Studio Diary: The Marking Time Sculpture at Bronllys Hospital, Powys.part 5.

Marking Time Sculpture for Bronllys Hospital, Powys, UK.

Marking Time Sculpture for Bronllys Hospital, Powys, UK.

The full structure is built and the 1st layer of the textured surface is on. It has been every bit as challenging as I hoped!

Marking Time Sculpture for Bronllys Hospital, Powys, UK.

Marking Time Sculpture for Bronllys Hospital, Powys, UK.

The next stage is developing  the surface to enhance the flow of the curves. The clay with extra grog added will go on in layers using ever-smaller tools. It takes a great deal of time but it will leave fascinating, subtle surfaces and edges that are also very strong.

Marking Time Sculpture for Bronllys Hospital, Powys, UK.

Marking Time Sculpture for Bronllys Hospital, Powys, UK.

In these early stages it can look distractingly chaotic. Any part that just doesn’t work well can be removed and redone.

Mick Farrell and Janet Epplestone visiting Osprey Studios to help with their very useful feed-back.

Mick Farrell and Janet Epplestone visiting Osprey Studios to help with their very useful feed-back.

It was lovely to have Mick and Janet call in to give me their objective feed-back. And some gorgeous flowers for my birthday! I will get in as many people as I can to double-check how the piece is being read. The Red Kite is becoming very clear. Bringing together the Dragon will be the trickiest bit.

Marking Time Sculpture for Bronllys Hospital, Powys, UK.

Marking Time Sculpture for Bronllys Hospital, Powys, UK.

What do artists do all day?

At Bracelet Bay, Wales, UK.

At Bracelet Bay, Wales, UK.

Here is a collection of my thoughts and descriptions about making sculpture written in reply to student’s questions.

A Level project at Monmouth School: natural forms in art, particularly in portraiture both 3D and 2D.

It would be of great help for you to answer a few questions for this investigation. Any further insight into your personal influence of natural forms would also be greatly appreciated. My specific questions are:

You say that your abstract forms start with a theme or a known form and I know that you draw all the time, but I wondered whether you start with sketches specific to the planned piece or go straight into working with the clay?

Drawing from life has been an important part of my training but I never do it now. I still use the figure and heads to practise my skills (use it or loose it) but always in 3D and clay. These days I draw imaginatively for fun and to capture impressions and these sometimes are shapes which I might re-explore in clay.

Generally I go straight to clay with a theme as a starting-point.

With my best work I am filling in the space with clay- the form is there already.

Or, most often, I play intuitively and then work through the challenges that emerge. Rarely do I have a specific intension other that a guiding idea but I admit that frequently I’ll realise I am making something else! The front of your mind can go chattering on while the bigger part of your brain does the real work. Music is wonderful for keeping the two focussed. If I start dancing or singing I know I’m working well.

The system is to arm yourself with as much real-life information about natural forms as you can cram into your head. This becomes the structure of your ‘intuition’. Add reading, ideas, opinions, dancing, experiences and especially music. Really good, practiced craftsmanship then allows you to access this unique perception of life and put it into your medium so that you can share it.

The great benefit is I can turn to clay to work out everything. It’s my language, my thought process and what I have to offer the world.

I keep my studio and, as best as I can, my life-style, organised and tidy so that I am fit and ready to respond to events. For example the storms of this winter and the news about progressive arctic warming has gone straight to clay without me over-thinking it.

The most difficult part is maintaining belief in this process and keeping a clear head amidst constant distractions and doubts. Sculptors like Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore both used this approach. Many artists do. I turn to them to renew my courage.

In your blog you say that organic, natural forms are a strong influence on your abstract work and you talk about the influence of Barbara Hepworth in particular. Has she also influenced your more figurative work and which other artists have influenced your figurative work in particular?

Both Hepworth and Moore did many forms that were figures that they could see in the landscape in the way of animism and that gave me the confidence to show the figures I see. Most of my sculptures are of somebody, frequently birds of prey.

When I was young Brancusi and Giacometti blew my mind. Now I look at a lot of out-sider and art brut on Facebook (a fantastic resource for sculpture where you can study techniques in the artist’s Albums and ask questions). I greatly admire the fabulous craftsmanship and uncompromising imagination of Alex Oliver

( https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100008249700514 ), Christophe Charbonnel

(https://www.facebook.com/Christophe-Charbonnel-117379408457506/  ) and the perfection and power of Patrick Villas’s modelling (https://www.facebook.com/patrick.villas.14

Seeing their work has opened the door to my using such naturalistic forms expressively. (before they were always disciplined exercises). My sons get me watching a lot of Marvel and super-hero fantasy films and the art-work is absolutely fabulous. They’ve pushed me to be more playful with my figurative work and that’s done all my sculpture a lot of good.

As well as rock forms, some of your pieces remind me of shells worn away by the sea and I wondered whether you are influenced by other natural forms, such as shells, leaves or coral?

I watch a lot of natural history and science programs and spend a fair amount of my free time outside. Trees are crucial to me. And I do collect shells and rocks. My thorough training means I can see things clearly and remember forms very vividly.

Drawing and making studies in clay of skeletons, the figure and heads teaches you the vocabulary of forms and especially of how nature transitions from one form to another in everything. For example that difficult area between the eye, the cheek and the nose: so subtle. You will see that in shells and all living things as well. Fascinatingly it also shows up in stone that has been shaped by the various processes of water. You need that knowledge to make abstract forms.

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Bracelet Bay, photograph by Stephen Foote.

This post about my currant series might be useful. https://ospreystudios.org/2018/02/03/throwdown-at-the-hoedown/

 

Guest-speaker Talk for Carmarthen School of Art.

I‘m a dual national, British/American and since my early teens I’ve been working intuitively using techniques, disciplines and materials from Figurative Sculpture and hand-built pottery to make mostly Abstract forms that describe ideas and experiences. I recently learned my work is Bio-morphic which sounds way better than some of the other things it’s been called.

I am going to give you an over-view of my work with  the whys and where-fores of doing it my way and  some ‘what’s the point thrown in’.

 I am 400 years old and I’ve been doing this for a Millenia, so my theories are tried and tested to breaking point. I work in clay but the majority of what I’m going to say applies to all art-forms.

Like all self-employed, vocational, sole-traders with a micro-buissness,(Yep! that’s us! ) our job is a roller-coaster over-loaded with risk, running on  low cash-flows.

There is a harmful myth that Artists are “different”. That isolates us. It makes it easier to not pay us. It makes prospective clients nervous about how to approach us. And it can distract us from important parts of our Practice.

Loads of  people, from Brick-layers to Social-Workers, pour their hearts into their work.

And they all wake up at 3am, wide-eyed with The Doubts: is their work good enough, shouldn’t they be doing more, in a different way, etc, etc!

I still get The Doubts about every 2 months. You look at your work and think “ this is RIDICULOUS!!! What am I DOING? I’ve really lost it this time.”

And some-times it’s true! You have, in fact, gone down a very bad road, for months, and it’s time to retrace your steps that bit older and wiser. Three steps forward, two steps back. Call in colleagues and get some sugar-less feed-back to help to see your way forward. And be ready to return the favour.

At Rhian Goodhand's Glass Studio.

At Rhian Goodhand‘s Glass Studio.

Or Type 2 Doubts where you walk in the Studio and think “What? Make sculpture? Me?!I can’t do THAT!?” The blank mind, empty hands…has your Muse and your Talent run off together and left you useless for ever?

Nah, you just need a break. Get outside, read, feel, experience, re-charge. Then get back to making lots of work: some of it will be really good.

Stephen Foote Photography.

Stephen Foote Photography. Steve and I have an on going collaborative project, The Landscape Series. We challenge each other and exchange really valuable, no-frills feed-back about the work. It has definatly upped my game.

Isolation and The Doubts wreak havoc with a lot of artist’s careers. There is all kinds of help and support for micro-businesses out there. Assume that it WILL apply to you. Keep books on your accounts. Talk shop with other Sole Traders.

And it is important to have some structure for, and understanding of, your creative process that will give you the confidence to hold your ground and routes to solve the problems.

Working Intuitively:

Where DO our ideas come from? Why do some pieces seem to build themselves using your hands?? Why don’t we think that is creepy?

Intuition is made up of your memories and perceptions that together are your Knowledge.

Many of your memories come from actual experiences, physical and emotional, many from films, books, art, daydreams and your imagination.

Add in the strong pull of the cocktail of hormones that are involved in our every move, societal  influences and Collective Consciousness (now accepted science and it must play a role along with  Inherited Memory).

Every bit of your life  stops off to be  shaped by your perception on the way into your memory bank.

The quality of your Perception is set by your learning and experience and it will develop and change. So your memories will change too. Your brain reviews memories every 2 years or so and chucks out the irrelevant, rarely used stuff and re-files handy, popular stuff according to up-dated perceptions.

So your Knowledge and your ability to gain knowledge is limited by prejudice, ignorance and inexperience.

Artists have an important role in Society. One of Barbara Hepworth’s many strengths was the conviction that societies, as far back as we know, have always needed and supported artists so that they could gain the skills required to unravel and describe the ideas, beliefs, moralities and experiences of the group so that everyone was on the same page.

So it’s very important to educate yourself and develop your perception constantly throughout your career to avoid being narrow minded or irrelevant.

Like Actors we need to rehearse the physical characteristics of emotions and experiences so that we can capture and express them.

A vivid intuition needs skilled craftsmanship that can capture and communicate ideas. Scintillating, profound knowledge will be wasted if you are all thumbs.

Just like musicians and sportsmen, artists need to train the specific muscles needed. And become expert in handling the medium that suits us best.

So we need to practice reliable, effective exercises throughout our career to keep our minds and bodies fit for creativity.

 

Barbara Hepworth at work.

Barbara Hepworth at work.

Henry Moore at work.

Henry Moore at work.

It really looks like this lad is checking his phone.

It really looks like this lad is checking his phone.

                                               

As a teen I loved the work of Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore ( I still do) and I researched and did my best to re-create their education for myself. This was very much at odds with the currant art-practice 35 years ago and I got a lot of hassle for it at college. I get the impression that would not be the case here at Carmarthen School of Art. I was angrily accused of being ‘very early 20th century’ when I refused to explain my coil-built abstracts in terms of inner psychological angst and insisted on life drawing.

(My pieces were about inner psychological angst, mind, but I didn’t need tuition for that – I was already really good at it).

For 15 years, as well as making my art work, I went to any life-drawing, portrait or figure sculpture classes going. And I drew the classical sculptures, skeletons and taxidermy in museums as well.

Eventually  I switched to setting myself exercises using photos and skeleton diagrams. I still do this regularity to sustain the skills and measure my ability.

What you gain from this training is this:

  • a broadening of your ability to see and perceive what is in front of you.
  • a collection of memorised forms, details and structures that enrich your visual vocabulary.
  • an understanding and appreciation of the structure of forms.
  • fine motor-skills in your body specific to your art-work.
  • disciplined systems for organising the huge, over-whelming amount of information in front of you so that you can work with it.
  • clear mile-stones to aim for and use to assess your fitness: Figure study has definable rights and wrongs.

    The measuring frees you up to be expressive with your modelling .

    The measuring frees you up to be expressive with your modelling .

Add practicing and experimenting with your materials. And challenging your ideas by no- holds- barred discussion about everything with all kinds of people, not just artists. And understanding emotions by sharing your own with trusted friends and caring about others of all species.

Clay

I got into coil-building when I was 20, after my Foundation year (fantastic course in Banbury, Oxfordshire) when I was teaching pottery at a Summer Camp in the USA.

Life was very chaotic and stressful at that time and the rhythm and intense, absorbing relationship with clay that you get through coil-building and the slow, steady progression revealing the form drew me in like a sanctuary.

Big round pots, glazed hideously, developed into a-symmetric vessels with sheer clay surfaces, then to forms involving spirals, then sculptures incorporating birds, especially the Ospreys I watched on the New England lakes.

2 years on: I went to Exeter College of Art And Design here in the UK for a BFA in ceramic sculpture. The interior space of the forms ceased to be relevant and gradually the vessel openings were gone. My 2nd year was spent at Boston University’s excellent and intense Program in Artisanry, where the mostly post-grad potters could discuss foot-rings for hours with out being boring.

For 18 years, until I was 30, I did stints of waitressing double hours for a few months and then studio work for as long as my money lasted. I always worked from home, including when that was my Van. I fired at community centres, taught pottery and sculpture to Adult Ed, special needs and Summer Camp.

When I was about 28 I had gotten to coil-building naturalistic figures and of course I was struggling because that’s a fool’s errand right there.

I had made one that wasn’t too awful and this guy says to me, “yeah, that’s pretty nice, I guess you built it solid and hollowed it out, right?”

What?!

So I switched techniques for the figures and realised that wedding your-self to a technique isn’t loyalty, it’s absurd!

Always get outsiders to look at your work in progress. Ask them “ what’s the first thing you see?” and remove the plastic. Those fresh, first impressions can be so helpful. If there is a figurative element ask “is this about a character? Who are they, what are they doing?”

If they say “it’s a rooster running away” and you were aiming for “The Leviathan, Guardian of the Aquasphere, shape-shifted to the form of a rampant horse raging through the oceans” consider the differences between the two and you have the bit that needs work: the head was too narrow and the ears needed to be stronger.

Leviathan VIII, 56cm H x 97cm L x 28cm D.

Leviathan VIII, 56cm H x 97cm L x 28cm D.

Do it yourself: Take a break every 1 1/2 hours and go clear your eyes for 15 minutes. Load the washing machine, check messages. When you go back to the piece what’s the first thing you notice? It might be a problem. It might be a lovely bit.

Working Solid and Hollowing Out

So I spent the next 10 years working solid and hollowing out, loosing the advantage of the rhythm and voice of coiling but gaining the advantage of working on the whole form from the outset and being able to change your mind right up to the last minute.

You can separate the artsy work from the technical stuff: they use different parts of your head and don’t always mix well.

You block out the basic sizes,

Rough out the form

Refine all over in at least 5 cycles of adding/ subtracting.

Let it go leather hard on the surface,

Cut/Hollow/rebuild.

Do finishing touches in 3 rounds: Remove, Add, Burnish (especially the edges)

It’s a great method for any shape up to 75cm x 50cm – above that the weight becomes a pain and you are better off working hollow with a clay armature. You still might hollow parts out.

Or you can Coil-build from a scale model using an internal support structure made of clay….

Large scale sculpture in clay.

Around about when I turned 42 I got the opportunity to do something I had always wanted to try: working really big.

I made a 6m long x 2m high sculpture with 9 life-sized figures and a 2m x 1.5m piece with wildlife, both incorporating seating for a community regeneration group.

Both were ‘blocked-out’ in large brick-clay coils  using a scale model, then continued by adding and subtracting clay. They were then cut into sections which were hollowed out. The internal supporting structure (built w/ smaller coils) was discarded. The sections were fired and reassembled by a builder with cement, concrete, steel reinforcing and a lot of swearing.

A year or so later I was running a community Sculpture Studio aimed at ‘The Hard To Reach’ by a fab Regeneration group The Creation Development Trust in Blaengarw. (near Bridgend, UK). My group were awesome. They were mostly dealing with awful mental health problems so they couldn’t get jobs and had time, energy and intense life experiences to burn.

After they had all made some lovely things for friends and family it became clear they were going to drift off.  So we decided to make a big brick-clay sculpture together for the new park planned by the ferocious Community Council for a big area of waste ground.

Calon Lan would tell the epic story of Blaengarw from it’s notorious ancient history of un-tamable Silurians, through to the industrial revolution, mining, bitter strikes, a culture in ruins and a slow, often tortuous, re-building.

Parc Calon Lan, Blaengarw, South Wales.

Parc Calon Lan, Blaengarw, South Wales.

There was something important to do for every kind of Volunteer from researching through the local archives to the hard labour of building the structure 5m long x 2 m high in a basement barely big enough, designing letter stamps and carving narrative reliefs.

I’ve done about 14 of these intensely collaborative projects now in various sizes. Because the sculptures are big you can fit in loads of different ideas and styles. The Sculptor’s job is to find ways  to included as many people as possible and make damn sure the piece looks awesome (because your Volunteers trust you and deserve no less in return for the huge amount of time they donate), while being safe and vandal-proof because it’s in a public place.

I use the frame-work of ‘Co-production’ for all my projects. The very interesting theory is that humans are naturally co-operative and strive to be a useful, valued part of the group. So a good group leader asks for something in return for what they have to offer. Studies have shown that if you don’t use this method your project will probably be ineffective in enabling real change to take place. (All my funders have been involved in Community Regeneration on some level).

People will go all out if they feel valued as a contributor. If you are the Benevolent Professional bestowing your gifts upon the weak and needy you are requiring them to stay weak and needy. They will begin to drift off when they can’t stomach being patronised any longer. They wont have gained anything so your project has failed, leaving you frustrated and stressed and your reputation damaged.

So I offered to trade my skills on the tricky bits (eyes, hands etc), teach skills and ensure the final sculpture was fabulous in exchange for the local knowledge and experience, stories and symbols and the work each person took on for the task.

Building Calon Lan in a small basement.

Building Calon Lan in a small basement. (How to..)

Sharon was invaluable. She worked on every stage.

Sharon was invaluable. She worked on every stage.

Jim, ex-miner, ensured that the images were accurate.

Jim, ex-miner, ensured that the images were accurate.

A lot of Public Art is made like this though not always so hands-on. It’s expensive because Volunteers need a lot of time but you get massive value for money because  all the skill-sharing and co-production feeds back into the community.

These projects really highlight how much Visual Artists have to offer.

Many Artists specialise in non-verbal communication. A lot of people learn that way and regularly struggle to ‘find the words’ particularly after a trauma.  We can guide people towards the form of wordless communication that best allows them to express themselves ‘beyond words’.

While hands and eyes are busy on artwork people find talking openly feels much less dangerous. They start to take themselves less seriously as mistakes are made on the art and every one laughs uncritically. Problems fall into perspective and become interesting challenges.

We laughed and cried a river while making the big brick clay Pit Marker Memorials because of the stories we were telling in clay. We worked from the heart, unashamedly: we wanted to share the tears. Now people with generations of miners in their families go to the Ocean Colliery Pit Marker, set by a pond on the mountain where the pit head was, to remember and mourn. And visitors and new comers can go there and better understand the village and the  history that shaped it.

Ocean Colliery Pit Marker, Blaengarw, South Wales.

Ocean Colliery Pit Marker, Blaengarw, South Wales.

This is good, important work that sustains the humanity of our society.

Creative work is at it’s best when it communicates emotion with a sincerity that genuinely connects with the viewer.

Sculpture and pottery have the advantage over many other art-forms of being overtly physical so they can reach people more directly.

A lot of what we make is decorative. Stylish. Attractive. Or Narrative. Intriguing. It is understood and appreciated by the brain. Sometimes everything clicks and a piece is able to reach into people and connect with the heart and perhaps the soul.

That’s the best.

But there is a huge need for all kinds of art-work and processes. Our job is to find our niche in there and get as skilled as we can at providing our part of the  structure of civilisation no less!

I’ve taught clay work to all sorts of people with all kinds of abilities. Many have been inexperienced in creative work. Some people ‘take to it’ very quickly. They transfer skills developed in other activities easily, they are very dexterous.

It gets called ‘Talent’ but that has become a misleading term that stands in the way of a lot of creativity. People are lead to think Talent will come to you if you want it enough or that you are born with it as a blessing. And that others are denied it…

Talent describes prodigies and savants. The rest of us have born and acquired ‘aptitudes’ for particular types of work. As a social species humans come in various types for the good of the group.

Psychologists studying creative aptitude have put forward the idea of ‘Flow’. Flow is when you get lost and engrossed in an activity, time flies etc.

We all recognise this, yes? Nope.

They found that 7 out of 10 people experience Flow. 3 do not. Their aptitude is better for different work. Of the 7 that do there is a spectrum with those people lost in Flow or who need to spend a lot of time there at one end and those who can easily dip in and out at the other.

Go to the right point on the spectrum down at the ‘out there’ end, add circumstance and opportunity, training and practice and you will have an artist. All kinds of jobs require high levels of Flow and creativity. We are not crazy or weird, don’t let anyone call you that. Our passion does not set us apart either. People in every type of work pour their hearts into what they do.

I like this idea and it fits in well with my experiences with students and Volunteers. People often describe doing artwork as ‘therapeutic’. So why aren’t we all exquisitely calm?!

I don’t think artwork has medicinal properties but rather ‘nutritional ones: I’m pretty sure many people fall into mental health difficulties because their circumstance denies them access to creativity, non-verbal self expression and Flow.

Part of our ‘calling’ is to build bridges for these people through our own art-work and in guiding them to theirs. And that can be life or death stuff.

A lot of nonsense is bandied around about mental health illnesses fuelling creative genius. It is a cruel Myth. Some geniuses have done what they can to make the best of the awful, destructive diseases they are stuck with. Many people living with all sorts of disabilities are denied jobs so they choose to spend time productively on art-work.

Gwalia Mynydd Mawr Home. This lovely man couldn't speak any more but he drew beautifully and loved clay.

Gwalia Mynydd Mawr Home. This lovely man couldn’t speak any more but he drew beautifully and loved clay.(How to..)

                                                     ————————————

So Sculpture is my first language, the one I use to understand the world and sort out my thinking. And I also use it to communicate with other people.

It can be very difficult to tell if people are picking up on your message. They may have a strong, visceral reaction to your work but, not being able to find the words, say nothing.

A website and Facebook are great for making your work accessible, your ideas clearer and your self approachable. And I have found to my own surprise that I really enjoy running mine. I think my work has made big steps forward since I got into this stuff three years ago. Writing posts has clarified my ideas and getting really nice photos of the sculpture has helped me to look at it very objectively while rewarding me for putting in those hours spent on the edges and surfaces. People’s kind words, likes and shares are very encouraging.

And best of all I am part of a world-wide network of Makers of all kinds sharing photos, techniques, ideas, understanding and encouragement. I have learned a tremendous amount. Online stuff  now fills part of that  productive work pattern : 1.5 hours in the studio then break for 15 minutes. I used to do long, punishing hours deep into the night….that’s not ‘Work’. That’s looking a bit like ‘Obsession’ right there.  Now I work 6 days a week, 7-5ish, with proper breaks. Some of that time is paper-work and internet stuff. Some is outdoors walking, thinking, taking it in. Talking with peers, reading, listening. 

Music plays a crucial role in my sculpture. I use particular playlists for each Series. That inspires and guides the forms and brings me back to the right point after a break. My sons are into the vivid, wildly creative Games and animations that have become the voice of their generation and their influence has lead me to my best work yet.

On a good day I know look like an Olympic athlete, or at worst, Miss Marple on steroids, but the inconvenient truth is that I’m a dilapidated wreck. So everything in the studio is on wheels and, happily, I have the best assistant on the planet who can pack more sculpture into a kiln than physics can justify. I don’t intend to retire. I’ve already thought through how I could keep making stuff after the loss of any body-part. But will sculpture continue to work for me? Many artists see switching to a different job and life-style a failure or heresy. But our hard-won skills are entirely transferable, especially in a global, multicultural era that relies so much visual communication.

Osprey Studios. SA9 1YT.

Osprey Studios. SA9 1YT.

Studio Diary: The Marking Time Sculpture at Bronllys Hospital, Powys.part 2.

Marking Time Scale Model 1

Marking Time Scale Model 1

It has been a really good Consultation period. Everyone has been very open and generous with their time and thoughts, even when it was very difficult for them to do so.

The models, figures, benches and bases shown are all to scale. The full sized versions would have more texture/detail and the benches would be a metre further away.

We identified our primary audience as the people using, visiting or working at Bronllys Hospital. The overall impression/feel of the sculpture should be up-lifting and hopeful to support those who are ‘marking time’ in  stressful circumstances.

“The sculpture should have an aura of peace that will not interfere with the person’s unique moment”

“…so people can sit down and stay calm and feel safe.”

” In the discipline of Marking Time and manoeuvres like that, vulnerable people can find structure for their chaotic lives.”

” Marking Time is marching on the spot, keeping the beat, keeping in step with the group, in readiness to move onto the next task.”

And this triangle is the spot where the Marking Time Sculpture will go. There will be comfortable benches set in place so visitors, patients and staff have a tranquil place to sit and get a break from the often over-whelming activity in the Hospital.

And this triangle is the spot where the Marking Time Sculpture will go. There will be comfortable benches set in place so visitors, patients and staff have a tranquil place to sit and get a break from the often over-whelming activity in the Hospital.

The children at Mount Street Junior School felt it was important to help the Servicemen and women to forget and to ease them back into civilian life with games, walks, sports and domestic routines. The Ex- Servicemen and women agreed that humour and a sense of playfulness were key in allowing them not to forget but to learn to feel again. Military training is, by necessity, dehumanising:

“Dehumanised Soldiers find it hard to play nicely…”

“Snowball fighting can be more fun than real fighting because nobody gets hurt.”

The children agreed that ” The Soldiers need a bridge for when they come back to their families from the War.”

Many Servicemen are adolescents when they join-up and  their training replaces the natural pace of growing up. They cannot contextualise the shocks they are exposed to.

Marking Time Scale Model 1

Marking Time Scale Model 1. Bird forms in many sizes creating movement around the central space. 160cm H.(incls base).

Marking Time Scale Model 2

Marking Time Scale Model 2. Bird forms with a patterned texture suggested. 1metre high from the ground.

So: a sculpture with a narrative that releases the imagination, shows protectiveness and how the burden of being fierce and brave is shared and eased by those, of all sizes, being protected.

Marking Time Scale Model 3

Marking Time Scale Model 3. Three bird-forms.180cm H (incls base).

“A flowing circle, the movement of life, love, hope and promise will draw you in and guide you to change.”

Marking Time Scale Model 3

Marking Time Scale Model 3

Marking Time Scale Model 3

Marking Time Scale Model 3

“Regrets, we all have them. You need Hope to manage them.”

“Ephemeral, shadow-like.” ” A dragon in the mist.” “Inter-weaving the real and the etherial, making them equal.” ” Dragon of protection, Bird of hope.” “Intertwined spirals” “Water represents calm and peace. Flowers represent beauty. Dragon represents protection.” “…and a mystical Dragon and a moat with 3 piranhas.”

Marking Time Scale Model 4

Marking Time Scale Model 4

                                                  “The Bronllys Dragon by Ben,aged 8.

             Once upon a time there was a Dragon called Yddraig Goch. He would guard the Castle day to night until one day the Gorgan Maduser came. She looked the dragon in his eye but Yddraig Goch was quick as lightening to fly away. Yddraig Goch flew to the Military and perched on the roof. The army heard a thump on the roof and found Yddraig Goch, the Welsh Dragon.

                                               “Shoot him” said Ian. “I am ready, Sir”

                                                         “Wait!”said the Captain.

                                                         “What?!” said the army.

                                               “It’s Yddraig Goch, Lets make friends.”

              “What, with a Dragon?”  “Yes! Maybe he can help us against the other armies.”

Marking Time Scale Model 4

Marking Time Scale Model 4

 

The triangle base and the use of 3s has multiple significances in the Military, where groups are divided into 3 parts throughout it’s structure starting with Army/Airforce/Navy. Celtic and Christian symbolism is over-flowing with 3s.

Linked to the triangle is the heart shape, despite its over-use, still a “powerful symbol of the strongest emotion, the one that triumphs over all others.”

 

Marking Time Scale Model 4

Marking Time Scale Model 4

In Wales the Dragon is an especially potent icon representing the Land and bravery. The Red Kite is the Welsh National Bird and the symbol of Powys. Red Kites live separately but hunt and feed collectively when ever they can. They have an ordered community and share food and protect each other. After nearly going extinct in the UK due to cruelty and stupidity, their recovery has been brought about by the protection from a better society. Breeding from the surviving Welsh Kites, their numbers are growing: like the phoenix rising from the ashes.

For each version of the Sculpture: The Mosaic Base.

            The base of the sculpture will raise slightly in the centre of the triangle. A mosaic of good sized tiles of many shapes, with images and words about what makes up a strong Community, made with Mount Street Juniors and the A-Level students in Llandrindod Wells and beautiful, and vivid glass pebbles will be set in swirling lines with the most colour in the centre representing souls, ideals, that which is vulnerable and precious. 

The colours are blues/greens/yellows.

In the corners of the triangle will be set large tiles with ‘Accept the Past’, ‘Trust the Present’ and Faith in the Future’ and celtic knot-work carved on them.

 Assessment:

I don’t recommend Models 1-3. They are lovely in themselves but don’t quite hit the mark. They have been useful transitionary pieces.

Model 4:

The dragon’s expression will be extremely gentle and caring. The birds, of all sizes and types but mostly red kites will soar out from the centre. They will have a softness to their lines. They will support, encourage and assist the benevolent dragon, their wings working with his.

The max height (including base) is 180cm. Width: 150cm. Depth: 180cm.

The form has lightness and movement but is actually very strong and safe in all the ways discussed.

There will be many view-points of the mosaic.

The full sized version will have expressive textures and many more birds than could be put on a small model. It will be a very complex build and I am happy to add voluntary hours to the budget and time-line in order to complete this challenging piece because I believe it will be very beautiful.

Model 4 uses the consultation resources and our intended outcomes to the best effect. I feel everyone who contributed will be very pleased and will be able to see that their work is included.

 

Model 5: This is a condensed version of Model 4. It has the best of Model 4 and it adds the iconic local sky-line of Pen y fan mountain in the near-by Brecon Beacons. The Kite is now powerful enough to bring a sense of guardian angel to the mix. The Dragon and the Kite interact to create an embrace around the centre of a richly coloured mosaic of glass pebbles and hand-made and decorated tiles in shades of blue and green that swirl outwards from the centre. It has 3 points connecting it to the ground. There are 2 holes through the form.

Marking Time, Bronllys Hospital, Scale Model 5.

Marking Time, Bronllys Hospital, Scale Model 5.

Marking Time, Bronllys Hospital, Scale Model 5.

Marking Time, Bronllys Hospital, Scale Model 5.

Marking Time, Bronllys Hospital, Scale Model 5.

Marking Time, Bronllys Hospital, Scale Model 5.

 

The max height (including base) is 180cm. Width: 150cm. Depth: 180cm.

The form will not get cluttered with leaves in the way that Model 4 will in this woodland site. Model 5 will age gracefully with out looking neglected. It is sturdy and safe while retaining the flowing movement.

Update, 5/3/16

To keep within the Budget we need to reduce the size of the foundation.

Model 6 is based very much on Model 5 but it is divided into 3 sections which has lead to some interesting and lovely developments in the forms. The sense of the protective, sheltering embrace is still clear but there is more movement and echoes of bird-forms. The dragon’s head is moved into the centre adding to the protective feel and this enhances the over-all silhouette.

The dimensions are the same. I have added to the base-line so that the 3 forms are self-supporting to ease strain on the small foundations.  When the sculpture was a single form it supported itself from tipping over. But the weight was all standing on 3 small points that would have put a lot of strain on a small foundation. The 3 sections allow some ‘give’ as the sculpture settles on the site.

This model is not as neatly finished as Model 5: don’t let that distract you. I will use both models during the build.

Marking Time Model 6.

Marking Time Model 6.

 

Marking Time Model 6.

Marking Time Model 6.

Marking Time Model 6.

Marking Time Model 6.

Marking Time Model 6.

Marking Time Model 6.

Marking Time Model 6.

Marking Time Model 6.

The foundation will have 3 parts linked by a reinforcement-bar grid. Hard-core will form a small rise towards the centre. The mosaic will be set into hand-made cement paving slabs made at Osprey Studios. This will give more time to the layout of the mosaic and the results will be better than setting them onsite. It will save the surprisingly large cost of Out-door Tile Adhesive.

This is a good set of solutions with a lot gained and nothing lost except the costs of a large, poured foundation. It does create a lot more work for the sculpture-build but I am willing to take that on: it will be satisfyingly challenging.

Studio Diary, Reflecting on Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore.

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You can imagine how massively pleased I feel when people say my work must be influenced by Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore. They have been the corner-stone of my development as they have for so many artists of all disciplines.

Last July I finally made my first visit  to the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle. I was invited by a lovely Collector who is from Yorkshire and is a big Hepworth/Moore fan. She has a range of my formative pieces; she is interested in those transitionary points in Artist’s work.

After the visit I poured out the first impressions in the Studio for a few months and now I’m re-studying the work of these giants and reviewing their influence on what I make and the process; The Doubts are always hovering on the edge. They regularly get to me and leave me questioning the validity of my work process; can you really share experience and ideas through abstract form?

Barbara Hepworth was confident that Sculpture was  an  essential natural work for humans, that it must be because we have done it since our very earliest days. Studying her work and biography taught me that you can join forces with your material to translate the voice of your environment into  forms  that will communicate to others.

Hepworth, Moore and most of their extraordinary contemporaries were quite sure that if you trained your craftsmanship thoroughly, and knew and respected your material, you would be able to work directly through your well informed intuition to create valuable, meaningful artwork that ‘felt right’ to you and spoke to others. The incomparable Conceptual Artist Grayson Perry talked about these values in his Reith Lectures this year and stated that perhaps the time we are in now is in need of evocative, powerful art that talks to the soul rather than the intellect.

I decided to write this post over these reflective months to clarify what I’m doing in my own practice. I will add to it over time to help maintain my focus.

It really looks like this lad is checking his phone.

It really looks like this lad is checking his phone.

Both Hepworth and Moore studied the figure extensively in the traditional way.

Both Hepworth and Moore studied the figure extensively in the traditional way.

I was one of those kids who was always making things out of toilet paper and sellotape and by my teens, in the 1970s, I was taking my subject seriously. I read everything I could find about my favourites, Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore and I tried to copy their  education. I lived in Oxford (UK) at the time so I could spend hours drawing in the Cast Gallery ( an amazing collection of casts from Greek and Roman statuary; extraordinary, muscly figures that kept still!)  in the basement of the Ashmolean Museum. In  Pitt Rivers Museum there was Skeletons and freaky taxidermy ( animals in crazy poses, that kept still.) At Oxpens Tech we did formal life-drawing of nudes and during my BFA hons at the Art Department of Boston University, USA, I was was hugely fortunate to be taught figure and portrait skills by Lloyd Lilly. He was a wonderful and exacting tutor and I owe him a great deal.

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At The Hepworth in Wakefield.

In my early 20’s I lived in Cornwall, UK, for a year or so and visited  Hepworth’s Studios in St. Ives and kissed the ground she walked upon. My work started to properly Abstract around then under the wonderful, great-humoured, very practical guidance of the lovely sculptor Ron Wood.

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So this trip to Yorkshire was a pilgrimage for me. And it was absolutely wonderful. Pippa was a fabulous host and such a great person to be with because she is fascinated with sculpture and comes to it from a different angle than I do, making talking it through with her intricate and revealing. Plus she is a laugh and we had a great deal of fun; she showed me the real Wakefield right down to the Rhubarb Liquor.

The Hepworth at Wakefield.

The Hepworth at Wakefield.

The Hepworth in Wakefield is just awesome. A striking modern building with wonderful light. It’s right in town near the shops and one of the things that made me so jubilant was seeing families who had clearly dropped in for another visit as a treat for their excited kids who were loving it. The Museum staff had groups of children sitting on the floor laughing and chatting and making things in front of these stunning sculptures. No hushed tones, everyone there (and it was busy) was relaxed and enchanted.

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Barbara Hepworth, Figure for Landscape, 1960.

The major Hepworth Retrospective ‘Sculpture for a Modern World’ is at the Tate in London this year, so  everything was re-arranged and Pippa spotted pieces she had never seen before.

This room is fantastic.

This room is fantastic.

The scene was the same at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. It was an ordinary weekend and the huge carparks were packed. Families and friends were walking amongst the fantastic sculptures with the relaxed ease of familiarity, having picnics, playing, soaking-in the presence and passion of the artwork.

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

 Anthony Caro

Anthony Caro

Rebecca Buck, Osprey Studios

Lynn Chadwick.

In the Underground Gallery they had set a completely stunning exhibition ” Henry Moore, Back To A Land”. Such a great title, I was hooked as soon as I saw it as we entered the Park.  The Show  was beautifully lit and spacious. There were pieces I had never seen before.  And lots of preparatory work like small scale models, drawings, found objects like intriguing stones. His tools were  laid out respectfully. I would dearly love to have had this Show as my home. It was wonderful. There is a nice short film that introduces the Show the very well; Henry Moore at YSP.

I had planned to do my BFA,Hons thesis on Henry Moore. I had an appointment to meet with him in 1985. I transported my feint ghost of a self, rigid with respect, awe and generalised terror, to his home and Studio. But sadly he was too unwell that day to see me. One of his very kind, thoughtful and generous assistants took me around the studios and told me all about it. I wrote my thesis about him in the end and I cringe to admit that I can’t remember his name. They were enlarging this sculpture, or one very like it , in polystyrene, scaling up from a small model Henry Moore had made many years previously. The Lovely Assistant told me that Henry often felt very anxious when this happened, that he wasn’t sure it was right to enlarge a piece made to be small. We all get the doubts…!

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

Both Hepworth and Moore used evocative, shifting textures that further describe the forms by capturing shadows and reflecting concentrated spots of light. In both of these exceptional venues you can get right up close and inspect the craftsmanship. At YSP, even outside, they do ask that you don’t touch the work  but the sheep use them as windbreaks and scratching posts so most people feel there their gentle caress wont do any harm and it feels very good to send Henry Moore a whispered message of gratitude and recognition from the heart and through the hand.

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth. Detail of Rock Form (Porthcurno), 1964.

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth, Figure (Archaean) 1959.

These details of Rock Form and Figure (Archaean) show the deeply textured surface built up in plaster with the intension of ultimately being bronze. Both Moore and Hepworth had carving as their true-love but both built up forms with plaster, and occasionally clay, for models, to be cast in bronze. Here’s the whole of Rock Form showing the texture across the form;

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth, Rock Form (Porthcurno), 1964. She wrote of the group of pieces that include this one;’these are all sea forms and rock forms, related to Porthcurno on the Land’s End coast with its queer caves pierced by the sea. They were experiences of people- the movement of people in and out is always a part of them’. I lived in St Agnes on the north Cornwall coast around 1980ish. Fabulous area over-flowing with strange myths, legends and other-worldly beings. People often go there to loose themselves for a while. Hepworth moved her young family there just before WW2 broke out. Her Studio and the work in it left in London was destroyed by bombings. She stayed in Cornwall for the rest of her life, playing her part in the prosperity of the area along with Bernard Leach’s Pottery that continues to this day with the Tate Gallery having a wing there.

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth

I particularly love Rock Form. The holes face into the form bringing light in to meet within the shelters of the sculpture. Both Moore and Hepworth use the edges of holes so ingeniously to hold or pour light around the forms. Interior space is a massive issue with sculpture made in ceramic because the pieces usually have to be hollow if they are over a certain size wether that space has meaning to the theme or not. Bronzes are hollow too but, no matter what it is made into, ceramics always carries it’s ancient history of pots that is so intricately entwined in our evolution that we describe our bodies as vessels; no one can resist looking into the openings of big pots , can they. I am particularly re-studying the use of holes and the directing of a flow around forms in both sculptors work.

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

They both also used grouped forms a lot and one sculpture made of several parts is classic Moore. It’s really hard to do. Currently my work is gradually disassembling; bases reduced as far as possible, interior space integrated with the exterior (to a point…LOT more work needed there…) surfaces deeply textured. But so far any attempts to divide the form reek of pastiche. You can’t fake this stuff, it has to be sincere and real. Henry Moore had a strong relationship with the monumental formations of stone on the moors of his formative environment and tunnelling coal mines of his community. For the last 17 years  I have lived in a landscape and culture shaped by mining; 12 in the Rhondda Valley and making Pit Markers and Memorials across the Valleys and the last 5 years  in the Upper Tawe Valley, with the front of Osprey Studios  facing a working pit and and the back  facing the ancient, worn, mountains of the Brecon Beacons. The Landscape Series ( with the awesome Photographer, Stephen Foote) is all about describing our place within  the Natural World in this location and experiential frame-work; I am guided by the foot-steps of  giants. Pleasingly I live at the foot of Cribarth, the Sleeping Giant mountain, which rounds that train of thought off nicely.

Anthony Caro

Anthony Caro

Anthony  Caro was also on show at YSP, with lots of fab models and a few sculptures that got to me because they played with contained space and were beautifully made.

Anthony Caro

Anthony Caro

The carvings of Hepworth and Moore are beyond beautiful. The ethos of Truth To Materials, held by their group of artist colleagues for some years, shines out especially in the wood pieces. I took this idea very much to heart as an intense teenager. Clay comes in a multitude of disguises, no  single one speaking for all clay. Each blend of wild clays has it’s own characteristics to be celebrated. I still honour my material and work for it. It is a powerful material fully aware of the ties that bind us to it. It has shaped us and our societies countless times over the Millenia.

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth, carving in wood and some of her plaster-work tools.

Barbara Hepworth used lines of string or steel to follow the forces running through the forms. Henry Moore often cut lines into the surface. Both are such bold and fantastically effective things to do in certain circumstances. Working from these examples I’ve been using repeated patterns of texture or curves  to achieve the same thing with various degrees of success.

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth

Here’s some other images of beautiful sculptures from Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, some taken by me and many collected from the internet. My thanks to the photographers and I am sorry I do not have your names.

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth, Figure (Archaean), 1959. The name derives from the ancient Greek word for beginning or origin. The Archaean period saw the emergence of life on earth. Hepworth was very drawn to standing stones and felt a connection as a sculptor to the people who had been compelled to put them up. She often talked about how a person out in a landscape was a sculpture and part of the landscape. She saw her sculptures as living people. Not in a crazy way but in that her work was not done until the form was imbued with life. Over time her relationship with that piece would evolve and change, just as it does with other living beings.

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth. Wouldn’t it be amazing to have this part of The Hepworth, Wakefield as your living room?

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth, Single Form (Chun Quoit), 1961. Chun Quoit is a Neolithic chamber tomb in the beautiful landscape between St Ives and Land’s End (Cornwall, UK), an area that had a profound effect on Hepworth. It was created with her friend Dag Hammarskjold in mind. When he died not long afterwards she made the stunning, 3metre high version for the new United Nations Secretariat Building in New York City. I can’t deny that I get a kick out of this wonderful sculpture being made and installed there in the year of my birth in NYC!

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Barbara Hepworth.

Here is a charming video with some lovely footage of Hepworth working made by the Kroller-Muller Museum: Barbara Hepworth, Sculpture for a Modern World.

Henry Moore.

Henry Moore.

 

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth at work.

Barbara Hepworth at work.

Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth

Henry Moore at work.

Henry Moore at work.

Barbara Hepworth at work

Barbara Hepworth at work

Henry Moore

Henry Moore

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Enflamed at Cavin-Morris Gallery, New York.

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Being invited to join this beautiful, sensuous, soul-reaching collection made my day. Some of my favourite Ceramists like  Melanie Ferguson and Monique Rutherford show with Cavin-Morris Gallery. Their introduction to their site made my week;

“Cavin-Morris Gallery has been exhibiting world artists for 30 years. We specialise in the work of self-taught artists whose work is made independently of the art world canon yet participates equally on the wall or pedestal. We represent the new generation of self-taught artists whose work remains authentic and visionary while representative of contemporary times. We also feature important works from preceding generations of self-taught artists including Jon Serl, Bill Traylor and Emery Blagdon.

We show an eclectic selection of tribal art from all the major regions of the world focusing on the unusual and the formally surprising.

Another focus is on textiles of the world, including South East Asian costumes an textiles including tribal China, and Japanese Boros: futon covers made over a period of a hundred years from cotton patches and threads.

Our newest department is a developing interest in Contemporary ceramics both functional and non-functional. We are especially interested in the way ceramists push the envelope of traditional form sand cultures. We show Western ceramists as well as Japanese, Chinese and Korean work.

The common thread that connects all this art is its uniqueness, its integrity and authenticity, and its reflection of cultural home-ground. The Contemporary artists we represent extend the continuum established by the self-taught and Tribal artists into a new and exciting multi-tiered arena.”

This article explains it perfectly; ‘A Chelsea Double Feature; Paper Meets Clay On “Homeground’s” Turf’ by Edward M Gomez.

1977362_10207300528654376_2230692460964721983_n View the stunning Catalogue here.

 

Melanie Ferguson extra ordinary pots encompass the universe and lead you beyond your borders.

Melanie Ferguson extraordinary pots encompass the universe and lead you beyond your borders.

 

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Mitch Iburg‘s stunning pots leave me breathless with wonder.

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Mitch Iburg. All the mountains of the world are honoured here.

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Sarah Purvey ‘s pot in the for-ground of  the beautiful display at Cavin-Morris Gallery.

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Cavin-Morris Gallery, New York City, USA.

Cavin-Morris Gallery, New York City, USA.

Cavin-Morris Gallery, New York City, USA.

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Cavin-Morris Gallery, New York City, USA.

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Wyvern V, black ceramic, 26.7 x 50.8 x 25.4 cm. Rebecca Buck.

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Wyvern VIII, ceramic, 39 x 71 x 34 cm. Rebecca Buck.

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Up Is Down VI, ceramic, 20 x 49 x 31 cm.

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Leviathan VI, ceramic, 12.5 x 21 x 8 cm.

This is a selection of images taken by Cavin-Morris Gallery. Go to the Gallery site  to see more beautifully presented photographs of these Artist’s  pieces and the other astonishing work by the Artists represented by this exceptional Gallery. The links from each name here on this post will take you to more information about each Ceramist. I will add more images as I get them.

Sculpture by Rebecca Buck at Cavin-Morris Gallery, New York City, USA.

Sculpture by Rebecca Buck at Cavin-Morris Gallery, New York City, USA.

 

The Albany Gallery and South Wales Potters.

The Albany Gallery is one of the UK’s most established and respected galleries. Collectors keep an eye on them because they have a great track-record for showing new treasures.

South Wales Potters is one of the largest groups of professional and hobby potters, ceramicists and collectors in the UK. Members are based all over  southern Wales, England and some abroad. They are involved in putting together Europe’s premier ceramics event, the International Ceramics Festival held every 2 years at Aberystwyth University.

The Albany’s Summer Show is always fresh and wonderful. They have an excellent variety of 2D Art set off beautifully by ceramics they have selected from South Wales Potters. The staff at the Albany Gallery are lovely- very knowledgeable about the work they show, friendly and very approachable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Rebecca Buck, Half A Century VII, 42 x 27 x 23 cm.

Rebecca Buck, Half A Century VII, 42 x 27 x 23 cm.

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Bird by Jane Blair, Pots by Pam Brooker.

Rebecca Buck, Up Is Down VI, 31cm L x 25cm H x 17cm D.

Rebecca Buck, Up Is Down VI, 31cm L x 25cm H x 17cm D.

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Jane Blair.

The Private View was very  full and bustling but there are still some gorgeous pieces to buy.

The Private View was very
full and bustling but there are still some gorgeous pieces to buy.

Albany have set the ceramics to compliment the paintings and it looks marvellous. The Gallery is an intimate and home-like space making it very easy to imagine the Art-work in your own home.

Albany Gallery have set the ceramics to compliment the paintings and it looks marvellous. The Gallery is an intimate and home-like space making it very easy to imagine the Art-work in the rooms of your own home.

Thanks to Daniel Buck for the Photographs.

 

 

How to Make Abstract Sculpture in Clay; working solid and hollowing out.

 

Over Half a Century III.

Half a Century VIII.

The Edge VII

Wyvern VIII, 2015, 39cm H x 71cm L x 34cm D, ceramic.

Up is Down VII, back view

Up is Down V, 44cm H x 58cm L x 50cm D,

Up is Down VI, second view.

Up is Down V, back view

Making Abstract Sculpture can feel very elusive; where to start, when to stop? This post aims to de-mystify the process and give you an ideal technique that will allow you to go with your flow to make beautiful Abstract forms that express those things that are not easily put into words or naturalistic art.

Because there is no right or wrong with Abstracts you are better off with a technique that allows you to feel your way around the form and to change your mind any time you want to. Building the piece in solid clay allows you to separate the ceramic-technical needs from the flow of creativity for the most part. You do need to make good joins as you go along but with the right clay that is not a distraction. It’s a great method for pieces up to 1 metre. For larger Sculptures I often use it over a hollow clay-armature to reduce the over-all weight. Use a clay designed for sculpture and hand-building with plenty of grog (gritty bits like sand). Scarva’s ES 50 is fab and excellent value for money.

I work to music and usually have a theme I am following.  When you start out with Abstracts you need to put some boundaries in place; have a theme (an emotion, geometry, etc) or abstract a known form like a figure or an animal. All the pieces above were made using this technique. All but one are made in combinations of Scarva’s black clays.

Gill Tennant-Eyles, Emma Bevan and Tez Roberts came to Osprey Studios for a Workshop. We had an excellent day going over this technique and sharing each other’s ideas.

Make a block of clay that has the approximate hight/width/depth you feel you need at this point. Rough out the beginnings of a form.

Make a block of clay that has the approximate hight/width/depth you feel you need at this point. Rough out the beginnings of a form.

Work all around the form in stages, giving each area equal attention, refining with each rotation.

Work all around the form in stages, giving each area equal attention, refining with each rotation.

Add or subtract clay. A paddle will be very useful.

Add or subtract clay. A paddle will be very useful.

When the piece starts sagging leave it to harden up a bit. Use plastic to keep the drying even.

When the piece starts sagging leave it to harden up a bit. Use plastic to keep the drying even.

For larger pieces the process is the same. Use props or leave temporary supports of clay to hold up the form until it hardens. These might stay there until you have hollowed out the sculpture and reduced the weight.

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Once the piece is leather-hard carve/scrape the surface. You can still add clay but pay attention to the joins.

Once the piece is leather-hard carve/scrape the surface. You can still add clay but pay attention to the joins.

At the point where the form is complete apart from finishing the surface stop building and get ready to hollow -out. The piece should be firm enough to resist a thumb-print. On very large pieces you might start hollowing the top while the lower parts are still too damp; the hollowed clay walls will need to be able to support themselves with-out distorting. Don't let the form get to hard or you wont be able to cut it open.

At the point where the form is complete apart from finishing the surface, stop building and get ready to hollow-out. The piece should be firm enough to resist a thumb-print. On very large pieces you might start hollowing the top while the lower parts are still too damp; the hollowed clay walls will need to be able to support themselves with-out distorting. Don’t let the form get too hard or you wont be able to cut it open.

How thick the clay can be to fire well depends on the amount of grog, the denseness of your modelling style, drying time and the speed of your firing.

Air bubbles trapped in the clay will expand with the heat. Grog and/or a loose surface will allow the air to seep through the clay. The same is true with water but steam expands fast. If your piece breaks into big bits during the fire it was trapped air and you will be able to see where the bubbles were in the shards. If it blows up into a trillion smithereens it wasn’t properly dry!

I dry thick sculptures slowly under plastic which I turn daily for 4 weeks minimum and then 1-2 weeks in a plastic tent with a dehumidifier. A long dry allows the water to level out as water loves to do and that will enhance the structure of the clay within it’s new sculpture shape. You will get less cracks or distorting in the fire.

I fire very slowly with an 18 degree C rise until 600 degrees C.

Generally 3cm is a fair maximum thickness for a well grogged clay.

Choosing where to cut is easy: Starting at the top make the first cut at the point where you can  reach all the parts that need hollowing to leave 1-3cm walls. That may mean cutting off a very small piece and hollowing barely a few scoops, for example the head of a figure: drill a tool down the neck and then your next cut would be low on the chest, etc. Always ensure there is an air outlet for each hollowed area. Hard to reach areas can be skewerd from the inside or outside to make channels for the air/water to escape.

Horizontal cuts are best because gravity is on your side while the piece is drying.

Horizontal cuts are best because gravity is on your side while the piece is drying. Lay the cut section on foam.

Hollow the cut section first, score the edges with a serrated kidney (NEVER make deep scores) moisten w/ water and /or slip so that that edge can soften while the section is upside-down. The hollow into the rest of the form going as far as you can reach. Mark how far you reached on the surface to help you decide where to make the next cut.

Hollow the cut section first, leaving a wall approx 1.5-2cm thick. Do not smooth this inner surface: it will make it difficult for any trapped air to pass through the clay during firing. You can leave ‘buttress’ type support walls. Score the edges with a serrated kidney (NEVER make deep scores with a pointy tool. Tiny bubbles of air will get trapped there all along your join and possibly cause a crack.) Moisten w/ water/slip so that the edge can soften while the section is upside-down. Then hollow into the rest of the form going as far as you can reach. Mark how far you reached on the surface to help you decide where to make the next cut.

 

Once both edges are softened put the pieces back together and move back and forth until you feel the edges lock together. Genuine joins are formed when the chains of platelet-shaped particles from each section inter-lock. Picture a magnified image of hair. Score marks do not give the surface 'tooth'; they allow water into the clay-body. On vertical surfaces they hold the water in place to give it time to sink in. Slip is not 'glue', it is clay particles spread out in water and has little strength, especially when it has dried. It is ideal for holding a lot of water in place to give it time to be absorbed to soften the area of leather-hard clay. Manipulate the softened clay at the join to encourge further integration of those particle-chains and to disturb the straight line of the join; cracks love to zing along a nice straight slip-weakened join during the firing when the pull of shrinking stresses the sculpture.

Quality Joints:  Once both edges are softened put the pieces back together and move back and forth until you feel the edges lock together. Genuine joins are formed when the chains of platelet-shaped particles from each section inter-lock. Picture a magnified image of hair. Score marks do not give the surface ‘tooth’; they allow water into the clay-body. On vertical surfaces they hold the water in place to give it time to sink in. Slip is not ‘glue’, it is clay particles spread out in water and has little strength, especially when it has dried. It is ideal for holding a lot of water in place to give it time to be absorbed to soften the area of leather-hard clay.                                         Once both edges are softened put the pieces back together and move back and forth until you feel the edges lock together.        
Manipulate the softened clay at the join to encourage further integration of those particle-chains and to disturb the straight line of the join; cracks love to zing along a nice straight slip-weakened join during the firing when the pull of shrinking stresses the sculpture.

 

Smooth the now recessed join with water + rub until a slip is lifted from the join's surface. Make a coil 1.5cm thick by squeezing. Do not roll your coils; it packs the finer particles on the coils's surface making it resistant to joining. Attach one end and inch the coil into the join; press in then squeeze the coil to force it to inch forward along the join; this friction creates the bond.

Smooth the now recessed join with water + rub until a slip is lifted from the join’s surface. Make a coil 1.5cm thick by squeezing. Do not roll your coils; it packs the finer particles on the coils’s surface making them resistant to joining. Attach one end and inch the coil into the join; press in then squeeze the coil to force it to inch forward along the join; this friction creates the bond between the surfaces. Coiling explained here.

Blend the coil in, leaving it raised. The excess clay will slowly release it's water into the join, slowing drying. Wrap the piece in plastic and leave for week or so until the coil has the same hardness as the rest of the form. Then you can scrape it away, compressing the clay as you go to leave a strong join that wont recess during the firing.

Blend the coil in, leaving it raised. The excess clay will slowly release it’s water into the join, slowing drying. Wrap the piece in plastic and leave for week or so until the coil has the same hardness as the rest of the form. Then you can scrape it away, compressing the clay as you go to leave a strong join that wont recess during the firing.

Make you next cut and repeat.

Make your next cut and repeat.

Once those coils have hardened under plastic you can complete the Sculptures surface and edges.Once those coils have hardened under plastic you can complete the Sculptures surface and edges. Then set to dry very slowly (min 4 weeks) under a 5-sheets-thick-newspaper or cardboard box. For very large forms you can use a double layer of bed-sheets. If you use plastic turn it regularly so that condensation doesn't drip onto the clay and spoil it.

Once those coils have hardened under plastic you can complete the Sculpture’s surface and edges.   Then set to dry very slowly (min 4 weeks) under a 5-sheets-thick-newspaper or cardboard box. For very large forms you can use a double layer of bed-sheets. If you use plastic turn it regularly so that condensation doesn’t drip onto the clay and spoil it. Or stick plastic over your selves to make a micro drying-room.

Work in progress by Gill Tennant-Eyles

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Work in progress by Emma Bevan

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Work in progress by Tez Roberts

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These sculptures were all made with this excellent, versatile technique.

The Edge VIII, in progress.

The Edge VIII, in progress.

Up Is Down IV, in progress.

Up Is Down IV, in progress.

Up Is Down II, in progress.

Up Is Down II, in progress.

Up Is Down V, in progress.

Up Is Down V, in progress.

Up Is Down X, in progress.

Up Is Down X, in progress.

Over Half a Century, in progress.

Over Half a Century, in progress.

Wyvern VIII, in progress.

Wyvern VIII, in progress.

 

What Was the First Abstract Artwork?

click on this title to see the original article. Artsy has some really interesting reviews and is a great place to see stunning art-work.

  • Wassily Kandinsky, Composition V, 1911. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Who made the first Western abstract painting? That was the question that Wassily Kandinsky’s widow, accompanied by a team of researchers, set out to answer in 1946. Her late husband, a Russian painter who was among the pioneers of abstraction in the early 1910s, had himself been personally invested in the answer.

In 1935, Kandinsky had penned a letter to his gallerist in New York to insist on his preeminence. “Indeed,” he wrote of a 1911 work, “it’s the world’s first ever abstract picture, because back then not one single painter was painting in an abstract style. A ‘historic painting’, in other words.”

Kandinsky wasn’t the only artist interested in preserving his legacy. He and several early abstract painters—including Robert Delaunay, Mikhail Larionov, Natalia Goncharova, and Kazimir Malevich—backdated their works, in some cases several years before they were actually completed.

This artistic jostling reflects a focus on invention as an individual act, notes curator Leah Dickerman in an essay for MoMA’s 2012 show “Inventing Abstraction, 1910-1025: How a Radical Idea Changed Modern Art.” But, as she goes on to say, that approach is in some ways misguided. Rather than the work of a solitary genius, abstraction “was an invention with multiple first steps, multiple creators, multiple heralds, and multiple rationales.”

What Makes an Abstract Expressionist Painting Good?

At the turn of the 20th century, the world was becoming increasingly connected. Steamships, cars, and trains facilitated international travel, while telephones, telegraphs, and radios allowed for conversations between people on opposite ends of the globe.

Within the art world specifically, journals sprang up in droves; in Paris alone, some 200 reviews of art and culture appeared in the decade leading up to World War I. Subscribers were scattered across Europe and America, allowing a wide swath of creatives to stay abreast of the latest developments in art. And this period also saw the beginning of a traveling exhibition culture, led by the Italian Futurists.

“Historians talk about ‘conditions of possibility,’” Masha Chlenova, a curator who worked with Dickerman on “Inventing Abstraction,” told Artsy. “For example, photography was also invented by three people at the same time. Daguerre just happened to be the best at marketing and patenting.”

Similarly, while Kandinsky is today hailed as the father of abstract painting, he was by no means the only player in the development of non-representational painting. His work Komposition V did, admittedly, jumpstart public interest in abstract painting. Exhibited in Munich in December 1911, this monumental work was just barely representational.

It was the first such work to be put on display, and “for some artists and intellectuals, abstraction not only began to seem plausible, but also took on the character of an imperative,” Dickerman writes.

Kandinsky had been thinking about abstract art for years beforehand. His manifesto On the Spiritual in Art, which appeared as a draft in 1909 and was published the same month as Komposition V went on display, laid out the tenets of abstraction. But it would still be several years before Kandinsky would finally break free from recognizable forms in his art. As Chlenova put it, “he theorized abstraction before he made painting.”

  • František Kupka, Amorpha: Fugue in Two Colors, 1912. Courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art, NY. © 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.
  • František Kupka Study for Amorpha, Warm Chromatic and for Fugue in two colors; Study for The Fugue, 1910–11. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, 1976. © 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ADAGP, Paris.

Dickerman references Czech-born artist František Kupka as the first to display works that were a complete break from representational painting. His compositions Amorpha, Chromatique chaude and Amorpha, Fugue à deux couleurs were shown at the Salon d’Automne in Paris in October 1912, filmed for the newsreels, and then broadcast across Europe and America.

Dickerman believes that Kupka’s willingness to publicly defy convention was related to his personal history. Although he grew up in Prague and Vienna and started out as a Symbolist, he later moved to Paris and developed close ties with the city’s avant-garde—which, as Dickerman notes, granted “him an insider/outsider status that seems particularly fertile for paradigm-shifting thought.”

But further complicating the question of “first” is that it can be difficult to determine the threshold of abstraction. When, precisely, does a work go from “abstracted” to “abstraction”?

French avant-garde artist Francis Picabia, for example, is sometimes credited with the first abstract painting. His watercolor Caoutchouc (Rubber) was completed in 1909, which would predate even Kandinsky’s theories on abstraction. But other academics have pushed back, noting that the work still retains some semblance of form, reminiscent of a bouquet of flowers.

For “Inventing Abstraction,” Chlenova said she and Dickerman began by establishing clear criteria for what they considered abstract work. “Our main criterion was the artist’s own position and their statements that they’re doing something abstract,” she said. “The terminology is a slightly different question because the word ‘abstract’ would not necessarily be used. But there was a very clear awareness from the artists that were sensitive to what was happening.”

  • Hilma af Klint, The Large Figure Paintings, No. 5, Group III, 1907. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
  • Hilma af Klint, Svanen (The Swan) No. 17, Group IX/SUW, The SUW/UW Series, 1914-1915. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

This is why, she explained, Swedish artist Hilma af Klint was not represented in the MoMA exhibition. Since 2013, when Moderna Museetheld the first-ever retrospective of her work, af Klint’s oeuvre has received renewed attention from the public. Known in her lifetime as a landscape painter and portraitist, it was revealed decades after her death that she had also been experimenting with abstraction. As early as 1906, af Klint had been painting colorful works full of organic shapes, spirals, and curlicues.

This date places her several years before Kandinsky even theorized abstraction, let alone acted on his ideas. But af Klint’s works sprang from her interest in the occult—during the 1890s, she started organizing seances with four artist friends where they practiced automatic drawing and writing.

Later, when she began her largest body of non-representational paintings, she claimed that spiritual forces were directing her hand. And for an artist to be included in “Inventing Abstraction,” Chlenova explained, they had to “formulate their practice as a conscious rejection of any reference to the outside world.”

Others disagreed with this reading, arguing that a mystical approach should not negate her contribution to developing abstraction. “‘Spiritual’ is still a very dirty word in the art world,” curator Maurice Tuchman toldthe New York Times in 2013. “When the prejudice against the idea of the spiritual life in af Klint’s work is overcome, which will require scholarship, then perhaps she will really take hold in the broader conversation.”

But there’s no disagreement that the invention of Western abstraction revolutionized art production in the 20th century, nor that it was predated by centuries of abstracted forms and patterns in non-Western traditions.

“One can treat abstraction a little bit more abstractly, if you will,” Chlenova laughed, “without ultimately being too concerned about who was first.”

—Abigail Cain