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Artist Spotlight

Artist Spotlight - Michael Binkley

The following is an interview with Canadian sculptor Michael Binkley of Vancouver, British Columbia. Here he responds to an interview questionnaire.

Tell us about your life history related to being an artist. Why did you become an artist?

I was born in Toronto, Ontario in 1960, and my father's company moved us to Vancouver, BC in 1966. I have always been interested in art, and had an aptitude towards creating it on paper. I could draw and paint, and got my first set of oils form my grandmother when I turned 12. I loved to paint, and pursued art as an elective through high school. My whole family kept saying "You should be an artist when you grow up." But like many laypersons, I did not think one could actually make a living at being an artist. So, I wanted to become an architect, and chose my education in that direction. However, after two miserable years at the University of British Columbia, I found my left brain was losing the battle.

 

What key life experience affected your direction in your art?

In the spring of 1980, I decided to take an art history course, offered by Capilano College, wherein the class went to Florence, Italy, to study Renaissance art. Instead of seeing slides of the artworks, we got to go to the cathedrals and museums, and see them first hand. I thought it would be a kick to go, and a chance to get to Europe. It was there that I was introduced to Michelangelo's David, and the four unfinished Captives at the Accademia. Sure, I'd seen pictures, but they can never convey the power of the real thing. I remember returning a few times to sit in front of those four unfinished sculptures, and realizing I could see what Michelangelo was trying to say. It was not until several years later that I recognized that I was actually finishing the carving in my head. I could see the completed sculptures. I guess that was my epiphany, my calling, if you will.

 

When I returned home, I asked George Pratt (of Vancouver B.C.) if! could work with him for a summer in his studio. He had been in business with my uncle, but at that time had quit the furniture business, and had turned his hobby of stone carving into his career. He agreed to let me work, but in an unusual arrangement. The classic apprenticeship calls for the protege to pay the master. But George paid me to work on his large commissions, doing grunt work, and in the process, learning about tools and stone. In my spare time, I got to work on my own projects. I remember having a devil of a time with my first piece, which was a dolphin. I had so much experience at trying to make a two dimensional surface look three dimensional. Being confronted with a 3D piece of Texas limestone got my brainhand coordination in a knot. But all of a sudden, it clicked. Don't get me wrong, I was not as talented as most of our new members are right off the bat. I look back at my work of 20 years ago and cringe! But it was the best I could do with the experience I had. I was learning as I went.

 

My father bought my first piece as a corporate presentation gift to an associate of his who was retiring to Florida. I hope that fellow still has it-I put a #1 on the bottom beside my signature. I worked for George for the summer of 1980. During that time, he convinced me that with the right approach, one could make a living as an artist. He showed me how to have your own exhibitions in your home, and how to get into galleries, in order to sell your work. But it wasn't instant success. So, I got a job at a grocery store, stocking shelves -as my "real" job, and worked off-days at George's shop. He was very helpful-I pitched in what I could for stone and supplies, but it was never enough to compensate for what I consumed. Eventually, George had to move his studio, as Expo '86 was being built on the site.

We moved to a location just off Granville Island, and set up a studio/ gallery space. It was very successful, and I managed to contribute more, but it was never a 50-50 split. I guess George really had confidence in me. In the summer of 1985, he told me it was time for me to set out on my own. I've learned so much of the business of sales from George, and am so thankful to him. So, I attribute my artistic career to two people: Michelangelo for the inspirational "why", and George Pratt for the "how".

 

I bought a house in North Vancouver that backed onto industrial land. My father and I built a small garage studio, and I used the living room as my gallery. That fall, I started my own gallery, Stone Images. In 1987, I had enough sales of my sculpture to support me, and I quit the grocery store job. Now I am a full time sculptor, and the breadwinner of the family. Those bills are a real incentive to get up and at 'er in the morning! Some may criticize me for being somewhat of a prostitute, making sculpture that wi II sell, but I feel that I combine projects that are purely from my heart with those that are commissioned. And hey-isn't that what we all dream for-to be professional?

 

I'm completely self-represented. I tried the gallery and high end gift store route in the 80's, and some of those outlets worked very well. But none were able to sell enough for me to live.on. In 1986, I started to sell at the local market at the Lonsdale Quay (like Pike Place in Seattle). Every weekend for five years, my wife Michelle and I lugged sculptures and display paraphernalia down there, set up and did our song and dance. We sold a lot of sculpture that way, and trained our clients to come to the house to see more. That, coupled with our two shows each year (the Studio Show in late November, and the Garden Sculpture Show in May) increased OlIf client base to the point where we were in the position to be selfsustaining from sculpture sales. Now I get a call every few months from some gallery wanting to show my work, which is a nice feeling. But they all want to work on consignment, and I can only work with outright purchase, so Stone Images Gallery is the only place to buy my work.

 

In 1997, we were finally in a financial position to realize a separate gallery to show and sell my sculptures. This has been a real blessing, as it has given us back our private space. We had a 1000 sq. ft. addition built, consisting of a gallery and an office. The space has won praise from our clients, as they feel welcomed and relaxed, making their experience with buying art a pleasure. Our contractor also won an award for his design. The gallery has lots of windows to let in natural light, and to see out into the sculpture garden. The 24' ceiling and exposed trusses give the space the feel of a New England barn, or a warehouse garret loft.

 

In March, I entered cyberspace with my own website (www.BinkleySculpture.com). I maintain it, and try to update it every two weeks Of so. I've learned the medium is very complex, but it should be worth the effort. Michelle and I track the stats on the site, and so far there are a lot of people looking, all over the world. Kind of eerie. I am using the site so far as a support tool. I get many reqnests for photographs from clients, and the site has saved a lot of time and expense. I'm skeptical as to someone surfing to buy sculpture, but maybe some of those "lookers" will surprise me.

 

Who and what influenced your artform?

My favourite subject matter is the human nnde. That's Michelangelo's influence. As to other influencesI would have to say "Life". There is no one artist in particular that I could say is an influence on me. I am always bumping into new artist's worksome move me some don't. Just as all life experiences affect one-some influence you to the point of addlng a new slant to your work.

 

What kind of art do you create?

I divide my subject matter into three categories: figurative, animal and pure abstract. I've concentrated on representational work mostly. My thinking is that until you have a handle on proportion, balance, and line, you aren't going to be able to create good pure abstract art. I tried it long ago-thinking that if someone could splash a blue stripe on a red background, call it "Voice of Fire" and sell it for 1.5 million dollars, why can't I? My first forays into abstract-painting and sculpture-were terrible. I feel more confident in my representational abilities now, and so am finding most of my abstract compositions are pleasing, or at least better.

 

A recent interesting project was the transformation of an earlier piece. I did a life-size sculpture of Eve in the Garden of Eden, just after she had bitten the forbidden fruit. She was seductively posed, the apple concealed in her left hand behind her back. The serpent was coiled about her feet, and reaching up to lick the apple. I called it the Temptation of Adam. Loads of symbolism. Few viewers got it. They didn't.walk around the sculpture.

 

I was happy with her when I finished it. But as the years went by, and I became disenchanted with her, I thought I'd rework her. So off with her head, her legs, and arms! She got a spine, lost weight in her butt and hips, and I plunked the apple right there in front of her. Voila, Temptation of Adam II. A much more dramatic sculpture, and everyone gets it now.

 

I've been asked, why torsos, and not complete figures? I like the expressive power of the torso. I find that the whole figure can sometimes negate the expressive power of the torso, especially in stone. I think the whole figure lends itself more to the medium of bronze. One of my clients said she does not like figures with a head and face, as they make her associate them with someone she might know. She prefers to complete a torso's limbs and head in her imagination. I agree with her. Temptation of Adam is a good example.

 

Another recent piece is "Torsion". I used a piece of Jim Gill's "magic"pink alabaster. (He calls it magic, as anything I make from it sells first at an exhibition-until now!) Tbe female torso is quite nice, in a twisted composition. . But what Michelle noticed is that there is an unusual amount of negative space in the piece- more than] have included in the past. I call it "pushing" the stone. But I don't want to go too far. I like to keep the "stoniness" in my sculptures.

How do you develop ideas?

I direct carve almost exclusively. I never leamed the process of doing maquettes first, so have not pursued that route. I wi II, however, make drawings for a client first to help them to better understand what I will carve for them. And if I ever get that big commission, I'll for certain make a maquette or two to get the kinks out. I just find that with most stones, one cannot be certain of what's on the inside of a block. I would not want to be tied down to a blueprint model, as the stone may have an interesting veining happen deep inside that would encourage a subtle or drastic change in composition. As T mentioned, I see the finished sculpture already before I begin, and just take away what's not supposed to be there. I see the end result, as opposed to seeing it develop along the way. I guess I see what the stone is saying to me, and go after it. For the most part, I don't spend a lot of time communing with a stone before I begin. I'm quite brutal. I look at a piece, decide quickly what I'm going to create, and get down to it. I'm impatient, so I like to finish one piece before starting another. Every now and then, I get itchy to make a largish piece on spec, and then I will have it ongoing as I work in tandem on smaller projects. I must always think of those bills, so the commissioned sculptures always take precedence.

What size or scale is your sculpture?

I work in scale from something that will fit into the palm of your hand, to something that will fit into a park, or plaza. I prefer life size to about half life size scale. This affords me the latitude I like to create, but I still have a way to go to be able to subsist on the sales of those scaled works.

 

What stone do you prefer to carve?

I like all carvable stones. I stay away from soapstone for its stigma. There are a lot of folks who think that the only sculptors working in stone today are Inuit, and that they carve soapstone. I love marble most, particularly statuario. It has an integrity, crystal structure and workability that I've not found in any other marble.

 

What tools do you use?

I mostly use diamond abrasive tools-angle grinders, bench grinders, die grinders, etc. ( I've yet to try the hydraulic diamond chainsaw ... ) If I'm working on a larger piece, I'll use pneumatic chisels. I like the sensation of the chisels-they seem to be the "real" way to carve. It's just faster to remove stone with diamond. (He says he's interested in the possibilities of the high pressure water cutter for stone.) My impatience precludes my using hand tools, but if all I had to do for a few years was the great piece, and there was no deadline, I'd dig into a Carrara quarry block with hammer and chisel.

 

How much sculpture do you complete in a year?

If you include all the flower vases, and small animal and bird sculptures, I produce close to 200 sculptures a year. I figure I've made over 5,000 in my career (one contract alone for a Japanese client was for 1,000 white dove sculptures!)

 

Do you teach?

I don't fancy myself a great teacher. I do workshops at the NWSSA Symposiums, but aside from that, I don't teach. My shop isn't big enough for classes, and the city zoning would not permit it anyway.

 

Why is art important to you?

Being around art-paintings, sculpture, architecture, music, prose - is an essential for Michelle and me. Art communicates from one human being to another on an emotional level, as opposed to a purely mental level, such as most technology does. Creating art is essential to me. I think that is what is meant by the saying "an artist must suffer". It's not that we have to endure physical hardship (that happens to everyone). The suffering is that we artists need to create-we can never turn it off. We are always thinking out the next sculpture in our heads. It's not like other jobs where one can walk away after a 9-5 work day. Our work follows us everywhere, all the time. Now fortunately for me, my "suffering" is not a hardship. I just get annoyed when I get a great idea, and can't get hold of a piece of paper and pencil to write it down or draw it!

What is your relation to NWSSA?

I joined NWSSA in 1992, at the suggestion of George Pratt. I'm so glad I did. I've met so many wonderful people, who share my same insane passion for getting extremely dirty. All for the love of trying to make a rock look a little more beautiful. I am humbled that there is so much talent in our organization, and I am honoured to be among you all. I love the symposiums, but cannot get to them all. Unlike some of the members who make the symposiums their holidays, this is my work, and I like to vacation where there isn't a chisel around ... I have been an instructor at workshops at past symposia, and will again insttuct at the September '99 Thetis Island Symposium. I will come to Camp Brotherhood (July '99) for a day trip to visit.

 

What is your life philosophy? How does your art reflect that?

We are here to be the best at whatever we can do, and to enjoy our time as best we can on this earth-plane. If we are to be shit shovelers, we should be the best damn ones around. Never risk more than you are willing to lose. Take baby steps. Always observe-never stop looking. I try to approach life in a very pragmatic, and realistic way. I try to set realistic goals, and go about achieving them in a practical way. I love to carve stone, the process of removing what I don't feel should be there to realize what I hope is a beautiful artwork. If it brings pleasure to someone else, then my accomplishment is enriched. I am not into making big political statements, or exploring sensitive issues. I just feel that I want to make a small corner of the world a little more beautiful.

 

My wife and I are blessed with curiosity. We want to explore as much of this earth as we can while we are here-the physical locations and the emotional responses they lnspire in us. If we had the financial means, we would go to as many places as we could. But by the same token, we are very grounded in our home environment, and love to be here. Our house and garden are our sanctuary, and we feel whole when here.

 

What have been your satisfactions in your life as an artist?

Being able to play every day and get paid for it. Getting my hands to do what my mind and heart see. Hearing from a client how much they enjoy my work, how the piece has affected them, and having them caress a piece of my sculpture.

 

What have been your obstacles or challenges?

Still not having been able to do the great piece. I have wooed clients for almost 20 years, and still haven't gained the confidence to have a large sculpture commission. I see more and more cities adopting public art programs and bylaws which restrict my ability to directl y sell to "tall building clients". Instead, open competitions are the only option, and while on the surface these might look like great opportunities for artists, they really are not.

 

Art by committee usually results in mediocre (at best!) art. These competitions are so wrought with problems and elitist mentalities that the public they are supposed to serve gets forgotten. The competitions are usually directed by a government body (municipal or state/ provincial), and are another example of how government should really stay out of the way of private enterprise.

What are you looking forward to (goals, wild ideas)?

If things go surprisingly well.... Finally winning a competition! My record is 0-71, with two more in the judging stage. Also to go to Pietrasanta for a month and carve statuario marble in one of the studios there. Many of the members have done it already, and I salivate over it. Another goal is to rebuild my studio. I have a much better understanding of what my working needs are, and the tools I use have changed since I built the first one, so I would like a different setup.

 

Cheers, Michael

Artist Spotlight - Joyce Taylor

This is an interview with sculptor Joyce Taylor of Shelter Bay, La Conner. She is a regular at the yearly NWSSA summer symposium at Camp Brotherhood. She's been a member for eight years and is an unassuming 'jewel" among us. At 70 (and getting younger), she has created an array of beautiful work in many styles and media over a period of some 2S years. She is always interested in improvlng and challenging her skills. I suggest seeking her out for feedback on your work, as I have on many occasions.

We start by looking at her work around her home: "Introspection", a large and gorgeous piece in Carrara marble, which she roughed out while working at a studio in Italy. Then, "Moods of the Sea", a waveform in alabaster, and "Leroy", a head in dark terra-cotta with dark patina.

 

"Quiet Opposition" is a beautiful, non-representational form describing two people having a slight disagreement, hand-tooled in alabaster. She integrated the base block with the stone, leaving a lumpy organic texture, done by wire brushing the alabaster until smooth and soft looking. We look at her large "Frog" in translucent alabaster, seemingly ready to hop, also carved with an integrated base. We look at her life-like fox head, "Red Fox", in bronze with red patina.

 

JT: I did that in Scottsdale with an AnimaIier. He showed up one day and said, "In four hours I want a skull done." We did the skull in the mODling and started putting on the muscles in the afternoon; I learned a lot by this "building up" process.

 

With "Torso" in alabaster, polishing that bottom was the most sensuous thing in the world. It's always difficult when doing a torso to know how to end up in the shoulders and arms. It's so hard not to have it be static. You've got to have some movement in it.

 

SS: In forms like this (abstracted torso form) do you have a sense of trying to express something in particular?

JT: It just happens. Usually before I start a piece of stone, I set it out somewhere for two or three weeks. Every so often I turn it and look at it. Then some morning I say "Hmmm" and off! go, carving the stone. It's just there and you begin to get a rapport with it; it's sort of neat.

 

SS: How long have you been carving and creating?

JT: Twenty-five years.

SS: How did you get started?

JT: I had to have a wrist operation, so I quit work as an economist and securities analyst. While I was recovering I went to a community college class called "You Can Draw", taught by a little old lady. No matter what anyone did it was "marvelous". She was an enormously positive person and made everyone want to do more. I had a grand time.

 

One day I sat down and did a portrait of John Wayne. I don't know why, as I don't even like John Wayne. When my husband came home he took a look and said "Oh my God" (positively impressed). So, at Christmas he gave me a year at the Laguna School of Art. I never had any art training before that and Ijust took off. I tried watercolors, printmaking, terra-cotta sculpture, and lots of life drawing. [' m a strong advocate of life drawing and sculpture at the same time. Nothing teaches your eye to see like life drawing.

 

My terra-cotta class instructor handed me a piece of stone, a chisel and a hammer, and said "Make something."  (Joyce brings out a "primitive" carving of a salmon). That was my first stone piece.

 

This is the only piece I've ever done that I have had to explain. "Flight of Childhood" is a child form held by a parent's hand while the child is trying to spread his wings. (It has a very mystical quality to it.)

 

(We look at her indoor carving area, a 12' x 12' room incorporated into the garage. A Foredom flex shaft grinder hangs next to an alabaster waveform in progress.)

JT: Ever so often I have to do a piece of stone by hand. You have so much more rapport with the stone when you do. Otherwise I use power tools. (We look at "Crow" in fossiliferous limestone). We did not enjoy working together. The stone was hard to carve and dirty.

 

She direct carves her large waveforms in alabaster.) "This is the fifth one I've done, and let me tell you, they sell." She mounts the colorful alabaster sculpture on a polished black Belgian marble base. We look at other works in progress around the studio: "Leroy", a torso fonn in terra-cotta with applied patina. We look at a 24" high clay figure to be cast in bronze. We look at her clay maquette for a large bear, which is now being roughed out in marble.

JT: Unfortunately, the piece of Carrara marble for the bear is so valuable that he's sat for three years with his head just a block. The stone is from the same vein that Michelangelo used for "David". And now that vein is quanied out.

 

(We talk about her trip to Pietrasanta, Italy, where she studied and worked for two months at the Silverio Paoli studio.)

 

JT: It was absolutely grand. You went through these old wood doors into a 30' high studio, then into a courtyard with an overhead grape arbor. You look up the hill to the old battlements. I elected to work outside under the grape arbor, which was delightful. We worked until 1100n, then bought lunch in the local market, then worked until fi ve. It was HOT! We'd shower and go out for wine, bumping into people from all over: Russia, Japan. Dinner (multi-course meal at the pension) was at 9 pm, so at I pm you had to go for a walk. Then it was back to the studio at 7:30 the next morning. Silverio, master of the studio, was a grand person. He would take us around, get us stone, and show us various outstanding sculptors' studios. His son, a master at finishing, would teach liS finishing techniques while Silverio translated. Tools were abundant and my fecding frenzy got expensive.

 

(We continue the tour to an enclosed side yard).

 

JT: This is my outside worktable with my compressor nearby in a sound shield enclosure. r have three pneumatic handpieces, but really like the smallest, a Y2" Cuturi, the best. You can cut the air back on that one and go anyplace. (We look at a fine collection of carbide-tipped chisels for her air-powered handpieces.)

 

(We look at her photos).

 

JT: You have to be so careful of what you say when someone wants to buy something. I couldn't use a person's name as a sculpture title for pieces in the Laguna Beach Gallery. The owner felt that someone might love the sculpture, but might have a bad association with the name. This bronze figure, called "Apprehension", was too strong to live with. A couple saw a photo of it and tlew over from Idaho

to buy it. She thought it was "the sweetest thing", where I saw it as an ominous and threatening figure. I had to keep my mouth shut.

 

SS: You seem so fluent in realistic, abstract, and nonrepresentational styles. For example, "Torso", an abstracted torso form, seems both realistic and abstracted, as if it could be seen both ways. Is that a conscious choice on your part?

JT: I put a twist or turn in everything I do, absolutely unconsciously. It just happens. (Looking at another photo). This is a large clay figure called "Pathos", an emaciated figure in a tattered shawl. This is the first of a series representing the emotions.

SS: Do you find you prefer modeling clay or carving?

JT: I like them all. That's the problem with art, there's so much you could do, but you can't do it all.

 

SS: With "Wild Horse", did you model or draw before you carved? You get such a good sense of movement.

JT: I walked near a pasture where a horse was kept. I fed him lots of carrots and I'd feel his nose, and his bones.

 

SS: How much do you work through galleries?

JT: I sold through a gallery in Laguna Beach for years. The gallery owner and I had excellent rapport, important for a continuing relationship. We liked each other. I ended up selling from my home studio when we moved to Gig Harbor.

 

(Now living in La Conner, WA, she is showing at the Galen Gallery in Mt Vernon, WA, and, in her home.)

 

SS: (We look at a piece called "Discovery", a non-representational form with plane and concave elements, in gray-white Carrara marble.) Were you inspired by the stone's original shape?

JT: No, the previous piece was very demanding and I wanted to have some fun with this one. I didn't know where I was going with it so I cut a plane here, a plane there, then I thought "How am I going to relate these?" You've been there. I had fun with it.

 

(We look at a photo of "Seal", coming out of the water.)

 

JT: It was in a show in Tacoma. I was delighted because it was purchased by a Seattle architect for his entrance lobby. It's quite a large piece and I was thrilled that an architect bought it. It's interesting that over one-third of my work has gone to corporations or professional offices. The first piece I ever sold went to the 3M Corporation.

 

SS: Were you creating art when you were working in the securities business?

JT: No, I didn't know that I could draw. When I was young I drew a child's stick figures of the family, and my mother said, "You haven't much talent, have you?" I thought no, I guess 1 don't. I never did another thing until I took up art in my forties. I guess it was meant to be.

 

SS: It sounds as if you just woke up one day and started work.

JT: I explored different art mediums, but the stone bug bit. When the stone bug bites, you stay bitten. Stone's challenge is enduring.

 

(We look at "Jonah and the Whale", a terra-cotta form created by an instructor's assignment to combine human and animal forms.)

 

SS: Do you ever teach sculpture? I think you'd be a great instructor with such diverse talent.

JT: In the summer, sculptor friends worked with me at my studio. I thoroughly enjoy helping people with the relationship with their stone. But I get frustrated when I find that people are sometimes reluctant to really get into the stone. They seem to want to put the eyes in right away in an animal, or human face. I like to say "Come on, let's get the form first, shut your eyes and see into a mist and look at the form, forget the detail for a while." It's hard to get people to do that.

 

SS: I know you're involved and interested in many art forms, but are you primarily a sculptor?

JT: Yes. As a sculptor you have to become very observant. One of the most interesting things we did at the summer symposium was when Rlch Hestekind had us pair up and walk into the woods to observe what we were drawn to in a natural setting. A twig and leaf on the water - you have to let yourself see. (Since then she's noticed how unobservant people can be). Observe the world, it's just marvelous!

 

When I started carving I had a free source of stone, so I never had any fear of the cost. As a result I pushed stone to its limits and thought "so what" if things went badly. Well, I pay for stone now but I've learned not to be afraid of it. I thoroughly enjoy stone carving and I will do it as long as I enjoy it. When I was showing in Laguna Beaeh I was a resident artist and I worked full time at it and I liked it very much. I feel I had more growth then than now. You don't grow unless you challenge yourself.

 

She talks about her next creative challenge being portraiture in stone and and  notes some fear about "getting it right". Her advice for other artists: "Enter juried shows. But don't do it until you find out who the jurors are."

 

She recounts being rejected for a show because "stone sculpture is passe, it needs to be incorporated with ntixed media", according to this juror.

 

JT: It's your job to find out about the jurors and their background. You're wasting your time if you don't. They may be into completely abstract art, or may be completely into realism.

 

I was fortunate when I started because I entered a juried show. I won Best of Sculpture and Best of Show. I got a call from a Laguna Beach gallery owner who said that a show juror had told her about my work and that she would accept my work sight unseen. I was in that gallery for years (Esther Wells Collection); your recognition from juried shows, if you pick the right ones, is highly valuable. It leads to contacts and phone calls.

 

Joyce's parting thoughts: "ENJOY!" Which she is obviously doing, big time. And we'd be glad to join her.

 

Thanks Joyce!

Artist Spotlight - Mark Andrew March/April l999

This is an interview with sculptor Mark Andrew of Eugene Oregon. In this interview, we started using a new process in which the individual responds to a set of written questions. This was followed by a phone conversation. This allows us to cover members who can' t be interviewed in person. The following are Mark's responses:

 

MA: Thank you to the Northwest Stone Sculptors Association for the opportunity to introduce myself to its talented membership. I have been delighted with the newsletter and thrilled with the wealth of information shared at the symposiums. I saved years of trial and error by attending the gathering at Camp Brotherhood, WA.

 

Although I am a new member, I have accepted the challenge of directing the Silver Falls Symposium August 25-29,1999. This is a big leap for me. However leaping into the unknown has been a constant in my life. Helping in the production of 40 stone carvings over five days is enormously exciting! I am pleased to step forward in service for other sculptors.

 

My personal devotion to the carving profession attained the quarter century mark this year. Seasoned by anguish and joy in seeking a livelihood with mallet and chisel, I can safely speak of myself as "experienced". I am fully devoted to my trade and have crafted my adult life to the unabashed pursuit of carving.

 

(Mark responds to questions about his history:)

MA: At seventeen, my family moved to Europe. My eyes were opened wide. Extensive travels throughout the region and school in Switzerland changed my conceptions toward lifestyle and molded my passion for artistic expression. (Mark mentions several instances of being awed by the beauty of the an he saw.)

 

Later, while studying architecture at the University of Oregon, I realized that it was the an incorporated into the building that most captured my attention. So I transferred my major to sculpture over exclamations of disappointment from my parents. They knew a successful career in art would be a very long shot

 

(After returning to Europe in search of further instruction, which he was unable to pursue due to unexpected family obligations), I returned to Oregon and sought commissions to support my learning curve. This "earn while you learn" philosophy has served me well to this day. For progress to occur, the time spent and the skills required must be rewarded.

 

I carved constantly and continuously sought opportunities that would pay. My enthusiasm was contagious and others remembered me when possibilities arose. I carved signs for restaurants and shops, murals for homes, decorated garden gates and restored broken antique furniture; anything that would cover expenses and houe my skills.

 

To immerse myself in carving, I chose community living during the 1970's. Gathering in an intentional community of people committed to simple living on beautiful land was extremely enriching. I lived my art and under these conditions talent blossomed. I have often longed for the apprenticeship experience, which is so important to passing along knowledge and philosophy_ Lacking this opportunity, I invented a time and place to teach myself the hard way.

 

I encourage group sharing and living arrangements as a survival tool for the artist Banding together may be more productive and pleasurable for many creative people. (In the 1980's he and his family wound up in Carmel California drawn by its reputation for art and high-end homes.) My growth curve surged off the chart as the financial need pushed my ambition. I said, "yes" to every job possibility. I needed the income. The "earn while you learn" philosophy was projected to new heights. Every month was a roller coaster of artistic energy and financial drama. I kept pushing all my resources toward reaching a level of support where the pressure would ease. Occasionally, I picked up blocks of stone or wood to produce sculpture on speculation. These were shown and sold at local shows. Some of the pIeces were reproduced as bronzes.

 

Truthfully, even in the well-endowed commumtles around Carmel, art remains a tough sell, but my effort was rewarded.

 

Always just in time to "chase the wolf from the door" I carved like a well-oiled machine: entry doors, furniture, limestone fIreplaces, alabaster sculptures, custom bronze hardware, murals, bronze editions of wildlife, even works in steel. It became necessary to be in the studio every day. Despite every effort, no steady "cash cow" had emerged to cover the basics. I was feeling tired.

Oregon beckoned me home in 1995. Since my return, my good fortune has brought me several carved entry door and mural commissions, a line of cast stone garden art, and the opportunity to carve and exhibit, as public art, my largest carving in limestone: "Berry Baskets" (a large work developed from a quarter scale clay model.) In 1997 I married Robin Winfree, a woman I had admired all my adult life. We set out to tear down her old barn and build a large new studio (completed last fall).

 

SS: Mark described this "dream" studio to me: this 44'x44' building includes a 22'x24' heated indoor studio with skylights and lots of windows. One wall is equipped with a heavy duty grid for clamping down slab work while working them in the vertical position (murals and doors), allowing him to see the piece as it will be seen. Work benches line one wall. His tools include table saw, welder, compressor, kiln, and a collection of Swiss haud carving tools and carbide burrs. He has also installed directional lights in each corner of this room to view his pieces in different light. Outside a set of double doors is a 3-bay carport, with 14' high roof and a major beam for hoisting big stones (this area is designated for outdoor carving and very dusty jobs). The building also includes an office/gallery space (l2'xI4') and a guest room which might one day be used by a student/apprentice.

 

MA: The foundations are laid now for decades to come where I hope a great body of sculpture will be produced. My hope had been to secure enough comnussions to stay in business full-time: however for continuous employment_ I realize that more connections have to be made over the next few years. The more people who know me. the better the opportunity to inspire work in my field. I have taught carving at the Eugene Waldorf School. as well as at the University of Oregon Craft Center. hoping to inspire young people with new possibilities in creativity_

 

My thoughts on sculpture: My attachment to sculpture is influenced by the materials of the trade and the physical effort required in pursuit of the work. The raw material is of the earth, is basic, yet already having a story to tell through spirit and geology. The carving process is pure exhilaration. Each block has history within, and I am creating history by making it into a work of art which moves forward in lime with a special status. When I am sculpting, I am channeling a stream of the very great creative energy of all life. It is very nourishing to be a conduit of that !low!

 

As a positive, inspired spark of energy, I inspire like energy aud together all this good improves the quality of life for all. Our creative time in this life cycle is short, and my intention is to leave future generations my vision of beauty. I am part of a deep continuing family of sculptors who have left their mark for the wonder and enjoyment of future people. I feel my place and sense the lingering vibrations of past masters when I see and touch their work. It is an honor to coutinue this legacy of artistic expression. All of my work has been representational. Abstract shapes have intrigued me, but never enough to produce such art. In all likelihood, the extensive commissioned work required a more straight-forward realism. My portfolio shows mainly artwork with wildlife themes and plaut forms. (He says he is moving towar-d more work with the human figure.) I keenly appreciate the harmony oflandscapes. Studying nature brings its harmony into my work.

 

I allow myself to feel deeply while carving the stone to its final form. I resonate right to the tip of the tool. Eyes, fingertips, muscles, posture, willpower: all align in a harmonious balance. All is directed toward finding the form I know is locked within.

Truthfully, I get overwhelmed sometimes. Plans change, faults appear. Riding the waves of highs aud lows takes courage. It takes courage to convince yourself that you already know the finished form. Learn each day to believe in yourself more, to trust your instincts and follow your intuition, and your sculpture will radiate.

 

Success is measured in many ways. For me, a reasonable livelihood while producing sculpture, with time to enjoy the wonders of our Earth is reward enough.

 

Sincerely, Mark Andrew.

Artist Spotlight - Hank Nelson

The following is an interview with Hank Nelson. He has been a member of NWSSA since the 1980 's when Meg Pettibone held NWSSA meetings. in her little studio in the Fremont District of Seattle. Many of us know Hank as a facilitator of power equipment at the Camp Brotherhood Symposium.

 

WL: You're one of the old !imers, aren't you. Then you've been at all the symposiums since 1987?

HN: I have been at every symposium at Camp Brotherhood since 1991.


WL: What started you becoming interested in sculpting? (We are walking back through innumerable pieces of stone equipment, metal equipment, a five-ton press, and drill presses.)

HN: In 1979 I was living in Santa Fe and I built my own adobe and stone house. I have always been interested in viewing sculpture. It had never occurred to me that I might be interested in making it. After I completed the house, some of my friends said it looked very much like a sculpture. I was going to go on to construction but the construction market fell. So I signed up for a ceramic course at UNM in Albuquerque. They didn't have a slot open so they put me in a sculpture class. That was in 1981 and that whetted my interest.


WL: So you started with clay as your original medium.

HN: Clay and wood, some small pieces of soapstone, and it evolved from there.


WL: What kind of art training did you have other than that?

HN: I never had any formal art training. My field was anthropology. In 1984 I lived in Italy for four months and a Dutchman taught me stone carving.


WL: From the looks of your yard here, I see primarily granite. You said when you first started, you did a few pieces in soapstone. Can you give me some idea how it evolved into working with granite.

HN: Let's take a walking tour and I'll show you.

 

WL: (We are going inside his huge building.) Hank, this is the dream of everybody to have a building this size to work in.

HN: This has been my dream for fifteen years. I fmally built it three years ago. It will allow me to do my stone work outside and steel fabrication inside when I get totally set up. I'm going to have welding both inside and outside. I would like to forge and continue to cast.

 

WL: (We are walking through innumerable pieces of stone equipment, metal equipment, a five-ton press and drill presses.)

HN: My first piece in Italy was a Carrara ordinario marble. It started out as a 1200 lb. piece. After two or

three months of working and learning on it, it was probably about a 700 lb. piece.

 

WL: How did you see the image that came out of this stone?

HN: I made a clay model. It was totally different than this. I fmished roughing the stone out, boxed it up and brought it back home with a container of stone. Finally I realized I had to complete it. At that point, after several years absence from it, I had to redesign it. The original design didn't work.

 

WL: It's a very organic shape with many openings and interlocking forms. It stands close to 30" tall and it is about 24" across in one dimension and about 18" across in the other dimension.

HN: A lot of my work is unfinished. I have a hard time fmishing things because I want to go on to something new.

 

WL: Do you eventually come back to the piece?

HN: Eventually I come back, but three-quarters of what I started remains unfmished.

 

WL: Why?

HN: I fmd it really mundane. I have a hard time going back and doing the fmal steps in stone-the polishing. For me there is nothing creative in that. I want to get on to something else.

 

WL: You spend all of the time trying to be the perfectionist?

HN: Yes, in fmishing and going through all the sanding stages and polishing.

 

WL: What you need, Hank, is to have a young apprentice. You teach him and in payment he has to do your finish work for you. You supervise him. Many of the old sculptors did that.

HN: That's something I would give anything for. In working with the UW art foundry, a friend of mine, Norm Taylor, a professor at UW, took me aside and suggested I do casting. So I spent the next five years doing casting. Loved casting. I still love it. It's something I want to get back into and incorporate with my stone.

 

WL: (What Hank is showing me right now are some very tall, skinny, totemic-type forms. They have faces and an inference of a human form. It reminds me very much of the things I have seen illustrated from New Guinea and also from Africa.) Where do you get the ideas to start with, Hank?

HN: I relate and respond to African art. I love the Parisian African art musemn but, while I appreciate

a great many sculptors, I don't think that I have been able to adopt any of their imagery. On all of

my cast iron work, it has evolved while I'm working on the piece. I have a general idea of what I want to do in carving it. These are all carved in negative in chemically-bonded set sand. They take hundreds of hours to carve and then I have a negative image in the sand which in turn, when I cast it, f come up with a positive image.

 

WL: Going from this iron work and the big totemic columns, some of-your ideas are starting to show in your stone work, too. Speaking about stone, what type of tools did you start with?

HN: With soapstone, I used a file, a knife, and sandpaper.

 

WL: Then when you went to Italy, you were introduced to the marble tools and the various power tools?

HN: Yes, to all of the tools.

 

WL: Do you have a preference for which tools you use?

HN: Yes, I sure do have a preference. On that piece (pointing to the Utah oolitic limestone), I couldn't have done that with any ofthe machine tools. Plus it's a very easy stone to work by hand. That was done by hand chisels, files and sandpaper. On marble, I like to use a hand point to rough it out as well as a diamond saw, if that is appropriate. My favorite tool is the Cuturi %" air hammer. I generally use four or five gradinos which are the tooth chisels. In Italy it's called the gradino. So I almost always use gradinos and a flat chisel. On granite, it's a totally different process. My diamond blade is almost always the flfst step, then to granite hand tools. I think the machine I use the most on granite is my pneumatic hammer with bushing tools. And then after that I use various chisels.

 

WL: (Hank has all his tools laid out neatly in a row.) .

HN: I'll use this big hand set all the time. They are all Trow & Holden which I think are fabulous tools. And then I go on to the ripper. This does a marvelous job in narrow places. When my bushing tools don't do the job, I use this carving chisel.

 

WL: (One of the chisels has a heavy body on it. It's a Trow & Holden pneumatic tool and it comes down to a fairly steep taper at the carbide tip. But the other one looks more like a marble tool in that its body tapers down to a very thin profile and it has not very much of a bevel on the carbide.) I would think that one would be quite fragile.

HN: No, it isn't. I've done some amazing things with it.

WL: (The carbide insert constitutes the fIrst inch and a quarter in the tool, and then its socketed into the steel differently than I've ever seen.)

HN: These are tools that I have not used yet. This is a drill.

 

WL: A double-edged star drill.

HN: It's similar to that. (It's curved as a rondel.)

 

WL: That's a nine-inch flush-cut. It's the fIrst time I've seen one. It's neat. It has eight bolts holding it down.

HN: It's an incredible blade. This is my four-and-a-half inch diamond grinding wheel (diamond cup wheel) and that is my seven inch. This is a Craftsman. I decided to try one because it has a five-year warranty.

 

WL: It looks like you're working most of your stone dry.

HN: Yes. I want to start working wet in so far as my granite polishing. This is my one inch Trow & Holden and my ~ inch Cuturi which I began carving with and that is how I carve all of my marble.

 

WL: (We're looking at another of Hank's in-work sculptures. This one is in siennese yellow marble.) Is that a modified female figure or just a play on curves and lines?

HN: It's more of a play.

 

WL: I asked you where you get your ideas, and you said the idea and the form just kept coming to you as you were working.

HN : Yes, in the cast iron.

 

WL: What about stone?

HN: No, except for the fIrst piece. For almost every one of them I have a preconceived idea. Sometimes I have a crude sketch to help guide me, but ahuost always, whether I have a sketch or not, as I get further into the stone, I realize I have to make a change here and there that I hadn't contemplated in order to come up with what my preconceived idea was and it usually happens that it comes out slightly or quite a bit different than what I had originally envisioned. I have one piece back there that is my personal Buddha. I knew exactly what I wanted when I started it and I didn't deviate. Usually I deviate. I get into the stone and I think it's going to work out better if I make this cut or do something that I hadn't plarmed on.

 

WL: So you never make a maquette, a model?

HN: No, except for the first piece of stone I carved in Italy.

 

WL: Can you describe this shop building?

HN: Yes, it's a Blue Ribbon. It's a 48' x 72' building with two walk-in doors and a 12 foot high overhead drive-in door. The purpose of the building is for me to be able to fabricate fairly large steel and iron pieces.

 

WL: At the present time it's a totally open ceiling and it is about 24 feet high to the peak.

HN: It is 13 ft. to the top of the door and about 16 feet to the eaves. I had the problem of building shelves and making them substantial enough for all my heavy steel so I bought an old warehouse.

 

WL: That's what we make our big white beginners' tent with at Camp Brotherhood.

HN: This wonderful shelving will hold thousands of pounds and I didn't have to build shelves into the walls.

 

WL: You're always running at the symposium taking care of machinery. You never get a chance to carve.

HN: Well actually, starting last summer, I realized the symposium is an incredible resource. I don't care ifI do any carving. I wanted to be out there watching and learning and I think even more so next year. I'm not going to take a piece of stone. And jf I find something there to whack away at, just for token's sake, I might.

 

WL: You feel that by being involved in helping it run, that you share in everybody's work and that you learn a tremendous amount?

HN: By getting involved in all the workshops~they were just incredible last year-and hanging out at other people's workstations. So for me, I can do my carving here and my learning there.

 

WL: How do you select your stone?

HN: I haven't bought any marble since Italy. I didn't know what I was doing at that time. I was a total novice. Now I'm fmding that when I select my granite~l've very interested in totemic imagery~1 am trying to fmd a way to do taller work such as I did in my cast iron. Some of the most recent pieces that I have done, came from dimensional stone such as that one over there (pointing to a piece of granite that is about 10" by 8" x 40" long and another piece 12" x 8" x 48" long). Until now I have been able to make one sculpture out of one block. What I'm going to do is take these two pieces and stand them upright and attach them together and that will constitute one sculpture.

 

WL: In other words, put one on top of the other?

HN: No, in width, in depth. And then either with this piece or the next, I will add in height. That's going to be tricky.

 

WL: Yes, it is, but I'm sure with all the metal you have around here and all the methods you have, you will solve it very easily. (Pointing to piece illustrated on page 10. When I fIrst looked at it, it looked like a triangular piece, but it is a rectangular piece mounted on a triangular piece of white granite and it is slotted with a saw and then portions have been carved back. This is Hank's fIrst totemic piece). So you're going to continue this series?

HN: Yes, I am. I am fmding that each one brings a whole new dimension for me to what I can do with stone. I really love working with granite. I like granite because of its durability.

 

WL: Now we can look at some ofthe other work. (This is a small totemic-type piece that stands 14 or 15 inches high.) How much more work are you going to do on it?

HN: I think it is just an experiment. Probably a model for a larger piece. And my fourth thing is this.

 

WL: (Each one he shows me is a little bit taller.) Describe it for me, Hank.

HN: It is about three feet high and about eight inches by eight inches. As I said, each piece that I do gels me a lot closer to knowing what I can do with granite, how far I can push it, how close I can come to working in the same manner that I work with my cast iron totemic imagery. Of course I am not trying to duplicate it precisely. I guess that is what I call pushing.


WL: What do you mean by pushing, Hank?

HN: By vast experimentation, by knowing how deep into a piece I can go and still maintain its structural integrity.


WL: How much time do you spend carving?

HN: Last summer I made a decision it was going to become fulltime for me. I've never sold anything. I've never even shown anything yet.


WL: Can you give me a statement of your philosophy--{)f life, of work.

HN: The visual urge to my endeavors is guided by my lifelong curiosity of how the animal kingdom and physical and spiritual matter relate to one another and to the larger universe and displaying this interaction. I am intrigued by the origin of human races and the variations and differences within each race. I seem to have a need to explore things of anthropological relevance. In so doing, it is important to integrate this work into the lives of those who are to live with it in a positive manner so as not to trample their spiritual and physical space with meaningless imagery of little or no substance. My work is my statement.


Similarly it remains untitled so that the viewer can formulate, without verbal guidance, a judgment and a relationship. Yet all of my work represents a specific being to me and in a rare situation I might title it.


Working stone for me is no more precious than working with steel, iron, dirt or carving styrofoam. Each material has its own inherent rewards and can accomplish different things. However, I find stone carving more difficult and therein lies the challenge of stone. Each move is critical to the success or failure of the piece.


My search for a spiritual path is heightened with the challenges of stone carving. A further challenge is coping with the inherent problems of carving. Of working monumentally and dealing with the logistics of handling and moving as well as scale. Philosophically. I feel like I'm not making any of these images to end up with another piece of work that is just going to take up space. I think, for me, it's the working of the material that is important. When I go back to one of my earlier pieces, they are interesting but it's history now. Sculpting assists me in my pursuit of a spiritual path.

Artist Spotlight - Chris Provenzano

The interview took place at Art City Studios in Ventura, California on October 11, 2000 with Chris Provenzano.

 

Chris Provenzano is a resident artist at Art City Studios (the mayor of which is Paul Lindhardt - the stone vendor everyone knows from Camp Brotherhood), in Ventura, California. Ventura is a small town by Southern California standards and has a closely-knit artists’ community. Chris lives near the studio, right on the Pacific Ocean in Muscle Shoals. Originally from San Francisco, Chris was raised by very artistic parents: her father is a musician and her mother is an artist.


SS: Chris, tell me a little about you and your introduction to art, and art as a profession. 

CP: I’ve always been involved in art, particularly because of my family’s influences. My grandmother and my mother are painters. My father is a musician. I was always in a very artistic and creative environment. There were always art materials available for me. I fir st started studying art in school about 20 years ago, first at California State University at Northridge then at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I received a degree in Art Studio from UCSB. I came to Art City 10 years ago to buy stone and never left. I have studied with Joanne Duby for many years and Paul Lindhardt has also been a very big influence on me (especially with basing). Paul is still a major influence on me and the way I work; he encourages me to push myself. Both Paul and Joanne have been very generous with their time and knowledge, and I hope that it is reflected in my work. I’ve been carving for 10 years now. I maintain a studio at Art City and also work at a local company, Vic’s Novelty, as a designer in product development.


SS: What kind of products do you develop and does it involve artistic expression?

CP: Yes, my par t-time job is very creative since I am making clay original models to be reproduced in vinyl and latex for mass production. The products I make are sold at Disneyland, among other places.


SS: Does this job leave time for carving?

CP: Yes, I carve four days a week.


SS: What can you tell me about yourstyle of carving, and who were your major influences?

CP: I’ll start with some of the major influences, those whose style I like very much. There is Zuniga, Picasso — especially his paintings — and Brancusi. I also like Botero’s style. My carving tends to be stylized realism. That would be, for instance, taking a dog and accentuating some of its features to the almost fanciful — augmenting the features to a point of making it almost cartoonistic. I like to impart a sense of humor in my work. In the fish I have recently completed (the two alabaster fish in the photo on page 7), I overaccentuated the mouths. I like to pattern and accentuate characteristics that may not be there, but go well with the piece. It worked well when carving these fish and brought more life to them. I like the design aspects of the work. I think that the pattern, the line, play an important part.


SS: When carving, are you creating for the public, what you think they will like, or is there something inside you that drives your vision?

CP: I do the work primarily for myself. I fall in love with the stone - it always happens this way. It’s like playing with nature and history at the same time. I get to import my own feelings into history. I feel the stone is a living creature that was alive at one point, in whatever form, and then I get to inter act with it. There’s always a surprise, a mystery, with each stone. I never know where the rock will break and where it will go. I follow the stone. I reveal new patterns as I carve and I try to use the grain and inherent pattern of the stone in my work. I try very hard to compliment the pattern as it presents itself. It makes my work have more substance and makes it easier for the viewer to draw meaning from the piece.


SS: Why is art important to you?

CP: Because I really need to be expressive in an artistic way. It’s the best place for me to be because I’m working by myself, having a dialog with the rock. The design, the form, it provides answers for me.


SS: What tools do you use in your work? Do you have a preference?

CP: Now that I’m working in marble more I’m using the skill saw (a 7" diamond blade) a great deal. I also use my pneumatic hammers much of the time. I like the texturing tools. The contrast of texture next to gloss really augments a piece. But I mostly prefer to riff le, it gives me the greatest joy. I think that sorrows, emotional traumas in your life, are a good vehicle for producing energy. Using the hand tools gets me in immediate touch with the stone and the emotional process. This really is why I stopped painting and why I devote my time to stone. The physicality of the work pleases me, it’s an outlet that I need. I feel satisfied with the work I am doing and the effect it has on me.


SS: Where would I go to see your work, if I weren’t here at Art City actually watching you create it?

CP: I show my work in Ojai, at the Art In the Park event, and the Art Walk in Santa Barbara. I was selected to show my work in the La Quinta, California show two years ago. I am also represented in a gallery in Car penteria, California and Art City Studios Gallery.


SS: You also recently won an award for one of your pieces, didn’t you?

CP: Yes, it was a piece that I entered last year at the Santa Barbara Fine Art Show and I won first place there in a juried competition. It was called “Madam Chair” and was made of Coyama brown alabaster and orange alabaster. This same piece recently won fir st place in the Professional Sculpture class at the Ventura County Fair.


SS: Congratulations. That is quite an accomplishment for any sculptor. How do you sell your work? Have you found it difficult?

CP: I mostly sell through the shows I’m entered in, and to people who visit the Art City Studios and see me working or stroll through the gallery and see my work. I don’t actively market my work. It’s not something I’ve put a lot of time in on yet.


SS: When you are carving do you prefer to finish a piece before you start on another, or do you work on multiple pieces at once?

CP: Usually I am working on at least two different pieces at any given time, at least until I get hung up on one of them. It takes time to fall in love with a piece. When I do, then I work it to completion.


SS: Where does your inspiration come from, what determines what you are going to carve, and how?

CP: Well, it var ies. With “Madam Chair” the objective was as simple as trying to save as much of the orange alabaster as I could! It was a very spontaneous piece. I was on the Santa Monica Landmarks Commission and there was a lady who was the chair of the commission who inspired me. I think her attitude had an affect on me and it really inspired me and came through in the piece.


SS: What do you have planned for the future?

CP: “Princess Nefarious”, the piece I am beginning now, is black Belgian marble from Mexico. She’s going to have great breasts! I’m planning on carving her with some very realistic as well as abstract parts.


SS: When you start a piece like “Princess Nefarious”, do you prefer to direct carve from the vision that you have in your head or do you make a maquette?

CP: Sometimes, as with this piece, I have a drawing I am relying on. I actually did the drawing of “Princess Nefarious” after I started. Other times I use a maquette. I have to use a maquette for a complicated, abstract carving to work out the design.


SS: How has membership in NWSSA affected your work?

CP: I’ve been to Camp Brotherhood twice, first two years ago and then again this past summer. I loved the Hon Lee lecture and slide presentation. He’s very inspiring to me. I also enjoyed seeing the monumental work being done there. I have made a goal from what I saw at Camp Brotherhood to work on larger pieces, particularly a large piece of travertine I’m now contemplating. The camaraderie I felt at Camp Brotherhood nourished the artist in me, I really felt like these are my brothers and sisters. After all, we all love rock!


SS: Lastly, Chris, where do you think you’ll be in 10 years?

CP: At Art City! Exploring new stones that Paul brings in. Carving and exploring the freedom that I find so satisfying when I carve.

Artist Spotlight - Steve Sandry

Steve has been a NWSSA member and avid symposium attendee since ‘93. He has been the Newsletter interviewer for five years. He works as a residential remodeling contractor and lives in Fall City, WA, with his wife Jennifer Sumner. There he works in a 22’x28’ stone-sculpting studio he built himself that includes 14’ high vaulted ceilings, large skylights, indoor and outdoor carving areas under the same roof and heavy duty beams for hoisting stone. (He still needs to finish the wiring, plumbing, insulating and sheet rock, but it’s a good place to work.)


Here he responds to the interview questionnaire:


What is your life history related to being an artist? I’ve always had a spontaneous and creative response to life which finally manifested itself in a college freshman sculpture class. Eventually, I received a B.A. degree in Art and English Lit., with a focus on sculpture.


Before that, I suppose I believed an artist was someone who could draw well.


I seemed to have a natural desire to create in three dimensions and I got some encouragement. Further study during the wild 1960s with an accent on abstract expressionism, anti-war activities and all manner of artistic experimentation was both exciting and confusing (of course, then, stone carving was something done by ancient civilizations). Subsequently, I got married, had two beautiful children and tried to figure out how to make a living, in that order. I worked as a welder, carpenter and builder. Of course, I always managed to set up a sculpture studio/shop wherever I went, but without much output or momentum. At various times I would attempt to shut down the studio and toss out my art (mostly welded steel pieces) on the grounds that it was profoundly impractical. Thank God, this never worked and the artistic predisposition would not be denied.


Eventually, after working with the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron (one of the few books I’ve seen which beautifully advocates the inner artist) and loosening a few of my favorite blocks/excuses, and then attending “a symposium” which Rich Hestekind kept raving about, I started sculpting stone. I will always remember coming onto the field at camp B for the first time in summer of ‘93. I had never seen so much intense creating in one place; the air seemed to pulse with it. I was thrilled and frightened. Did I really want to make stone sculpture? Ruth Mueseler encouraged me to cut loose and try. Since then there’s been no turning back. So this was the re-emergence of my artist-self for which I am most grateful. The personal support in the context of an active learning/doing community was my view of Heaven. The yearly events gave me the chance to focus on creating my art. (This was also the fulfillment of a long term interest in intentional community, which Jennifer and I had studied. The Symposiums are some of the best short-term communities I have experienced.)


Who or what has influenced your art form? So many things have, but at the moment I think it is Nature and Spirit. My favorite place to be is in the paradox between the physical and spiritual world(s). Stone sculpture seems an apt way to express this; a very three dimensional material attempting to communicate a “spiritual” meaning or reality. Of course, artists like Brancusi and Noguchi, who seemed to play in this arena and David Smith whose “heroic” conviction impressed me along the way. Now I am impressed by the work and approach of many artists and by chunks and hunks of stone which call to me.


Why is art important to you? It is the artistic process that is most important to me. The art product is secondary. For me the key words Explore, Discover, Create define the necessary phases of the process.


These seem to go on simultaneously and continually if you are “in the flow” and can help you get back on track if you are not.


One major lesson was to learn to complete my work so that I could explore the next possibility. Perhaps I didn’t like to confront completing a piece and facing success or failure.


Art is important as a way of perceiving the world and life experience, different than the analytical, purely rational, or scientific. It seems to cross boundaries to include many domains and thus is my ultimate playground (you need to remain playful to do all the necessary work). Of course, being an object maker in a world seemingly too full of objects is a paradox, but hey, I like a good paradox.


By definition my stone sculptures are non-representational (as distinct from abstract) forms. They are intended to be experienced on their own terms, in their own integrity and have no intentional imagery. I hope they elicit a unique and personal response from the viewer. You could also say they are sensual, curvaceous, use natural stone textures with polished surfaces, and often have a vertical, “balancing” orientation. Most are carved for 360 degree effect and the shapes invite you to explore the whole piece. They are “direct carved” (without much pre-planning) using as much intuition and unconscious process as I am capable of at the moment. I attempt to enter an “exploration” process that includes the universe, the stone, and little ol’ me. I seem to do this for as long as possible because it’s so enjoyable. Then I start to resolve and finalize the forms which have been “discovered”, using a more analytical process, obsessing about things like proportion, relationships, balance, transitions, truing curves, surfaces, mounting, etc. (Creation and Completion.)


I have recently reached a point where I see the value of sculpting in the time honored way: being able to bring my idea to the stone and carve a piece which has been pre-conceived.


While attending the Marble/Marble symposium in Colorado this summer I had the somewhat chilling experience of staring at a big block of white marble and wondering what to do. So I made maquettes and drawings and and got a piece going, only to discover that once I got the piece moving I was once again direct carving (yea). What was I afraid of?


How do you get your ideas? They pop out of my experience. A stone may suggest a shape. My mind engages and expands on this (the inner CAD program) and an exploration begins. Of course I am drawn to certain shapes which I seem to find meaningful (personal form language). Much like a poem or improvisational jazz piece I attempt to piece/shape elements together towards a meaningful end. And now the problem is how to process ALL the ideas that flood forth. It seems that part of the art is choosing the best of these possibilities.


What are you trying to express? Love. Also beauty (these may be the same thing). Also something about the spiritual journey, and the paradox of the spiritual/physical balance. I am trying to create a “form poem” that speaks to these themes. I would like my art to speak lovingly, encouragingly to the souls of others. I would like my sculpture to exude love and provide insight.


Describe a recent piece. “Throwback” (see cover photo) is a piece that evolved over the last year. I found the cascade basalt stone in a Mt. St. Helens road cut treasure trove of natural shape and hauled it home. It had an ax-like shape I liked so I experimented with it at the ‘99 symposium, getting it somewhat roughed out. During the year I continued playing with it, moving the basic shape around. This led to the middle phase (which I seem to always go through) where the piece is partly formed, is awkward (like the teenage years) and I lose faith that it could be a successful piece, and think maybe I should quit sculpting. I forced myself to keep going (next step, next step....) until finally it started to “hum” (to work) as a composition, faith was restored. This was followed by a period of obsessing about details, refining curves and finishes until it felt complete.


The title usually emerges in the process of creating the piece and is another way of interacting with the sculpture. It is not intended to define it.


This occurred while working full time at my remodeling business, sometimes with long gaps between studio sessions. I also had two other pieces ongoing during this same time.


What stone do you prefer to carve? What scale or size do you work in? Many. Basalt, fine sandstone, granite, marble, limestone each has such unique qualities.


If I had to choose one it would be basalt for its depth of color, uniformity of material and beautiful natural skin. I like human scale, that is, big enough for a human to relate to, walk around, touch, consider. That would fall in the 1’ to 7’ high range, 100 lb. to 3 tons. Also that would be the current limits of my studio.


What tools do you primarily use? All manner of electric and air powered grinders and polishers. I highly recommend the Milwaukee 5"sander/grinder, variable speed, 12 amps (cat no. 6156-20). The variable speed is very handy for different situations, while 12 amps provides good power.


Much of the rough out is done with diamond blades and cup wheels. Otherwise I use silicone carbide cup wheels and sanding discs a lot. I am also carving more with air powered chisels. Each stone has its own requirements: this summer I discovered that none of the several diamond matrix blades I have would cut Yule marble (a soft marble). It required a blade with electroplated diamonds for rapid cutting.


How much work do you complete in a year? Currently 3-4 medium size pieces. And, I am working on increasing my output, which is much aided by having a good studio. I am working on a commission in Yule marble for one of my remodel clients.


Where do you exhibit your work? Mostly in group shows, through NWSSA and through N.K. Jordan’s yearly show.


I will have a piece in the Bellingham 2000 show in November and am planning a solo show for November next year.


What have been your satisfactions in your life as an artist? What have been your obstacles and challenges? There is great satisfaction in the opportunity to do the work and to do it with others. Of course each piece is satisfying. Being able to create something which didn’t exist before is a thrill. Selling them is satisfying, but mostly I feel thankful to be “on path” as an artist, where ever that might lead. Any obstacles seem to come from within me in the form of being unfocused and somewhat indecisive, also the tendency to like taking naps.


What are you looking forward to? That my next sculpture will be better than my last, that I will be more productive, that my work will be of value to others, But mostly I look forward to the rest of the journey, together. It’s been fun so far.


Many thanks, Steve Sandry (You can reach Steve via e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or by phone at 425-222 -5699.