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Artist Spotlight

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.

Artist Spotlight - Sabah Al-Dhaher

Who are you? I grew up in Nasria, Iraq, the third in a family of 11 children. I had an uncle who used to do small drawings and oil paintings. When I was three or four I was fascinated. In school I drew a lot and had a grade school teacher who exposed us to fine art. A friend gave me a book of Michelangelo’s work on the Sistine Chapel and I copied the drawings many times, but though I loved art, I had not considered becoming an artist until I met a friend who was attending one of the four National Art Institutes. In Iraq, the schooling is free if you can gain acceptance. My friend encouraged me and started teaching me about watercolor, drawing, and working with light and shadow.


Why did you become an artist? I am an artist because I can’t imagine not being one.


What key life experiences affected your direction in art? By the time I was in 9th grade I had enough knowledge and practice to get accepted by the Art Institute of Basra, where I lived and studied for 6 years. At the Institute the focus was on classical art and building a strong foundation in the basics. At the time I felt reigned in and hated it, but I really appreciate the benefits of that type of education now.


The Gulf war and the failed Iraqi revolution that followed it brought a range of experiences and emotions that I have expressed in my work. I think that brings a deeper perspective to my art and at the same time art gives me a release for the feelings those memories bring.


Who or what has influenced your art form? The works of Rodin, Bernini, and Michelangelo have had a huge effect on my concept of art. They have set the direction I strive toward. I was also inspired by the photo in a NWSSA newsletter of a beautiful piece by Bruce. Hoheb from Portland. He passed away shortly after I saw it and I was never able to meet him or see other work of his, but I still look at the photo of his “Back Study” and feel both moved and inspired.


Why is art important to you? I don’t really know why art is important to me; I only know that I need it.


How does your art reflect your life philosophy? What is your life philosophy? I find that art renders everything profound and beautiful. If you can look at positive as well as negative experiences as something that defines life and character, if you can look for the lesson in everything, then life itself can be a wonderful work in progress.


What is your relationship to NWSSA? Since I first began to study art, I have found the company of other artists to be warm, helpful, inspirational, and rewarding. Meeting Boris Spivak, and through him joining the NWSSA, has had a profound effect on my art form. I learned so much and received so much encouragement and support from the people in the Association that stone sculpture has become my primary passion in art.


What kind of art do you create? My sculpture is mostly realistic and figurative.


How do you get your ideas? Due to my fascination with the human figure, I often observe physical bearing that communicates something I want to express in sculpture. When I have a predetermined idea of what I want to create, working with block stone can offer more freedom for the project, but I usually prefer to work with rough stone because it is suggestive; I look at the stone and try to see a form inside.


How do you develop your ideas? I most often do direct carving though I sometimes make several sketches. If I’m working on a commissioned piece I make sketches first and then develop a maquette.


What is the source of inspiration of your form, language or imagery? I enjoy mythology, especially Greek and Roman; the gods express so many human foibles and attributes and the stories are beautiful. Much of the sculpture I’ve done was inspired by those myths.


What are you trying to express? I try to express the human condition and its tremendous range of spirit.


Describe a recent piece or two. I’ve been happy with a couple of recent pieces. One is called “Persephone’s Descent?.” It is a 28” tall sandstone sculpture. Hades, the god of the underworld, carried Persephone off to be his consort, causing her mother Demeter, the goddess of grain, to allow the earth to grow barren out of grief. Because of her mother’s grief, Zeus permitted Persephone to spend six months of the year in the house of Hades and six in the light of day.


The other piece is one I started at the Whidbey Island Retreat. It’s called “Icarus,” made of alabaster, and is about half life-size. It portrays Icarus after the fall.


What do you like about them? I like the drama of both these stories, the speculation. What do they feel? How is that emotion expressed by their bodies? Is Persephone conflicted? Has Icarus given up?


What is the major theme or intent in your art? Humanity.


Are you working part-time or full-time on your art? Full-time.


What stones do you prefer to carve? Why? Marble is definitely my favorite stone, but I also enjoy working with granite and basalt. I prefer working with hard stone because of the durability, and of course, marble is the classic stone for sculpture.


What scale or size do you work in? Which scale do you prefer? I’ve worked with different scales from 10” pieces to life-size ones. Life-size is definitely what I prefer.


What is your working process (do you have several pieces going at once or just one)? At home I have a very small area that I use to carve small pieces up to 300 lbs. I also use Vic Picou’s studio when I work on large pieces and especially when I have to use pneumatic tools with the hard stone such as granite and basalt. I like to work with one piece at a time, although sometimes I have a couple of pieces going on at the same time.


What tools do you primarily use? It depends on the stone, but I do use hand, electric, and air tools. The angle grinder is my favorite tool because I can remove more stone quickly and there is not a lot of force going into the stone that sometimes could weaken it.


Where do you exhibit your work? There are two galleries, one in Kirkland and the other in Tacoma, that have a few pieces of my work. The city of Puyallup has a beautiful program called “Arts Downtown.” They invite sculptors to display their work in the city for one year; this is the third year I’ve participated. Kirkland has a similar program and I have one of my pieces there. I really like these types of programs because they give the artists great exposure for their art and an opportunity for public art commissions. I also have a website and I really appreciate the positive comments and the invitations to the international shows and competitions.

 

How much work do you complete in a year? I probably do about 10-15 pieces a year.


Do you teach your art form? I have taught at the Camp Brotherhood Symposium for the last three years. I’m also planning to give a couple of workshops next year if I can find a studio with enough room for 5-8 students.


What have been your satisfactions in life as an artist? What have been your obstacles and challenges? I get immense satisfaction every time I finish a piece. Teaching has also been a good experience for me. The first year I taught I was nervous about my English, but everyone seemed to understand me just fine. Finding a place to work has presented some difficulties as well; stone carving is much too noisy for my son, so most of my work cannot be done at home.

 

What are you looking forward to? My dream is to have a large studio, preferably at home. I’d also like to go to Italy someday to see the works of Michelangelo and Bernini.

Artist Spotlight - Elaine MacKay

This is an interview conducted by e-mail and phone with Elaine MacKay. She has been a member of NWSSA since 1996. Where she lives says a lot about her character and also the type of stone she uses for many of her pieces of sculpture. Twenty-five miles southwest of the Columbia River and in the small town of The Dalles, OR, Elaine and her partner, Pat, live on 40 acres of land on the lower slopes of Mt. Hood, with National Forest land on one side and wheat fields for miles on the other, and lots of beautiful basalt in all sizes and shapes for the taking. They have built their own home, using native stone for much of the structure’s interior. Self-reliance and hard work are very much a part of living in a remote area.


AN: Who are you and what is your history as an artist?

EM: The question, “Who am I as an artist?” might more correctly be titled, “The Road Not Taken” and begins back in 1968. I had transferred to a small liberal arts college at Mt. Angel, OR. This was my first exposure to art. Coming from a red-necked background in farming in a small Eastern Oregon community, WE DID NOT DO ART! At Mt. Angel I had to pick a major. I really wanted to go into art because I worked with my hands all my life, but the ageold question at the time was “what are you going to do with a degree in art” and having a very fragile ego, I picked English instead. But every free moment I could find I spent out in the Art Dept. I made handbuilt pots, fired in the Raku method, in a kiln we all built in the side of the hill. We spent long hours collecting clay from the river banks and mixing our own glazes, then firing late into the early morning hours, flames soaring over our heads. A very mystical experience and one I’d never forget through the intervening years when I involved myself in homesteading and various pursuits aimed at earning a buck. I did not actively engage in art again until 1996.


AN: How did you get back into art?

EM: Just a very lucky chance! Vic Picou came to visit a friend and neighbor of mine here on the Ridge. Although I didn’t meet him at that time, my friend Jim told me he was a stone sculptor. I nearly went bonkers! I have always loved stone, hauled em’ up from hell at times. I stacked ‘em and placed them and ruined many a good one because I didn’t know what I was doing, but I never did any pure art. To make a long story short, I phoned Vic, he mentioned Camp Brotherhood, and it sounded like a wonderful opportunity and Vic assured me that I would be welcomed. I was! I call it the summer of my rebirth. Here I was, surrounded by all these wonderful people, a little intimidating, yes; BFA’s, MFA’s and more A’s than you could shake a stick at, but folks would come over and ask me what I was doing and say “Cool.” Like pouring water on a plant dying in the desert. Wow, what a wow! What a group of people! This event coincided with an article I had just read entitled “The Long Sleep” from a book by David Quammen. It dealt with the extinction of a species, in this case the Dodo bird. Being alone, having no one else of her kind, being rare and through a complicated synergy of links is pushed into extinction by death. It was how I felt before Camp Brotherhood ’96. Then I discovered NWSSA and I knew to the depths of my soul I had found my life link. So I went back the following year and began my pursuit of knowledge of manipulating stone.


AN: Why is art important to you?

EM: Because I have spent many years being a frustrated wanna-be artist. Believe it or not, I didn’t know there was such a thing as stone art, except in history, until Camp Brotherhood. Furthermore, art is important because it is the most individualistic and unique expression we can offer of ourselves. Stone art in particular is, I think, the kernel of all art because our ancestors manipulated stones long before other art forms.


AN: What is your philosophy of art?

EM: The short answer is don’t ruin a good stone, because inherent in the stone’s form, color and hardness is the possibility that the hand of an ancient may have touched it. This philosophy is of course easy for me because I carve basalt. The philosophy is in the stone, i.e., what I imagined an old ancestor might have thought of it, why they might have picked it or not.


AN: What kind of art do you create and from where do you get your ideas?

EM: I do not have the intrinsic ability to look at a block of stone and say I see so and so in it. I go searching for forms, I spend a lot of time and bloody fingers doing so, but it is also an integral part of my process of carving a stone. I imagine when I go stone searching. I imagine my clan long ago fingering the same stones. It is a link to our ancestors older than all others, older than any other art form, they could have touched the same stone as I, they might not have but they could have. My forms and what I do with them reflect what I feel my ancient ancestor also shared, images of pleasure, healing, power, protection and an awe of the mysteries of life. He found joy in the stone at the river bank and it caused him to have pleasure whenever he looked at it so he lugged it back to the den.


What kind of art do I create? Primitive would about sum it up. Sometimes I don’t do anything to the stones I have at home. Never ruin a good stone. So if I go doctoring a stone I follow the philosophy above.


AN: What type of tools do you use?

EM: I use mostly air tools, as I did body and fender work for 10 years and am familiar with their use and you don’t have to worry about getting zapped, as I use water a lot in my grinding and cutting It keeps the dust down and lubes the blade. There is of course a place for hand tools also, as Reg Akright pointed out. I intend to incorporate them into my tool collection in the future. Money! I like pitched surfaces and again it’s the primitive act of striking that appeals to me.


AN: What scale do you like to work in?

EM: Well at this time, pieces that I can tote. Though I am sifting every thread in JoAnn Duby’s brain on basing. With multiple basing you can achieve soaring pieces that you can still lift and move without breaking your back.


AN: What new and wild ideas do you have planned for future work?

EM: With the multiple basing thing I am going to work on a series of shape-shifters this summer. Pinned and sleeved, each stone can be turned independently of each other and thus a different face, hence shape-shifters. Again this goes back to the old ones and the mythology of the Native Americans and Celts.


AN: How many do you work on at a time?

EM: I work on several at the same time. The first 15 minutes on most pieces is ecstasy and then you can get bored, push something that you shouldn’t and not allow the stone to be and can just and up destroying a good stone. So I rough out a bunch of what would be considered ideas then “I just sets em’ about and ponder em.’”


AN: Where have you shown your work?

EM: At this time , I enter most shows NWSSA puts forth in the newsletter. I haven’t done the gallery thing because I do not have a big enough body of work at present. Hopefully that will come; I have received immense satisfaction in the short time I have been carving stone. I won an award at the AIA show last year in Seattle, which left me speechless. I also had a piece accepted at Big Rock Gardens in Bellingham for permanent exhibition and am in tremendous company up there. Even though it was a long distance to bring work, I have two pieces in the Bremerton Show.


AN: Is there anything else you want to mention before we close the interview?

EM: Carving stone has given me personal happiness, satisfaction and an even keel in my life that had heretofore eluded me. Which brings me to the importance of NWSSA in my life. The community of like-minded people, ideas, education and opportunity. Reading David Quammen’s article on the Dodo bird coincided with my first Camp B. symposium and I knew I would never have to face such a destiny. This is what my art and the people I absorb through NWSSA gave me. I hope I am able to give a tenth back.

 

Artist Sportlight - Stuart Jacobson

The following is an interview with sculptor Stuart Jacobson of McMinnville, Oregon. Here, he responds to a questionnaire regarding his experience as a stone sculptor.


I’ve spent most of my adult life searching for who I am. I tried to mold myself into what appeared to be a “normal” logical, left brain thinking person. Of course it didn’t work out real well and caused me to make numerous job changes. These included being a home remodeler, a landscape designer, a stockbroker, running a landscape maintenance business and a water features business. Five years ago I finally stopped struggling and gave myself over to becoming an artist. This odyssey from the world of “normalcy” began on a family vacation while we were driving along the Oregon coast. We came upon the most incredible monumental stone sculptures I had ever seen, right beside the highway at the Freed gallery. It was as though I had been struck by lightening, as I seemed to be totally transfixed, unable to remove my eyes from the sculptures. I lost all sense of time and space. Since I was driving at the time, and pulling a travel trailer as well, this was not a good thing. We began drifting off the road into a ditch. I didn’t fully recover and regain consciousness until I finally heard a chorus of screams from my wife Peggy and the kids. Just in the nick of time I pulled us back onto the highway, but my life has never been the same since. These amazing sculptures were by Kazutaka Uchida. I can’t explain it, but I connected with this work like no other I had ever seen before. I decided then and there that I must meet this man, even if it meant flying to Japan to do it. An amazing moment of synchronicity happened a few weeks later, when Peggy noticed an announcement for Camp Brotherhood, featuring Kazutaka Uchida. Two weeks at the symposium, and my life was permanently changed.


My artistic role models are Uchida, Noguchi, Hepworth, and Brancusi. John Denver was once quoted as saying to an interviewer, “To know my songs is to know me.” The same is pretty true for me as well. My sculptures mostly reflect who I am, who I am trying to become, or just those things that I admire in others or in nature. Uchida once offered me a profound piece of advice that I have taken to heart, incorporating it into the foundation of my work. “The most important thing is, what are you trying to say?” I have never made a sculpture without being able to satisfactorily answer that question. Hardly a day passes that I don’t reflect upon that advice.


Becoming an artist caused me to become much more of a spiritual person as well. Reading The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron changed my whole concept of who I am and where my inspiration comes from. I’ve heard many articulate people describe a similar sentiment, but I most vividly recall Brian Berman once describe himself as the “invisible sculptor”. His explanation was that he simply shows up and lets the creativity of the universe flow through him. That’s an excellent way of describing my sculpting style as well. I do run my ideas through several filters before I allow myself to proceed. Is there an important message or story to tell by creating this piece? Is the message uplifting and positive in nature? Can it be told simply, and conveyed in such a way, that others will understand what I’m trying to say, without the use of words?


I describe my work as mostly nonrepresentational and conceptual. It has a very contemporary feel. I strive for simplicity, always looking for the most concise way to articulate a theme. I look for a universal way of expressing a message through the use of symbols. I’m a pretty uncomplicated person and can get totally fouled up if I try to make something too complex. So as I’m working, I constantly ask myself the question, is this really necessary to convey my message? Every time I consider a new element or change to the sculpture I ask myself, will this reinforce or detract from my theme?


I started out as a direct carver. As I’ve gained experience and confidence, I am now quite comfortable as an indirect carver as well. I do a great deal of drawing. I’m not very good at it. But that doesn’t stop or discourage me. I’m only trying to capture an idea. I’m not trying to make a perfect drawing. I don’t really edit my ideas very much. I just try to get them down on paper. My approach is a little bit like the photographer who takes an entire role of film, hoping for one really wonderful shot. My ideas come to me in a variety of ways. I take private time by going for a walk, almost every day. This is when a major amount of ideas come to me, as well as the solutions to problems or design challenges that I may be experiencing. Most mornings I write pages in a journal. This helps to clear out a lot of the internal chatter going on inside my head, allowing more space and clarity to generate ideas. I also get some of my best ideas while riding in the car. Peggy and I have reached an understanding on this. I am free to design all that I want to, as long as she does all the driving! I’ve learned to enjoy being chauffeured. I also really enjoy the creative hits that I get out of seeing other people’s work. So going to galleries or museums is something I try to do regularly. The NSSSA Symposium is another wonderful time to get charged up with new ideas and techniques as well. Learning a new technique will spark a whole host of new ideas. “Cycle of Life” was the direct result of Laura Alpert’s design class. I usually have many more ideas than time to carve them. The benefit to this is that I am forced to discard all but my best ideas.


How do you develop ideas? A visual image may come to mind. I ask, what does this mean? What could I say by using this image? Other times I ask myself how I could express what I’m feeling. What does this feeling look like? An example of the way I design is the way I developed “Balance” [see cover photo]. I am inspired by George Tsutakawa’s sculptures. In this case I was specifically inspired by some of his stacked wooden pieces. I wanted to try playing with a similar assemblage of stone pieces. I started playing around with ideas for stacked stones. I decided to place those stacked stones within a larger form, to make it more interesting through the use of positive and negative spaces. Purely by chance, this larger form took the shape of an abstracted human heart. I asked, what does it mean? Why do it? I then constructed a story that successfully answered those questions, and helped me to make the rest of my design decisions. This piece describes my perception about the three key elements to me experiencing a well-balanced life, and a balanced heart. The three black stones represent the body, mind, and the spirit. The lowest upright stone represents the body; the mind sits on top of the body and is cup shaped as the receptacle of knowledge. The spirit grows out of the mind and ascends upward. When my body, mind and spirit are in balance, I am in balance. The exterior of the heart is rough and textured, representing the junk that life throws at me sometimes. The inside of the heart is smooth and polished, representing the inner serenity I feel when I am truly in balance.


Another piece, called “Forgiveness,” exemplifies how I strive to utilize universal symbols to convey a theme. It’s a broken heart that has been mended together through the act of forgiveness. These stones were the broken fragments that came from the middle of the “Balance” sculpture. I was cutting, drilling and really hacking away at this stone. About half way through this process I decided to try to save some of this material for a possible later project. As I had been working on these stone fragments, they were subjected to a great deal of brutality and violence by me. When I had finished, whenever I looked at them, they always looked like a broken heart. I used to share a studio with Devin Field. I admired his steel sculptures and wanted to do a mixed media piece using metal steel ever since. But I could never figure out what would be a satisfactory reason to do this. I couldn’t answer my fundamental question “why”. So in this case, as I thought about mending the heart using steel straps, the answer came to me with the concept of forgiveness.


What are you trying to express? These sculptures are like meditations for me. They reflect what I focus on trying to become or strive to be. I know that a lot of the joy I feel comes out in my work. That’s why something as negative as a brutalized and broken heart gets transmuted into something positive.


Are you working part time or full time? I’m a full time artist. I am truly grateful for the fact that I get to spend so much time working at my art. But it makes me feel a tremendous responsibility to make the most of my opportunity. I see so many other talented artists that don’t have the time that I do to spend on their art. This gratitude I feel and the resulting responsibility makes me obsessively driven. I push myself pretty hard. I have to make a conscious effort to step back in order to achieve balance in my life. I regret that I came to become an artist relatively late in life and feel that I must use every moment that I am given to the utmost. What stones do you prefer to carve? One of the reasons that I sculpt is that it is another way of leaving a legacy or experiencing a form of immortality. This is one of the reasons I really like the hard stones. Basalt, andesite, granite, diorite are favorites. I’d also love to try black limestone with white veins. I prefer stones that are dark gray, mostly black, or completely black and tend to stay away from highly patterned and brightly colored stones. The simplicity of the designs and concepts that I strive to articulate generally work better in stone that isn’t too bright or highly patterned. The other thing is, I started out doing garden fountains and sculptures, so I got used to working in the hard stones right from the start. I also thought that it made sense to either collect or pay 10 cents a pound for basalt while I was learning what I was doing, rather than pay big bucks for more exotic stone. Recently I purchased quite a bit of Mahogany Granite, a dark gray and black granite. And I have several tons of basalt waiting for me as well. It seems like it’s easier to sell outdoor sculpture, so I think it beneficial for me to be experienced in working stone appropriate for outdoor placement.


What scale do you prefer? Big. I’m a big movement kind of guy. While I appreciate small detail work, it’s not my forté. I tried small detailed carving with lapidary tools when I was a child, but couldn’t get comfortable with it. When I tried an angle grinder and an air hammer at my first symposium, something clicked for me. Peggy claims that I’ve never met a power tool that I didn’t like. Don’t tell her I admitted it, but it’s true. I’ve been making sculptures that one or two people can move. Table top, pedestal and floor standing pieces. The heaviest one to date has been “Chi”, a 4’ tall, 800-lb. basalt column carved into about a 600-lb. sculpture. I don’t have any heavy lifting equipment yet except for an engine hoist. This is about to change, since I just received a large commission that will require me to carve an 8’ tall 4-5 ton piece of columnar basalt. (It’s an 8 tall basalt column with a 1’ thick slab sliced out of through the upper portion of the two remaining pieces. The cut edges will all be given a 4” bevel and the inside surfaces polished. A 20” sphere of contrasting material will be suspended between the two “halves” and within the larger hole. Called “The Heart of The Valley,” it represents and honors Corvallis, the river and the valley, and will be set in the Corvallis Riverfront Commemorative Park.) I’m really excited about it because I’ve always wanted to do a large public art piece. But I haven’t geared up for it yet. So now I’ve really put my feet to the fire and need to make some serious improvements—like pouring a concrete slab for starters, and I’ll probably get a gantry crane. Right now my sculpture studio is my symposium tent! Stone and tools, etc. are stored in the garage. My next piece, called “Eclipse,” will be a 5” thick by 9’ tall dark gray black granite slab. It will weigh 1-2000 lbs.


What is your working process (do you have several pieces going at once or just one)? I’ve done it both ways. I prefer to have several going at once. The variety makes it more interesting. It also gives me time to resolve design issues and consider what I’m going to do next on a piece. But because I am under-equipped for the type and size sculpture I prefer to do, it takes a long time to get a piece done. Because of this, I frequently end up working on just one at a time. With the Corvallis Riverfront Commemorative Park commission, I’ve reached a turning point in my career. So now I’ll be making some significant upgrades to my equipment and facilities. That will also make it easier to work on multiple pieces. 


What tools do you primarily use? Angle grinders seem to be one of my best friends. 4 1/2” or 5” are the most frequently used. the middle. A 2’ hole will be bored ferring my 9 point bushing tool. But I seem to work faster with just cutting and grinding.

The majority of my time is spent cutting, grinding, and polishing.


Where do you exhibit you work? I usually have at least some work at the five galleries listed in my resume. I also participate in the occasional sculpture invitational, and once each year, in October, I have a home studio show. This year I’ll be showing work at the Clackamas Sculpture 2000 Invitational in April and May, and a two person show in August with a painter at the Waterstone Gallery in Portland.


How much work do you complete in a year? I’m a pretty slow sculptor. It has to do with the hardness of the stones that I prefer to carve. I was real slow when I started but have gotten faster. I’ve only done somewhere around 26 pieces in the 5 years that I’ve been carving. Since I’ve pretty well stopped doing fountains and other craft items, I now have much more time to devote to sculpting, I completed 11 pieces last year. I now find that these days I’m spending more and more time applying for art commissions. I did my first public commission (a bench called “Yuen”) for the City of Beaverton Community Center last fall. Unfortunately it takes me at least two days for every proposal that I send out. So I’ve learned to be pretty selective about which ones I try for. And the final selection for the Corvallis proposal took months to put together, since I proposed four different pieces and made a small scale sculpture of one of the pieces.


Do you teach your artform? Not in any structured way. The home studio show that I do has an educational component to it, so I do a great deal of show and tell at that time. In addition, this year I’ll do a little instructing at Silver Falls Symposium.


What are you looking forward to (flights of fancy)? I am hopeful that I’ll get to do more public art pieces of a monumental nature. It’s not so much that I want to do large pieces for the ego stroke. It has more to do with feeling like I have something

to say and wanting to opportunity to share it with a large audience. 


If things go really well…I’ve always had the long-term dream of doing work worthy of being included in museum collections. And for that to happen in my lifetime would be way cool!


I just want to say…. The fact that I didn’t study art in college has been a hindrance. It would have helped me a great deal, especially design theory and art history. But in some ways it has also benefited me. I feel much more liberated by not being weighed down with too much knowledge and not being held back from knowing that something couldn’t be done. This has allowed me to be very experimental, which keeps my interest level high. It is my desire to do really innovative work, breaking new ground, and to reinvent myself every so often. One upcoming change for me that I see on the horizon is to do some pieces, which are much less controlled, and much more gestural and spontaneous in nature. This will involve some much rougher work with sawing, hacking and breaking off chunks of stone. Much less finished and refined. We’ll call it my “slasher period”. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very proud and satisfied with my work to date. I just think that in order for me to make the next big leap, I must to try to be less controlled, take more chances, and risk complete failure more often. A way of explaining it is, it’s like listening to a singer sing a beautiful song, but who is trying really hard to be in control and hit the right notes on key. Contrast that with someone who is really belting it out and pushing the limits. They’re going for it! They are giving it everything they’ve got and not holding anything back. The first is pretty. The second is fiery and passionate, and cannot be duplicated. To listen to them, the difference is remarkable. The latter is who I want to be.


 

Artist Spotlight - Kirk McLean

Kirk lives on 10 wooded acres in the Arlington, WA, area with wife, Judy Burnett, and two joyous golden retrievers who made sure I noticed them. They built the super insulated, energy efficient solar house and studio, so Kirk was able to design to his needs. He says, “Since we moved to the property, my day job has been taking care of the property and trying to raise as much of our food as possible in the large organic garden and orchard. This has kept me very busy, but gives me a flexible schedule so I can tackle sculpture projects when they arise.” The studio includes an inside workspace (20’x16’) with a large workbench for stone carving, welding, and other dusty tasks, and a heated “clean” room for drawing, modeling, working with cast paper and the like. He does his wet carving outside.


We start talking about his 8-foot high, gnarled basalt column (from Yakima, WA), which is standing on a concrete pad outside his studio. Above it looms his 14’ high mobile gantry rated for 5 tons. It is fitted with a two-ton chain hoist. This makes me think something Big is happening.


SS: Kirk, how are you approaching your work with this column?

KM: Most of the time I have a vision of a form I want to attempt, or a concept that I develop into a vision inside my head. Every so often I fall in love with a stone and end up doing a direct carve, where I respond to the stone and develop the form as I go. This is one of those stones. I’ve cut the bottom square so I can have it stand here where I can look at it and puzzle out what to do next. I really admire the upward curve, the flare at the top and of course the character of the stone: the dark core surrounded by the swirly rust and gray-brown patina. I know that there are all sorts of possibilities here, playing the richness of a polished surface against the character of the broken stone or a tool marked area that would mostly show white, but give a hint of the darkness of the stone.


This stone could lead anywhere. There’s certainly a suggestion of a torso from mid-thigh on up, if you look at how it moves through here. Or, I could play with the vase shape that the flare at the top suggests. Right now, I think I’ll cut into this profile to mimic the flow of the opposite side, so that there will be a sinuous upwards movement. Once that’s done, I’ll see what to do next. I still haven’t made that first cut. (Note: He’s changed his mind back and forth about four times since the interview.)


SS: Do you often have a preconceived idea of what you want to create?

KM: Sometimes I’ll get a clear vision and look for the stones to use (which I never have in my rock pile, right?). Sometimes the vision will arise from looking at stones or starting to work on them. In any case, the final piece is always changed by the interaction with the stone through the carving process. That’s one of the reasons I like to work with natural stone, rather than quarried stuff. The shapes of the weathered rock set limits, provide a certain awkwardness that keeps me from my impulses to put flowing curves everywhere.


SS: What do you mean by awkwardness?

KM: See this concave surface here? It’s almost the way you might carve it, but it’s clunkier, rougher. So now you have to make a decision whether to develop it into a more free-flowing curve or to use it as part of the form.


SS: What is the balance for you between the conscious/design/intellectual aspect and the unconscious/allowing/discovering aspects of creating?

KM: Assuming we’re trying to make an object that has a presence or power to it, the aspect of ourselves that can deliver that is not the intellectual capacity. It says, “this stone, this proportion, this texture.” The Gestalt of the piece is the Gestalt of your self, the non-verbal. For me, there are a lot of strong, unexpressed feelings that I can’t sort out about a piece. The emotional engagement with the piece changes, particularly for long term pieces, give it a lot of importance: loving it, hating it, finishing it and being melancholy about it being done, wishing it were better... although you can talk about it, there’s a non-verbal essence in what we’re doing. The conscious, intellectual part plays a strong role in analyzing the conceptual basis of the work, of reporting awareness of theme or content, of applying design tools. It’s sort of a game where the conscious and unconscious toss the work back and forth, each contributing to the final sculpture.


SS: Then there’s how the work is experienced by others...

KM: It’s educational seeing how another person thinks about the work. Which can make me realize aspects I hadn’t thought of, even though it was in there in the piece. My piece ‘Twisted Stele’ (stele: “an upright slab carved with symbols

or writing to celebrate the feats of a God, ruler, or warrior”)–“This one has had a hard existence, twisted, pitted, cracked, the central image has disappeared so that we can only guess about its purpose,” Kirk writes in his portfolio. It’s now at Port Angeles Fine Art Center in their “Art on the Town” (a year long show). The Center is a modernist house and grounds overlooking the town. My piece was placed on a grass area near the drive/walkway to the center. They have top-notch shows there. I was pleased to be associated with them. I had originally hoped to get a big chunk of the fine-grained brown Idaho granite (from Mark Heisel). This was his gray fine-grained granite, a 7-foot piece. The brown tone is dirt stains on the surface. It was lying on its side for a year in the studio yard. Occasionally I’d sit on it, lie on it, kick it...


SS: You literally lie on it???

KM: Oh ya, don’t you do that?


SS: Most of my pieces are smaller than that...Do you take naps on it?

KM: No, just lie down, look at the sky. Mostly sit on it. When you have a long stone like that the obvious thing is to stand it upright. So I went with the notion “let’s fight the obvious.” Let’s struggle against it, it could be a boat shaper...


SS: So, you’re mentally going through that process. Originally you have a strong impulse to do something with the stone, like stand it up. Then you say, “that’s too obvious, let’s try this, let’s try that...”

KM: When Mark brought the stone, he said that Linda Heisel saw an Egyptian figure in it. I thought, “that kills that (idea).” Now there’s no way I can see an Egyptian figure.


SS: Ahhh, you’re a contrarian. But, why struggle against your profound preference, often revealed in your first “hit” upon seeing a stone?

KM: Ya, that’s just the way I am. It’s a pain in the ass.. anyway, I looked at the stone and decided it wanted to be upright and at least I went through the process of deciding that. (In his portfolio he states, “The gorgeous natural shape reminded me of both an upright figure and of a menhir, or standing stone erected by the megalithic cultures of western Europe. I tried to work the stone to reveal its internal character without imposing too much of my own vision on it.”)


SS: Kirk, how did you not impose your vision?

KM: By developing the vision through a collaboration with the stone, rather than using it to execute a predetermined design. As I started cleaning it up, knocking some of the rough parts off, it broke off in beautiful conchoidal fractures. I wound up with these lovely concave breaks, which is one of the things I like about granite. I decided to work by hand as much as possible (meaning with a pitching tool). The original shape of the stone had a large protrusion on the upper area. I took about 200 lbs off the original shape. I carved it in by pitching and breaking behind my pitching to break off the tool marks. (Pitching is done by striking the stone near an edge with a large blunt chisel-like tool and heavy hammer, thus removing large chunks of stone.) That area, then, came around to a concave surface. I used pneumatic tools to carve a little “waterfall” in the center to get rid of the final tool marks and then polished that area. Sitting outside, now, for two years it is getting greener and greener, except on the polished surfaces. The polished area originally was subtle, now it’s standing out. That was a change, over time, I hadn’t anticipated. The setting at the art center is a glade, and the relationship of the piece and the space is very nice.


SS: We look at his gravestone /sculpture for Brandon Lee. What was your design process in this?

KM: His mother Linda had seen my slides and liked the symbolism of the split stone in “Cleft” (A split stone with polished interior surfaces, on a sculpted wood base. I visited the site, which is right next to his father’s headstone. She wanted it to be unique, but not to dominate the Bruce Lee marker. So I decided to do a sculpture that read as a standard headstone from a distance. I chose the black granite because it would be impossible to match the existing red granite and the charcoal black would harmonize with the red. Also Brandon had made a point of being his own person, so I wanted to make his marker unique (a rounded slab, black, twisting). I originally designed the two elements of the piece, being separated, then added the helical twist, because it added a dynamism and energy to the form, the two pieces wrapping around each other without touching, joined only at the base. But, in talking to the monument people I realized it would be risky to leave the parts separated.


We were talking about what other people see in your work. In someone’s reaction to our work, we learn more about our own work and thoughts. In this case, a family friend was pointing out that the rough tool marks in the cleft between the highly polished forms is a yin/yang relationship (which I had intended to symbolize the tearing apart of Brandon and his fiancé and his family). Also the shape of the stone is a modified yin/yang form when seen from the top.) If I’d thought about that, I’d have put a bit of polish in the rough tool marks. (Also, the yin/yang symbol is used on the neighboring marker.) The whole thing talks about transformation, life and death. I’m sure that quality is in there, but I wasn’t aware of it until he mentioned it.


SS: Did you go through an initial design discussion, then go off on your own?

KM: I looked at the site, did some drawings, made some clay maquettes to think the design through, then came up with a drawing which I submitted to the client, and she chose. Originally I thought of fabricating it from three pieces. Then I decided to use one piece and carve a cleft between the two elements


SS: How did you work the interior space?

KM: I drilled a sequence of holes and broke out the remaining stone. Then I cleaned up the fins in between (I now know I should have had it cut out by a wire saw) I hadn’t thought through the fact that I could not chisel very deeply because of the tight space. It took me forever. It was nuts. I made extenders for the bushing chisels, then bent a ripper tip at right angles, put an extender on it and scraped the interior surface. I should have simply carved into the side to appear like a cleft. In the end the client was very satisfied that I had taken her ideas and made it work artistically. I was depressed the whole time I did it. His death was such a loss. He was about the same age as my stepsons. Even though the idea was to celebrate his life. We start to talk about “The Forgiving Stone” (a granite river stone which was sliced, fitted, carved, polished and reassembled) as an example of his fitting /constructed pieces.) I think it came out with a lot of energy. This is more of where my thinking is right now, with laminating pieces, the idea of dealing with the space as the sculpture as much as the stone is. I’ll be going back and forth with that.


SS: What other elements are happening in this piece? You have disassembled something, changed it and re-configured the parts. Is that what you’re interested in?

KM: I want to expose the interior of the stone, the character of the interior; the interior in a metaphoric sense. I do want to see the rind, and then the void, the mystery at the center of the rock. Also, energy moving through space, dealing with multiple elements in assembly and carving. You’re exposing the character of the rock, but you’re getting away from the more typical monolith, by taking it apart and putting it back together. I’ve been doing things with ideas about transformation, change, and natural cycles. I’d say the elements of my formal vocabulary involve use of natural stone, the helical upward gesture and the use of multiple, constructed elements. Identifying those as the basis of how I put things together gives me a chance to try something else, or embrace them. Here’s an example of how the conscious analysis of my nonverbal physical efforts brings certain aspects of my work to my awareness, hopefully leading to further exploration by unconscious/haptic/whatever self. Boy, that sounds like BS, but you know what I mean.


SS: (We’re looking at his “Snag,” a laminated piece made of eight different stones.) Why wouldn’t you have carved that from a single stone?

KM: It’s part of the concept to have multiple elements working together. It is a more efficient way to create a form moving through space, compared to a single stone, there would be a lot material wasted.


SS: How often do you work on your sculpture? How many pieces do you create a year?

KM: My working time really varies. Last year I probably spent about 3-4 months, chunked into April-June and September, and completed two large pieces and two small, which was the most in one year since 1986. I’ve taken up to 4 years to complete a piece (the snake). Some years I have carved very little; on the other hand I ended up working 7 days/week for many months on the Brandon Lee project.


SS: What was your past work experience? And what led you to do sculpture?

KM: I originally trained as a biologist, but while I was a sophomore, I had a chance to study in France for 6 months and became absorbed with Western European art and architecture. When I returned to school in the US, I spent quite a bit of time hanging out with an art student friend and going up to the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco. My senior year I spent finals week out at my friend’s place using his woodcarving tools to create my first sculpture out of a redwood post instead of studying for my finals. I guess I must have been avoiding molecular biology or biochem, since I carved a DNA molecule emerging from the post. I came to Seattle for graduate school in zoology at the UW, mostly for the chance to work at the Friday Harbor Marine Biology laboratories on San Juan Island. After working as a post-doctoral researcher in Biochemistry, and teaching a couple of years as an assistant prof in Biochem and Zoo, I finally woke up to the fact that I was in the wrong business, so I quit. I did vocational counseling to figure out what to do with the rest of my life, and discovered my “secret” love of art and sculpture. I am probably the only person to become a sculptor through vocational counseling. Too bad they never discussed the financial aspects. (laughter) My background in biology explains a lot of my subject matter and form, especially that blasted helix. I ended up studying art at Bellevue Community College and the UW while working in instructional media and design for my day job. Going to Art school was like having a candy store. (SS: Absolutely!) It’s exciting doing art, it’s great. What else would you rather do? I was mostly doing cast and welded metal in school, but then saw a contemporary granite sculpture by Jesus Moroles in Santa Fe in 1982 and wanted to try stone I liked it, A LOT. Hopefully each sculpture leads me into a deeper understanding of what I’m trying to say, or a new direction, and that I’m growing with it. What I’m doing now seems conservative. I feel driven to develop an individualistic approach. What do I do now, given the historic time frame I’m in? I’d like to be a little more wild and crazy, playful; to be less intellectual with it, and see what happens.... “Fun with rocks.’


SS: Let’s talk about your involvement in NWSSA?

KM: I first volunteered to help work on grant proposals to bring in outside money, since I’d had some experience in grant writing in the past. I was asked to run for the Board of Directors, and then to be President for the last two years, so I’ve actually never had the time to do much with finding grants. I’ve been willing to put in the extra work as director and officer because I feel I’ve gained tremendously, both professionally and personally, from belonging to the NWSSA and this was a way to pay back my debt. I’ve certainly gotten to know a lot of my fellow artists through working on the Board. Right now I’m helping our Treasurer, Carmen Chacon, and our past treasurer, Pat Sekor, with getting a finance committee up and running. It’s part of the move to get management details dealt with in committee and have the board concern itself with policy decisions. We’ve been working the last two years on restructuring our management approaches to be a respectable 501(c)3 nonprofit, and wow, has that part been boring. Necessary, though. It’s much more exciting and energizing to talk rocks and art with fellow sculptors, but that’s why somebody’s got to keep the machinery running.


SS: May the wild and crazy live within! Many thanks, Kirk, for sharing here and for all your efforts for NWSSA.