can't drive the chisel into the stone like a nail into a board. The craft is in splitting shards away in a controlled fashion. As you go about this, you need to keep a slight ledge for the chisel edge to bite into next as you split off the current bit.It isn't strictly speaking harmful to lift the tool from the surface, but the ability to keep the angle and depth of cut in control is evinced by progressing without pauses for correction.
The mouse continues my interest in the surface stone of the area around me and in round shapes, here pursued close to the extreme.
There are various reasons for using local stone. One is that it is convenient, no small consideration when it is a question of moving around weighty materials. Another is, perhaps, patriotism at the microcosmic level. The strewn-around rock has a reasonable hardness, somewhat between that of marble, which is easily worked, and granite, which is not for the mechanically faint-hearted. Finally, it has a reasonable degree of variegation and texture to it, with the layers of molten stone fused together but still different in color and texture – without, however, the contrasts being so stark that they detract from an ability to see the shape.
The overall volume is spherical, making a rolled-up relief carving, in a way. I did sketches for this work drawn on styrofoarm balls with a felt-tip pen. I want to pursue this kind of drawing, but it needs a little more work before I will show it here.
This bee continues my interest in netsuke and in local surface stone.
Bees are made from a very peculiar assortment of parts. They have fat abdomens, which you wouldn't think would lend itself to flight very well. Their wings are fragile. The legs don't look like they would be very strong. They are hairy. To compound the puzzle, stone would seem an ill-fitted material for representing a bee. It is heavy and doesn't lend itself very well to detail. The apparent mismatch evokes the curious distortions of netuske, which tends toward rounded shapes both because of its miniature scale and its need to be able to resist damage from repetitive handling and tugging.
Since doing the lion-head fish (below), I have been intrigued with the notion of near-round sculpture. I've tried various things, including drawing on balloons. We're used to the idea of drawings on a flat surface. Those can have distortions that appear to make sense, as of parallel railroad tracks receding and coming together at a vanishing point, and distortions that don't make sense, as in fun house mirrors. I haven't quite figured out what works and what doesn't, or why. Concavities in shapes or their projections are consistently problematic. The bee ended up being something between fully three-dimensional and a relief carving on a round surface.
I have been intrigued at the different values reflected in the art of different cultures. Ancient Persian and Japanese paintings, for instance, reflected the ideal of man being harmonious with nature, blending the borders of their figures into the surrounding landscape. That approach is followed here, with the alligator rising out of the rough stone he sits in, without ever emerging from it.
Many different kinds of configurations arise as the plates of the skin are worked from bare thin outlines to spatial masses. First there are polygons, then ovals as the polygons lose their corners, then a network of serifs as the corners deepen, then islands as the lines shift their nature into background area.
It's possible that I will work a bit more on this piece in a while. For now, I'm intrigued with it in its intermediate state.
I was left with mixed feelings about the carp I recently completed. He is fine as far as he goes, but a bit literal and unimaginative. I am feeling more satisfied about the lion-head goldfish, which manages to maintain an interesting tension between being a fish and at the same time being a rock.
I have been absorbed with netsuke, Japanese miniatures. These were ornamental but also very functional objects, made as stops for the cord that held the purses men carried in lieu of pockets on their garmets. Dress was one area where the Japanese of that era sought for individuality, rather than conformance to norms. Netsuke were doubly constrained by their small size and by the necessity for sturdiness to avoid fragile features and sharp edges, so they tended toward spherical rather than elongated volumes. It turns out that these limitations are close to those of stonework, which is of material very strong in compression and rounded shapes but very weak in tension and thin sections. The artisans who made them were often ingenious in approach as well as being incredibly skilled craftsmen. Netsuke present vast ground for fascination.
The origin of this piece is a boxwood carving by Masanao I of Ise, representing a lion-head goldfish or ranchū. The breed was made for display in bowls, since the nineteenth century Japanese didn't have glass aquariums. Hence, the fish were to be viewed from above, rather than from the side. The dorsal fin was bred out, being unsuitable for shallow water. Ornamental double tails and fantastic head configurations were bred in, rather like a lion's mane. The piece by Masanao shows his skill and ingenuity, but it also is very recognizably a fish of this breed.
The stone appears to be material extruded in a volcanic eruption, probably the one in Newbury, carried south by the glacier. It has swirling streaks of various colors and materials. There are minor incipient fractures in it, but nothing that interfered with my working it. I feel that the variations add to the completed image, rather than distracting from it.
The sow with her litter is deliberately cast in an idiom like that of classical Greek sculpture, with pure, idealized forms and materials, and flowing lines. She is of white marble. In some part, that makes her like the goddesses, with a beauty of her own.
Contrary to my expectation when I started working with stone a few years ago, I am finding the the problem of working fully in three dimensions has practical solutions. My modeling abilities are limited, as is the material, which is delightful but unable to hold pointed details such as those of a pig's snout, ears, tail, and toes. If these issues are not fully resolved here, the direction is still an enticing one.
This piece is a continuation of the work I started a couple of years ago on the ancient series of elements fire, air, earth and water. This piece is after a very well-known 19-century woodcut by Hokusai. The original work is printed in various versions, all of them with blue and some shades of green. The piece flies very successfully in the face of the common painter's dictum that light and dark do all the work, while color gets the credit. I set out to transform that color effect by using two types of surfaces: smooth and rough, with the texture of the mason's toothed chisel. I am quite happy with the results.
The slate has a little bit of a red streak to it. That is a tiny bit distracting, but such is the nature of natural materials. I wouldn't have wanted to make the piece out of plastic.
After the straightforward initial task of cutting a neat square from a rough slab, I did all of the work by hand, with a 16 ounce mallet and half a dozen chisels. It was a good indoor project for the depths of winter, creating only minor dust and noise.
The pigling is made from flowing, banded rock created about 400,000,000 years ago by the Newbury volcano, and carried here by the glacier of 20,000 years ago. It is tricky to work with but has fascinating colorations, shadings and sparklings, only partly visible here.
The stone was 11 lbs., 1 oz. in its raw form. In the finished state, the piglet weighs 1 lb., 10 oz.
He is a study for a more complex work in marble that I am planning.
Octopuses are fascinating creatures. Physically and visually, they share with humans the peculiar characteristic of presenting bare skin, without hair, scales or feathers. Their arms, with webs between them, are much like our fingers. They have prominent eyes, "windows of the soul," that invite our attention, positioned on bodies that look much like heads. I learned a lot about them while I was working on this one. For instance, they are quite smart, have three hearts, and end their life spans after one mating. Wikipedia has a good article.
I had fun with this one. It took a while, though I am pleased to report that working with hard stone is becoming gradually easier for me. It ended up weighing more than I had expected, with a final mass of 66 pounds, about at the limit of what I can pick up and carry very far.
From the gentle, flowing curves and surfaces, I suspect that this one is a she rather than a he – but how can I tell for sure? – For the time being, of whichever gender, the creature will go by the name of Inky, but that could change if something better occurs to us.
He weighs a little over 19 pounds, coming from a rock that started off at a little over 67. The stone was from my back yard, probably brought by the glacier from the area of an old volcano in Newbury. Coming hot off the press, he is very light in color and will probably darken as the dust gets washed out of the pores and elements of the air around him have their influence.
Alligator snapping turtles eat mainly fish, which they attract by their wriggling their worm-like tongues with their mouths wide agape.
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.
Depicting air in a stone carving is certainly a challenge. I've tried various approaches, none of them entirely satisfactory. This one, of an air inhabitant, is still of interest to me a couple years after I made it.
I've had an interesting time looking at images of dragons from various places. Traditional western European dragons are often lizard-like creatures, most often with something like the mane of a lion. Often they have bat-like wings. Generally they have three toes on each foot. Oriental dragons are more like to be water denizens, sea serpents with feet. Occasionally they float in the clouds.
I like the shapes and animation of the Chinese and Japanese versions. However, I believe that real dragons breath fire.
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.
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.
Mostly, things of long past are best consigned to oblivion, a dustheap of youthful indiscretions. A very few continue to please. This piece, from my student days, is one of those very few. You can see from the one above it that some of the same phenomena continue to catch my interest.