The subtitle of this blog is Keeping Sculpture Light, and I guess it’s about time to explain why that is. As a student at the Art Students League of New York I studied painting and printmaking – painting with Knox Martin and print with Seong Moy. These are art forms in which dimension is expressed through illusion and depth through colour.The deep space in a painting is created on the impossibly thin substrate of the painting, in this case example a sheet of acrylic.
When I started to create sculptures, I didn’t want to abandon lightness of touch or colour of painting. The traditional weight of serious sculpture didn’t interest me. In some respects, I felt that massive great sculptures had much less sense of space than the illusion of space in a painting. And they even change very little as you walk around them.
After studying painting, I began to exhibit in New York, beginning with 2 dimensional works. These paintings gradually began to explore 3D space through cutouts and openings which revealed the wall behind them. Some were constructed using collage and layering which built them out from the wall. These artworks grew into my first sculptures, which wall all wall based reliefs. These were large and ambitious, but still hug the wall and kept a lightness. but which were began as cutouts which created openings and physical depth in the painting. Eventually these developed into large wall reliefs.
LIGHTNESS THROUGH STORYTELLING
It was at this point that the other element which gives lightness to the work appeared – telling a story. And not any story, but one which pointed to an ethereal lightness which could reach beyond the physicality of the object. These relief sculptures carried their physical weight lightly, forming a dialogue between the plastic nature of 3 dimensional work and a narrative of flowing spirituality. My first exhibition, at Tin Temples at 112 Greene St.in NY, was an exploration of contemporary religious icons – the cinema, the car, the resort hotel. The works told a story, one that pointed toward a striving for a higher plane.
LIGHTNESS THROUGH THE ETHEREAL
This form of lightness is evident in the works which make up the Dante series, a sculpture series which has been exhibited widely.Using the poetry of Dante, I created a large number of sculptures which were based on the original Italian text. A poem which has a beauty of language but which also echoes with the depths of images of heaven and hell, this provided the foil for the heaviness of sculptures. In the Poetry Angel, now in the collection of the city of Ravenna and permanently displayed in the 12th century Bilbioteca Classense, the subject and technique all conspire to give what is essentially a large, heavy steel sculpture a transparency and lightness. The use of text in the sculpture emphasizes the idea over the solid object.
Sometimes the modular flow questions the nature of sculpture itself, making sculptural letters and words which form a ‘rebus’ of meaning.
LIGHTNESS THROUGH COLLABORATION
Since settling in London, I have created a large number of sculptures for the public realm. Like the work in Ravenna, these sculptures incorporate openness in their design. the ‘open’ design allows in the sky and surrounding trees and buildings. This gives even the largest, heaviest of sculptures a delicateness which makes them less likely to seem imposing and overwhelming.
In a previous post, I explained my dedication to the idea of collaboration in public sculpture. An example of this attempt to work with communities to create works which have more meaning to the people who will live with the final artwork, was the ASPIRE sculpture for Thames Reach Employment Academy. This sculpture was created with the involvement of formerly homeless clients of the charity. In this way the finished sculpture hopefully avoids some of the heaviness of ego and self explanation common to much contemporary art. Not only is it accessible to the users of the services, it was actually made with them.
Another example of this philosophy of working collaboratively is As Far as the Eye Can See. created for Greenwich, with support of the Arts Council. Here, children’s response to their environment was incorporated into the design, both in creation and in the physical aspect of the final piece. Through it, one can see the cityscape which inspired it.
These ideas have been important to me since I began making sculpture. For this reason, I have developed several strategies to allow sculpture to remain open and fluid despite large scale and massive weight. These have included
An openness of design – allowing light and surroundings to penetrate the sculpture.
An openness to collaboration – in public work, incorporating ideas and designs developed in workshops with local people who will live with the final sculpture.
And the use of story – a narrative can point to something beyond the mere physical nature of a work of art.
With these guiding principles, I have pursued my quest to Keep Sculpture Light.