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Monthly Archives: July 2015
Apart from a few artists working mainly with circular or chain saws (I do draw the line somewhere!), carving does not seem to be a very popular medium with today’s sculptors.
One artist I do know who works in wood is Geoff Rushton, so I went to visit him to learn about his work and the techniques he uses.
Geoff carves very delicate and intricate forms referencing forms found in nature, frequently those of seeds, spores and structures found in microscopic images. Whilst he has an idea in mind when he sets out to carve, it is developed as he carves and doesn’t come from a prepared sketch or maquette, not that you could make a maquette of such detailed forms!
Most of his sculptures are carved from hawthorn taken from the farm on which he lives, they are roughly cut into shape, then worked on with a power carver. I doubt many of his pieces could be produced using traditional tools as the power carver allows him to cut the wood to leave only tiny strands of wood to make up the structure.
It also allows him to create seemingly impossible shapes such as this one
A particular favourite piece of mine (which is why it lives in a display case in my lounge!) is ‘Mycogen’ (2013)
I asked Geoff about the inspiration for this piece:
Mycogen had 3 main influences, firstly wolf’s milk slime mould.
The second, which is where the name comes from, was from an Isaac Asimov novel, ‘Prelude to Foundation’, which I was reading at the time. In the book there’s a planet with a humungous population living on top of each other and mycogen is the food creating section of the planet, all the food is fungus based, hence the name.
I think the shape of the outer shell of walnuts was also an influence, there may be others, it’s hard to say because of the unplanned way I work but they were certainly the major ones.
These influences are clear in his work but the piece obviously just comes together as he works on it – something I can associate with!
Geoff’s blog details the stages in making his ‘Three Kings’ (2013) sculpture which is very interesting and will probably form the basis of the way I will work on a piece (although a much smaller one!).
Images by kind permission of Geoff Rushton.
Demonstration of technical and visual skills
My plaster could have been better mixed as I got some air bubbles which needed filling in once I’d completed the carving. Aside from that the rough and smooth sections work well together. The string works much better than the initial idea of cutting grooves into the material.
I got the effect I was after, so I think my techniques must be reasonably OK.
The piece is closely matched to the maquette (except for where I chose to alter it).
Design and Compositional Skills:
Apart from the alteration to use string, this was completed in the previous project
Quality of Outcome
Apart from some air bubbles in the plaster, the main issue with the quality of this sculpture is in its painting. I got close to the colours I was aiming for, but not as close as I wanted to!
Demonstration of Creativity
As for project 9
As with project 9, with the string idea originating from Henry Moore’s use of string on some of his plasters (e.g. ‘Head: Lines’ 1955).
A moderately successful project, but my painting skills could be improved.
I didn’t take any photographs whilst carving this piece as I couldn’t locate my camera for a time, but this is what I ended up with:
The plaster was quite easy to carve, although the down side of that was its propensity to flake off in sections where you didn’t want it to!
I drilled the hole using a wood drill in multiple locations and tried to make the edges smooth but textured the front and back with a curved carving chisel in a random fashion.
This would have been the point I carved in the design I had carved in my clay model, but I decided that this would be lost in the textured background so chose instead to glues on string:
I painted this in white gesso, filling in some bubble holes and sanding the edges to get them as smooth as possible. Then I proceeded to paint it. I see working in plaster as a step on the way to producing bronze (or similar) sculptures rather than an end in itself, so I aimed to get colours similar to that which would be achieved in bronze patination.
This started off well
Bling sculpture anyone?!
This is where I decided to call it a day and accept that my painting skills aren’t quite up to scratch!
28 x 33 x 15cm
Plaster, string, acrylic
Demonstration of technical and visual skills
My sketches for this project are not very developed as I still find it hard to sketch down what I can view in my head perfectly well! I also find it hard to quickly switch between sculpting methods as this course requires. So, rather than procrastinate, I went for an early idea as this stage seemed to be more about learning the carving process for which any shape would suffice.
The clay maquette is as I imagined it. It was pretty unstable as it was too wet to support itself properly, but it lasted whist I sculpted the plaster version.
The perspective on my charcoal drawings leaves something to be desired.
Design and Compositional Skills:
I think this sculpture is quite balanced and works fine as a maquette for the plaster version.
Quality of Outcome
Sufficient for its purpose as a maquette
Demonstration of Creativity
I could have worked on my initial sketches and developed them further, but wanted to get into the actual carving early on to gain some skills in that area.
Not particularly inspired by other artists, other than using Hepworth/Moore’s device of piercing the sculpture. The rest of the sculpture is more angular than their works though and doesn’t knowingly have any other artist’s influence.
Producing the maquette in clay helped to show weaknesses in my design (the cut lines) which I could then change when it came to the plaster version.
It is interesting that the course notes say “The sculptor starts by making a model in clay, drawing the form of the sculpture and transferring it to the stone”. This is a very broad statement which is not true in all cases. Barbara Hepworth did not use models before commencing on her sculptures, unless required by a commission, conceiving the sculpture in her mind. Similarly, I have talked to other sculptors who find the form of their sculpture by working on the wood/stone and seeing where it leads them to, with no clear idea at the outset.
One thing I do know at the outset of this stage is that I will not be working with stone. Having done a short evening class in stone carving and lost the feeling in some of my fingers for about a month, I know that this is not a good area for me to explore.
I will therefore try plaster as detailed in the course notes, and possibly also wood (although I may experience similar problems to stone if the wood is hard).
An area I enjoy is mixed media, so I will try to explore using more than one material in at least some of the sculptures.
- Volcano shape
- Mounds like those of termites (continuing residencies theme)
- Water worn gorge. Cast block and cut in half and carve inside
- Cavern (similar idea to the above)
- Curved tall shape with hole and radiating lines from it
- Add string to a plaster sculpture in a way similar to Henry Moore’s ‘Head: Lines, 1955’?
Some sketches of some of my ideas:
Whilst this course is great in introducing many different methods of producing sculptures, I find it difficult to find inspiration at the start of each section when changing mediums and techniques.
This is the design I decided to go with:
I am not massively inspired by this design, but as this stage is about practicing to carve I will stop procrastinating and get on and carve this sculpture.
Clay and drawings
A clay model of the sculpture:
And a couple of large charcoal sketches of it:
As my design was for a more rectangular shape, I produced the cast block in this shape rather than waste a lot of plaster.
Henry Moore ‘Composition, 1931’
This sculpture was obviously modelled in clay or something similar before being carved in stone. This doesn’t seem to be a unified sculpture to me. The lines carved into it don’t seem to match the rounded form of the rest of the sculpture and look a little like an afterthought. Whilst you can see the references to the female figure in this work, it doesn’t gel together and just looks odd to me.
Barbara Hepworth ‘Two Forms, 1937’
These are two very pleasing forms which evoke a sense of calmness and serenity.
Barbara Hepworth ‘Pierced Form, 1931’
This is an odd shaped sculpture which is difficult to appreciate from the photograph. I can’t believe that Hepworth made a model for this sculpture before starting, it looks like it has taken its form whilst carving the stone.
Fritz Wotuba ‘Reclining Figure, 1960’
This is an interesting piece which is quite unusual in its geometric hard edges shapes which makes it look more constructed that carved out of stone.
Isamu Noguchi ‘Black Sun, 1961-2’ and ‘Study from a mill stone, 1961’
These are interesting forms and could be adapted to suit the circle of a tree trunk?
Etienne Hajdu ‘Delphine, 1960’
A very 2D sculpture which looks appealing in its simplicity and defined edges.
Morice Lipsi ‘Volvic Stone, 1958’
This is another interesting angular shape which could offer some inspiration for my work.
Henry Moore ‘Reclining Figure, 1945’
I have seen this sculpture, or one similar, in the Henry Moore exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. It is an impressive piece of work, but I’m not sure it needs to be in wood. It doesn’t seem to benefit in any way from being in this medium as opposed to plaster/bronze/etc.
Barbara Hepworth ‘Single Form, 1935’
Am I missing something or is this just a sphere of wood? I can’t say this does anything for me.
William Turnbull ‘Llama, 1961’ and ‘Oedipus, 1962’
Whilst these sculptures do not appeal to me, the use of different materials to create a carved stacked sculpture does and could offer me some ideas for my own work.
Constantin Brancusi ‘The Sorceress, 1916’ and ‘Adam and Eve, 1921’
These are interesting wood carvings which are constructed in sections and pieced together on top of each other in a totem pole type arrangement. Using wood from my wood pile, this type of arrangement might work for me.
Constantin Brancusi ‘The Cock, 1924’
This is a much more simple shape and although probably carved in two pieces, works as a single piece on a base rather than a stacked arrangement as with the two pieces above. A simple shape like this could be a good starting point for my carving.
Ursula von Rydingsvard ‘Doolin, 1995-7’
Ursula carves cedar planks using a circular saw and places these planks together to form her large scale sculptures. I saw some of her work at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and they were very impressive.
Shigeo Toya ‘Woods, 1987’
These Japanese artist uses a chainsaw to produce his carvings from tree trunks. This sculpture has very interesting abstract shapes carved into it and the colouring from charring and white acrylic paint works well together.
Tucker, W. (1992). The Language of sculpture. New York: Thames and Hudson.
Collins, J. (2007). Sculpture today. London: Phaidon Press Limited.
Hepworth, B. and Bowness, S. (2011). Barbara Hepworth, the plasters. Farnham, Surrey: Lund Humphries.
My tutor left some very positive feedback about my submission for this assignment.
For ‘Bell Pit’ he suggested that the wooden blocks they sit on are too heavy and large against the subtlety of the bronze and suggested fixing them directly to the surface of a white plinth or shelf. Looking at these again this seems obvious – I think I need to revisit my sculptures after some time has passed to make an assessment on how successful they are and what can be improved.
He suggested that ‘The flick 2’ could be expanded into a series of casts of my hand, but I would need to reflect more on what the sculptures are about. I could see how this would work and I may return to this idea at a later point.
He suggested experimenting with hot wax on the gaps or the positive form in order to deepen the relief and seal the gaps. It took me a while to get my head around what he was saying here, but now I have it sounds like a good way of working, the smooth sections between the branches are not ideal, despite roughening up the surface of the clay before casting, this would increase the 3D effect of the branches and increase the contrast by providing dark shadows.
‘Esther’ – he commented that it is a good idea to work from life and not the drawings – I tried modelling from sketches in my initial attempt, but for this sculpture it was actually modelled from life, with a few quick sketches of certain areas to remind myself of sections of the form whilst finishing off. He commented that the figure fells too unformed in its arms and waist. These are fair comments, but I think more down to this being an early attempt to model the figure and that despite being modelled from life, I was restricted to mostly doing it from one angle of view.
On my landscape series, he would like to see more writing about my ideas for a sculpture and research that relates to the ideas or inspiration for the work. I produced artist statements for each print for my printing course assessment and I will do the same now for my sculptures.
He felt the steel grid base was overly complicated in relation to the form it holds and that I could consider just using the four spikes to really heighten the tension in the work. I can see how this would work if viewed from level with the piece or even below it, but I think it would get lost if viewed from above which is the more likely viewing position. A local gallery owner thinks that this sculpture could be developed into sellable pieces, so I may have a go at trying this suggestion out in the future.
As expected, he picked up on this as an area which needs work, saying that I need to be more rigorous with my drawings. I do find this hard as I am reasonably happy with my drawing of existing objects, but when creating work I see the form in my mind and struggle to represent it well on paper. What looks like a scrappy drawing in my sketchbook is a fully formed sculpture in my head! I need to work on making this work better for other people to view.
Suggested reading and viewing
Tim Shaw’s sculptures use figures to tell a story. His work ‘Soul Snatcher Possession’ (2012) is very disturbing, full size figures in cloth appear as if on a stage, acting out some kind of ritual. The tights fabric stretched over the faces is reminiscent of a bank robber or something being used to smother or tie up and gag the figures. I’m not sure what is taking place, but it’s obviously not nice!
‘Middle World’ (1989 – 2009) also looks disturbing, although it is hard to tell what the figures are doing from small images on the web.
‘Man on Fire’ (2009) is a very powerful sculpture, showing a burning figure running with the top of the torso a mass of flames, on a base with the words “What god of love inspires such hatred in the hearts of men”. An extremely potent political and religious statement about the troubles in Ireland, based on a personal experience in Belfast.
‘Casting a Dark Democracy’ (2010) is another sculpture which makes a powerful political statement, this time about the war in Iraq. An Abu Graihb prisoner made from steel, barbed wire, black Polythene and electrical cable is in an almost crucifixed pose, towering over a pool of crude oil in the shape of the figure’s shadow.
Riflemaker.org, (2015). Riflemaker Contemporary Art | The Riflemaker Gallery | Tot Taylor and Virginia Damtsa Tim Shaw. [online] Available at: http://www.riflemaker.org/s-tim-shaw [Accessed 26 Jul. 2015].
Shaw, T. (2015). Tim Shaw. [online] Timshawsculptor.com. Available at: http://timshawsculptor.com/ [Accessed 26 Jul. 2015].
Giuseppe Penone sculpts out of wood mostly, or uses natural materials or forms in his work. In ‘Spazio di Luce’ 2012 he sculpts a tree with branches, then carves out the centre of the trunk and textures it as tree bark before casting it in bronze. The centre of the tree is then covered in gold leaf and the result is a very striking sculpture.
‘Spazio di Luce’ means “space of light”, the empty space of the tree coated in gold giving the light. It was created by adding layers of wax over the tree, so the internal wax side shows the bark of the tree whilst the outside of the wax still looks like tree bark, but shows the fingerprints of the people making the wax covering. He uses the branches to hold the pieces upright, making them look like they could walk. He then leaves some branches unattached to let in points of light along the tree trunk.
Looking at other work such as ‘Albero Porta—Cedro / Door Tree—Cedar’ (2012), he often carves trees from the centre of larger trees, or beams in some cases. Reading further it is his intention to reveal the past life of the tree by sculpting the smaller tree within it.
He creates some fantastic sculptures by focussing in on trees in this way – I will keep an eye out for his work.
Whitechapel Gallery, (2015). The Bloomberg Commission: Giuseppe Penone: Spazio di Luce – Whitechapel Gallery. [online] Available at: http://www.whitechapelgallery.org/exhibitions/the-bloomberg-commission-giuseppe-penone-spazio-di-luce/ [Accessed 26 Jul. 2015].
Gagosian.com, (2015). Giuseppe Penone – Gagosian Gallery. [online] Available at: http://www.gagosian.com/artists/giuseppe-penone/selected-works [Accessed 26 Jul. 2015].
Yoo, A. (2012). Young Tree Carved Inside Old Tree. [online] My Modern Met. Available at: http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/guiseppe-penone-the-hidden-life-within [Accessed 26 Jul. 2015].
YouTube, (2015). The Bloomberg Commission: Giuseppe Penone: Spazio di Luce. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwe5wDgARCw [Accessed 26 Jul. 2015].