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Artist Spotlight

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.

 

Artist Spotlight - George Pratt

When they sent me a list of questions to prompt my submitting material for an article about myself, the first question was: Who are you? I’ve never thought bio’s to be of enduring interest to anyone but the person they describe—so I’ve contrived shortest sketch possible to show how I fit in our stone sculpture world:

 

I’m a country boy from the boondocks of northern Ontario, a place that looked really good in the rear-view mirror as I hied off to join the navy at 17. In 1970, now 31, married, kids, salesman, a serendipitous meeting with Toronto sculptor E.B. Cox resulted in an instant obsession for pursuing the life of a sculptor in stone. In a month, I had my own hammer and chisel and was making chips fly under E.B.’s tutelage. Five years and five sellout ‘home’ shows later, still enraptured, I panicked my wife by quitting a high paying day job in sales to move to Vancouver, the only place in Canada where you can sculpt outdoors year ‘round. I was certain I could make a living as a sculptor. It was not because I was your world’s great artist (I never did get to be so) but I had three compensatory attributes: I was never satisfied with the last sculpture I had created; I had an innate understanding of tools; most importantly, I could sell.

 

By 1983, a series of successful ‘home’ shows resulted in a stable of George Pratt collectors beginning to form; the phone was ringing somewhat regularly and while income was never assured, it was becoming adequate. When a strapping gal named Meg Pettibone trekked up to Vancouver to seek help in forming a guild of sculptors in stone, I bought in to the notion and along with a small group of other sculptural aspirants, we established the NWSSA. Twenty-five years onward, I have had uncounted successful shows, been commissioned to produce presentation sculptures for many world leaders, and have authored seven major public artworks.

 

I’ve carved (or tried to) every type of stone, emerging in my senior years as primarily a granite carver. I still like to work and produce but my ego has had all the stroking it needs. I still think of myself as being only a moderately good artist who gets it right now and again. I put what I can back into the profession that has been so very good to me by instructing others. (Instruction has its own payback; every year at our symposia, I am afforded the profound pleasure of meeting aspiring sculptors whose talent far outstrips mine. Dang, if only they could sell.)

 

And that about sums me up. Now, to the important stuff. In a thirty-nine-year career I’ve touched upon countless others in the stone arts. I’ve listened and watched and made every experience a lesson. Here are a few vignettes that for me have been formative.


Wisdom From My Old Mentor: E.B. Cox

This advice from my irascible, curmudgeonly and talented mentor still sticks with me.

 

Nowadays they go out of their way to make art that is—well—odd. It seems not to be so possessed of artistic merit as just—oddness. Don’t be fooled by it, boy. Don’t do odd.

A stone sculpture should reflect the attributes of stone: Think mass; think strength.  Stone is not the stuff of thin birds’ wings and angels’ fingers.  It is the stuff of bears and whales; it is the stuff of torsos—males with brawny shoulders, females with strong hips.

 

If you want to carve alluring females boy, stop messing about with playboy breasts; look to the neck and shoulders, boy; look to lusty hips. Those breasts you’ve hammered out are for truck-drivers.

 

Don’t be seduced into carving every colored stone you see; colored stones, shiny finishes, they’re cute but they lack the most important feature of sculpture: shadow and mood. Go for the plain stones, boy. What’s locked up in colored stones is glitz; what’s locked up in limestone and granite and white marble is elegance.


Encounters That Influenced My Career

Meeting Meg Pettibone in 1984. It was she who conceived of the notion of a guild of sculptors in stone that became the NWSSA and who inveigled me into helping get it started.

 

Meeting Rich Beyer at the first meeting. It was from him I learned that sculpture could be light-hearted and rustic and that the best sculptures tell a story. (Take a look at Rich’s vignette in Fremont, ‘Waiting for the Interurban’. It’s located at Fremont Ave. N and N 34th St.) When Rich’s principles as a Quaker would not allow him to sculpt a portrayal of Eskimos bearing weapons for the Alaska Veterans Memorial, he recommended me for the job; thus I acquired my first major sculpture in granite.

Working in the same space as other creative people, in particular stone sculptors (hence, the value of attending as many symposia as one can), I’ve shared workspace with E.B. Cox, Michael Binkley, Dave Fushtey and Sandra Bilawich (the latter three being early NWSSA members.) I do not copy them, but I have been abundantly inspired by them and influenced by them in a way that I would not be if they were but casual sculptor acquaintances. It is by day in-day out being close enough to watch the way they apply their skill, to observe their thought processes in working through thorny technical problems, to be delighted (or otherwise) by a line or form developing in their current project and subliminally emulating it in one’s own work. Invaluable.


Influences/landmark Events/philosophies That Have Been Formative To Me


Work Hard And Often

Contrary to what one may think, when we unceasingly create sculpture, we don’t get hackneyed Ideas and skills flow exponentially with the rate of production. In working ourselves to exhaustion, we just get better.


‘Coffee-table’ Sculptures

I develped the method for producing ‘coffee-table’ sculptures outside the Eskimo soapstone realm by working hard stones on a stationary grinder. Such sculptures were just not done by anybody when I discovered the silicon carbide grinding wheel and carbide cloth disc in 1971. It was by being able to produce, in relatively short time, neat little sculptures in stones other than soapstone, which apparently charmed people and could be sold for an affordable price, that I was able to make a living.

 

The tools for grinding have evolved from those primitive carbide wheels to specially formulated diamond discs (and much more) now, but the grind/cut/polish method remains the same. Above all else, this phenomenon of producing the ‘coffee-table sculpture’ will provide the ability to carry on as a sculptor, for it assures one’s solvency while struggling to attract commissions for greater works that will inevitably follow.


High, Gleaming Polish On Jade

When trying to unlock the secretsof polishing jade, the process defeated me, I resignedly walked the ten blocks to the studio of jade sculptor Lyle Sopel, who at the time, was struggling in his sculptural niche as was I in mine, and humbly asked him to show me how. I am grateful that this he very patiently did.

I haven’t done a lot of jade sculptures over the years but those I’ve done have all found great favor and whatever excellence may be in them is the result of that fortuitous hour of instruction from Lyle.

(See his website: www.sopel.com)


Attending Symposia

There is nothing, absolutely nothing, so valuable to a stone sculptor as to be immersed in an environment of others of like mind, all making the chips fly. I cannot place a value on the experience of being exposed to the works of others as they were being carved, works that I wish I had done: Tracy Powell’s ‘Little Man With a Horn’; Tamara Buchanan’s ‘Man In a Coat’; Dorbe Holden’s ‘Female Figure’; the basalts of Rich Hestekind; the finishing textures of Stuart Jacobsen; the contextual excellence of in the wonderful (and difficult) sculpture John Hoge (remember him?) did for the Polytechnical Institute. These and a couple of dozen more (sorry if I didn’t name you) have made deposits into my mental bank account that have paid uncounted interest over the years. Every sculpture I have carved has been partially financed by making a withdrawal from the account; yet the principal does not deplete because each year as I attend a symposium, the account is replenished.


Finding Deep Pockets

I discovered the importance of ingratiating myself to persons in the interior design and corporate community in building a source of sales. It is this group of people who can recommend our work to the people among us with the deepest pockets. Related people of influence, but no less important, have been the individuals whose responsibility is to acquire corporate gifts. Building a reputation among this group has generated uncountable sales of ‘corporate presentation sculptures’ over the years - and the recipients of such gifts have in turn very often made contact and begun acquiring presentation gifts for their own purposes. It has been a very rich source of sales.


My Photos

I have literally hundreds of images of works large and small, traditional and contemporary, importantly commissioned and tossed off casually. I purposely chose the pictures shown for two reasons: They reflect what E.B. Cox advised me about plain stones and shadow and mood; and I thought it might be interesting to show works that an old NWSSA member did years before many of those who will attend the 2009 Symposium were born. In the same spirit, I know these feature articles like to show a picture of the sculptor. I picked over the many I have, both complimentary and otherwise, and decided there were none better or more fitting than a pencil sketch done some years back by everybody’s favorite member, darling Nancy Green.

Artist Spotlight - Gus Schairer

SNW: Tell us about yourself and how you became an artist.

GS: I’ve loved art since I was a small boy wallowing in sloppy finger paints, temperas, and squeezy clay at Seattle’s John Muir grade School and later at Cornish Art School. Then, in one of my first issues of Popular Mechanics, I saw an article about Brancusi’s “Bird in Flight” with a small picture. It was about whether it was fine art or raw material that would be subject to import tax. The small picture of the piece fascinated me. It was my first awareness of abstract art and I loved it for its simplicity and its ability to represent both form and movement. From that moment I knew I wanted to be a sculptor.

 

Persuaded that I needed to pursue a career in the practical world, art was kept as an occasional hobby until I retired. During the working years I dabbled in drawing, stained glass, wire sculpture, and clay. I bought some small pieces of soapstone that I carved with wood carving tools. Then a friend told me about Pratt where I found a class in beginning stone sculpture with Kalia (then Suz) Gentiluomo and my passion for stone was ignited.

 

SNW: Who or what has influenced your art form?

GS: After my eyes were opened by Brancusi, I was awed by the skills of the figurative artists, including Rodin, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Degas. Due to my untrained hand and my Essential Tremor, my drawings and sketches told me figurative work was beyond my reach. But sculpting itself provided a consistent focus for my Attention Deficit Disorder and stone resists my shaking hands enough to allow satisfactory forms to emerge. It seems to help with the sanding and polishing, but I have to keep my fingernails short.

 

SNW: Why is art important to you?

GS: Sculpting gives me a sense of participating in both history and of leaving a legacy for the ages beyond my lifetime – my mark on the world. It is most of all a means to express things that seem to come directly from my soul – a place without words.

 

SNW: How has NWSSA influenced your work as an artist?

GS: I’m glad you asked that question. Becoming a member of NWSSA has meant the opportunity to learn, to stretch myself as an artist and, most of all, to join a supportive community of people whose passion for their art is electric and invigorating.

SNW: Describe your art in your own terms – focusing on your stone carving.

GS: My art seems to follow a few themes. I love it when I can create a piece that seems to soar, to lift its own weight and carry the eye upward with it. Another group seems to include shrouded or hooded figures. I’m not Catholic so I don’t see nuns – babushkas or ponchos, perhaps. And now, thanks to a class at Camp B with Tone Orvik, and much help from Sabah al Dhaher, I’ve challenged myself to the figurative zone with some measure of success.

 

SNW: Is your art representational and/or non- representational?

GS: Although I do some representational pieces, which are a struggle for me to complete to my satisfaction, my real enjoyment is in the abstract, where form and movement are paramount. It is then that my soul sings.

 

SNW: How do you get your ideas?

GS: Nearly all my pieces are surprises to me. If you give me a squared-off stone, I can’t see into the stone enough to find what’s there that wants to come out. When I bought three blocks of Brazilian soapstone with square edges and flat faces, I found myself boring into the stone to develop movement and form inside – my Interiors series – where I left the exterior faces flat and corners square.

 

So I usually just start carving until the stone voices its preference. I keep my linear brain occupied with finding names that might fit the piece as it develops. Similarly, most of my figurative pieces evolve rather than follow a plan or preconceived idea. Once in a while I’ll have an idea that I work out in clay first. I did that with Muse and it took three modeling sessions and many classes with Sabah to make it work.

 

SNW: Do you work part or full time as an artist?

GS: I have the luxury of being retired, so I take what time I can to sculpt. For the past two years we’ve been building a new house and studio where our old cabin was on Vashon Island. I reread Bill Weissinger’s articles on building a studio and am almost finished setting it up so I can get back to sculpting.

 

SNW: What stones do you prefer?

GS: Soapstone, in all its wonderful colors and forms is both fast and forgiving. Alabaster has provided some wonderful pieces. I’m learning the harder stones, like granite and basalt. But limestone and marble, the kinds that are fine and dense, but not stiff are my favorites. Right now I have two limestones, three alabasters, and a marble in progress, with a sandstone, a pyrophyllite, and a chlorite waiting in the wings.

 

SNW: What tools do you use?

GS: My favorite tools are my old, angle-cut wood carving chisel, my Bantam pneumatic chisel and my angle grinders. My great-grandfather was a blacksmith and carpenter, my grandfather was an inventor and patent attorney, my father was an engineer whose workshop filled with the tools of his heritage. My love of tools was founded in that environment, and I seem to have more than any sane person should acquire.

 

SNW: Have you been influenced by any particular artist?

GS: Lots of them! Before I even took my first class from Kalia I was searching the Internet for sculptors and found Joanne Duby’s site. Her work showed styles I wanted to create. I emailed her asking if she ever taught in the Northwest. I was amazed and delighted when I met her two years later at Camp B.

 

The talent and skill of Sabah al Dhaher keep drawing me to learn more. But every time I go to a symposium I find myself rubbing shoulders with artists of wonderful skill and vision from whom I glean ideas and techniques and attitudes to add to my repertoire. The camaraderie and willingness to share offered by the members who gather there is like coming home from a long and lonely voyage.

 

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

GS: It is always wonderful to sell a piece to someone whom I know will enjoy it as much as I enjoyed creating it. But I was recently touched deeply by one friend and customer. Several years ago I sold her “Mother and Child,” which she installed on a Thai pedestal in the corner of her living room. I was honored to find it there among her large and impressive art collection. She had been battling cancer for nearly ten years when she finally succumbed early this year. At the wake that was held at her home I noticed that the piece had been replaced on the pedestal with a very nice glass piece. I asked her daughter about it and she said that her mother had taken it with her to her daughter’s home where she spent her last days and that she had kept it near her until she died. I cried.

What more could anyone ask for from their work? That is more important to me than if I had a piece in MoMA or the National Gallery. I cannot top that for both satisfaction and inspiration.

Artist Spotlight - Lane Tompkins

SNW: Who are you?

LT: Oregon born, I was raised in Newberg and Portland where I enlisted in the Navy, spending four years as a sonar technician. In civilian life, I worked for Boeing, was a Forest Service district clerk, ran a subsistence farm with my wife and worked as a power substation operator on Catalina Island as well as in Santa Barbara, on the Oregon Coast and in Eugene where I retired from BPA in l997. Two years later I drove to Silver Falls State Park to see a sculpture show. Realizing I had found “my people,” I joined NWSSA the same day. I am now divorced and living in Creswell, Oregon, but am in the process of moving to Whidbey Island.

 

SNW: What is your life history as it relates to being an artist?

LT: I have always been a sculptor – I just never carved much until joining NWSSA. My early carvings were small and simple; some wooden heads and a handful of soapstone pieces, all carved with a pocket knife in the 60’s.

 

My drawing of human heads is also from the late 60’s and has always been a part of what I see as art. In the early 90’s I took a few classes at a local Jr. Collage, doing full figure studies in clay. But even there, I wanted to do portraits rather then the whole body. My peak in portrait work was modeling a friend in Roma Plastilina and having it cast in bronze. I thought it looked like him and when he said he was happy, I was too.

 

After being awed at Silver Falls, I jumped in and began to carve soapstone and alabaster. I still haven’t done much, but I love it all and am slowly beginning to use more power tools.

 

SNW: Who or what has influenced your art form?

LT: I love Bernini. He speaks to me of the intricacies possible in Italian marble. Most of what I know about him, I learned from a Rudolf Wittkower book republished by Phaidon. This book is full of exquisite photographs by the world renowned photographer Pino Guidolotti.

 

Bernini’s bust of Duke Francis I D’Este wears a lace collar including a roll of crocheted lace hanging down a couple of inches, just enough to “grab” me and make me want to give lace carving a try.


I’m currently cutting away at what was a 1200 pound piece of finely crystallized Calacatta marble from a quarry next to Carrara. I picked it up at Art City in Ventura, California, and had intended to carve crocheted lace folded to suggest flower petals. It now seems prudent to indicate lace on this large piece, and carve lace  on the next, smaller piece.

 

SNW: How does your art reflect your philosophy?

LT: I don’t know that it does, I hope not. I try to maintain a practical attitude about my art. It’s a rock. I’m going to cut away what obscures the thing I want to “make.” I’ve never been certain of what my philosophy is anyway. Cutting rock is difficult enough without asking it to submit to philosophy’s spider webs of possibilities.

 

SNW: How has NWSSA influenced your work as an artist?

LT: The people of NWSSA have, individually and en masse, helped me get up on my horse of creativity. I haven’t caught a brass ring yet, but I am now in hot pursuit of the muse that carries them. I will forever be grateful for the leg-up I have gotten from my many good friends in NWSSA.

 

SNW: How do you get your ideas and how do you develop them?

LT: Occasionally I get hit with the whole business in one go. Whether I’m driving down the highway, lying in bed, or having a conversation; it is “presented” to me whole. I like it that way. It’s exciting. I want to do it immediately. ‘Buds’ came that way, all except for the haircuts, those came later. Other times I’m doodling with a pencil, nebulous ideas ghosting by. I feel uneasy, like something is going to happen, but I have no inkling what. That’s when the pencil helps me. Often, as I look back on the moment, I have no memory of “figuring it out.” It’s like someone else drew it and I’m merely recognizing it as a simply marvelous idea.

 

Getting an idea from brain or paper into stone is sometimes a challenge. I have often felt the need for a full scale model in clay, other times not. ‘Spirit Horse’ came through while doodling with a pencil. But I had no idea where to start on the cube of sawn alabaster without first doing it in clay. Making the nearly exact model gave me the confidence to start carving away those large, scary negative spaces.

 

SNW: Will you tell us about a couple more?

LT: Sure. I often joke about ‘The Voice of God’ speaking to me, but I couldn’t hear it until I had completed the full sized clay model. My plan of carving twenty plus mouths scared the hell out of me. Is there something you don’t know how to carve? Do twenty of them. And when I finally got to the stone mouths part, I was shocked at how easy it seemed. No, the mouths are not the best ever cut in stone, but they’re recognizable as human and some even show a hint of life.

 

The two faces on ‘Tendril Love’ (not showen here) did not scare me. I cut them almost with ease. That piece came in bits and pieces with no drawing or model at all. I just started carving. If there was a problem with that one, it was that I couldn’t stop carving tendrils. I was having so much fun doing it with hammer and chisel that I began to put them everywhere. Thank God a friend of mine finally told me, rather firmly, that it looked done to him.

 

SNW: What is the major theme or intent of your art?

LT: I don’t think I have a major theme. There are some shapes I like. In cross section, boat shapes with very sharp ends appeal to me. ‘Spirit Horse’ and ‘Gotcha’ have them, and ‘The Voice Of God,’ too. That sharp edge casts such a fine shadow.

 

The concept of a theme is the same for me in sculpture as it is in poetry. Anything is grist for the chisel or the written word – anything. If I do have a philosophy of art, that’s it; which results in me trying to carve and write about everything. It’s hard to find a theme that way.

 

SNW: What are you looking forward to (goals, commissions, new ideas, flights of fancy)?

LT: I’m winging it on flights of fancy most of the time, and always look forward to the next ride. I guess when that stops I’ll be pretty much done with earthly things. In more mundane words, I can hardly wait for the next sculpture to show up. I’m already getting vibes on it. A woman looking to the side holds my attention with the torn strip of crocheted curtain lace she’s used to tie up her hair...

Artist Spotlight - Christa Rossner

SNW: What is your life history as it relates to being an artist?

CR: My mother and father painted in oils and my father was an inventor of sorts. I was never without a sketch book from the age of seven. I painted from an early age focusing on portraiture, landscape, still life and animals; mainly studying from nature with home instruction interspersed with formal arts education. As with many people, it wasn’t until my children were in their teens that I had the time to re-dedicate myself to creating art.

 

SNW: What key life experiences affected your direction in art?

CR: The first dramatic change in direction for me artistically was the result of two concurrent discoveries in 1993. Amidst increasing frustration, I was adding thicker and thicker paint to my canvasses, apparently trying to cast shadows in 2-D! Another part of that discovery was meeting Daniel Cline. Daniel is an extremely talented artist whose sculptures resonated with me hugely. I purchased a few of his small pieces, expressing an interest in learning how to sculpt stone. He offered me a weekend workshop at his studio in Cowichan Lake, BC. With pure joy I proceeded to carve a seated female figure in Brazilian soapstone. At the end of the second day I was sad at not having finished it.  Daniel laughed and said, “Well most people don’t start out trying to be Leonardo!”

 

The second most dramatic influence on my artistic expression was my work with No Nukes, a subsidiary of Physicians for Global Survival and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. In this role and as an ambassador to the Hague Appeal for Peace Convention in Holland in 1999, I became immersed in issues of small armaments, war, genocide, human rights abuses, etc. Sculpting became my salvation. I worked with hand tools in those days, so my workshop became a sanctuary where the physical act of chiseling stone combined with many tears letting out my rage and sadness. The stone became pieces such as:  ‘Midnight and the Sea of Despair’, ‘So Many Women/So Many Tears’, ‘Truth Hath a Quiet Breast’, and ‘Prisoner in the Burqua’. When completed they helped me resolve some of my despair and powerlessness to affect change.

SNW: Why is art important to you?

CR: People who create art are communicating in meaningful ways. Whether those messages are humorous, serious, imaginative or representative doesn’t matter. It’s that wonderful ability to express an idea or philosophy that can cut across language and societal barriers that matters. I have a bumper sticker in my studio that says “Art is not a luxury.”

 

SNW: How has NWSSA influenced your work as an artist?

CR: NWSSA connects us to other people who think on multi-levels, in multi-dimensions; to people who are compassionate, articulate and intuitive. My friends in

NWSSA are all gems unto themselves. I so appreciate the camaraderie, seeing what is created from the wealth of talent and the depth of insight my sculptor friends embody. So many unique expressive individuals who come together with pure hearts, elfin humor, supportive natures, and the desire to share make NWSSA such a wonderful organization. I’m grateful to have been welcomed, supported and nurtured by NWSSA. I only wish I’d joined sooner when Dan Cline first mentioned it to me in the early 90’s.

SNW: How do you get your ideas?

CR: Usually I just start knocking off the square edges and let my sub-conscious mind take over. Usually something bubbles up and becomes subject matter. Once that idea seems to be developing, then I engage my analytical brain to try to get extra impact out of the concept and the chunk of stone.

 

SNW: Describe some of your recent work.

CR: ‘The Three Graces’ was started at Camp B in 2007. Turkish marble has large crystals, so it was somewhat difficult to get detail in the stone. Unfortunately I lost the nose on one face 3 times and had to re-establish the face each time deeper in the rock. Typically it would be foolish to sculpt so much detail in a piece, but the process was like meditation and somehow the girls’ faces evolved to be compassionate, peaceful and loving. There were people at my show planting kisses on them.

 

‘Girls in the Band’ was conceived after a Sabah workshop at Camp B. It was one of the few times that I consciously knew what I was going to sculpt prior to starting. The Indiana Limestone was purchased from Kentaro and brought home to Victoria to work on.  It was a challenge to draw on the stone and pre-establish what would be the highest and lowest points before starting. I carved it using only hand chisels, rasps and sand paper. The piece represents the musicians in my band. We call ourselves ‘Curl’ and I’m the drummer.

 

‘Venus on the Half Shell’ converted a renaissance subject into sculpture. I wanted to show Venus lying on her shell bed prior to standing up as Botticelli painted her. Sculpted from Carrara Marble, she is almost covered in masses of hair. This piece took over 220 hours to complete, which is madness. The only reason a sane person might sculpt such detail is because of the amazing integrity of Carara marble. I did it because I could, and it was such a pleasure to work that stone.

 

SNW: What is the major theme or intent of your art?

CR: In more recent times I’ve been turning to concerns such as family dynamics, self esteem and women’s issues. This is because friends and family suggested I should “lighten up” – that I’d been scaring them with my politically charged pieces.

 

SNW: What is your working process – one piece at a time or several at once?

CR: In my workshop I typically have 5 to 6, or more pieces on the go. When a stone whispers to me I pay it some attention, drafting out the basic concepts bursting to get out, and then put it aside. My level of energy after working all day determines which piece I’ll work on.

 

SNW: What tools do you use?

CR: Prior to 2006 I used only hand tools. In 2006 I got an angle grinder that I now use to block out pieces of harder stone. In 2008 Terry Slaton sold me his old air hammer and tools which I used at Camp B. I bought a compressor this year but haven’t had a chance to use the monster yet. I really do enjoy the meditative process of working by hand with the rhythm of the chisel and mallet which is a good thing because I live in a residential area where only short-term use of the grinder, compressor and air hammer is feasible.

 

SNW: Where do you exhibit your work?

CR: I’ve just closed a solo show in Victoria at the Community Arts Centre. Other shows I exhibit in are regional and provincial productions. I also belong to the Vancouver Island Sculptors Guild – a wonderfully supportive network of 3-D artists in many diverse media. We typically have a couple of shows a year.

 

SNW: What scale or size do you work in, and do you have a favorite scale?

CR: Circumstances limit the size I work in which is anything from small to up to 180 lbs. My dream is to be able to work on some larger pieces and have the tools and ability to maneuver big pieces of stone.

 

SNW: How is your work area set up?

CR: I LOVE my converted garage/workshop. When working full bore I have a tendency to eat standing and working in the studio. Nearest the door, which is almost always open are three mobile work benches where most of the big action happens. The middle area of the shop holds a fabulous find I got at a second hand store: a large work bench with a tilting surface. The back of the shop has wall mounted work benches. My walls are covered with art posters; many from shows I’ve been in, others from Italy, from major galleries, etc.

 

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

CR: In 2006 I participated in and exhibited some sculptures for a conference called Artists of Conscience which was very satisfying. Just being able to express myself and to shed light on issues with a view to empowering others is satisfying. Also, I’m proud of having shown my children that when they are overwhelmed there is a way to heal themselves through artistic expression, or if they have an idea that is counter to normal social mores they can express it visually, musically, or poetically. Being an artist exercises my creative mind which opens up many options for problem solving in all areas of my life.

 

SNW: What are you looking forward to in your art and life?

CR: I look forward to any opportunity to enter the sanctuary of my studio. I have about 900lbs of stone waiting in my shop. July at Camp Brotherhood is another event to look forward to. My artist friends and I have several theme exhibits planned and a few have indicated an interest in pulling together a theme show to raise awareness of and benefit Amnesty International.

 

SNW: Thank you for sharing your art with us, Christa. Do you have any final words?

CR: Thank you to NWSSA for showing an interest in my work. Thank you to Sculpture NorthWest, its staff and contributors. I always look forward to receiving the journal, and devouring it cover to cover.  Namaste.  Thank you.Let my last words be those of the masters who so inspire us all.

 

“Everything is sculpture – any material, any idea without hindrance born into space I consider sculpture.”

-Isamu Noguchi

 

“The marble not yet carved can hold the form of every thought the greatest artist has.”

-Michelangelo

 

“My interests in phenomena, both in my sources and in the way I work is what compels me to make sculpture.”

-John Ruppert

 

“To be an artist is to believe in life.”

-Henry Moore J

An Interview with "Lady Limestone" Amy Brier

Amy Brier is the real thing. She is a working stone sculptor who carves limestone and uses several sculptural media. She is equally comfortable in conceptual art discourse as in restoring a 12th Century French cathedral, and her founding and directing the annual International Limestone Symposium in Indiana (now in its 13th year) exemplifies her belief that the goal of contemporary art is to forge connections between people.


Amy has taught sculpture from South African neighborhoods to NWSSA Symposia; she has exhibited her work from the National Museum of Women in the Arts to Berlin, and she is that rare kind of contemporary sculptor who has actually dissected cadavers in order to understand anatomy.

 

AB: I grew up in an artistic family in Rhode Island, and knew from early on that I wanted to be an artist. I did my BFA in sculpture at Boston University, and then spent some time carving marble in Italy, where I realized that stone carving was what I wanted to do. At the age of 27 I was introduced to the stone yard of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York, and I spent 6 years working there, carving architectural ornamentation in limestone. Limestone was the reason that I did my MFA in Bloomington, Indiana, and the reason why I am still there.

 

I prefer limestone to other stones because of its homogenous quality. It’s soft, and the grain is not an issue; you can go into it from any direction. What might be seen as blandness, compared to other stones, means that form is everything – there is no seduction of color or veining or surface – it is all about the form and the directness of chisel and stone. I use a diamond saw to rough out, but I prefer to use hand tools. There is no polishing or sanding necessary; I finish it with the chisels and that puts life into the surface. I may polish to create contrast, to highlight the chisel finish.

TO: You talk about the humility of limestone.

AB: It is sedimentary and close to the nature that created it. It has not metamorphized, but has fossils and organic material. Limestone keeps me in respect of nature. It is innate memory of the earth, the most direct connection that I can have to the span of history. It also inspires in me a reverence for the process – knowing that this rock has come to me through a lot of effort by other people – and respect for its tradition, being the prominent architectural stone in our nation. I work with Indiana limestone primarily because it is the only American limestone that has both carvability and durability for outside sculptures.

TO: You have developed a series of carved balls to be rolled in a bed of sand – you call them Roliqueries.

AB: Technically they are shaped into balls on a lathe, and then carved in the negative in order to give a positive sculptural impression when rolled in sand. The motifs of many are forms from nature, like snowflakes and oak leaves, fish and spiders – other balls have text. One of them has fragments from the love letters that my parents wrote each other when my father was in World War II.

 

The carved stone becomes a tool in the creation of an image, rather than being simply a singular art object, and the fixed and permanent stone is juxtaposed with the fluid and fugitive sand image. Viewers complete the creative process as they roll the Roliquery. Art is then momentary and interactive, and I play around with the traditional concept that art is timeless, since even the stone wears down eventually by being rolled in the sand. In this way, my work combines traditional carving techniques with contemporary art ideas such as public interaction and appropriation.

 

TO: Where do your sculptures come from?

AB: This concept of Roliqueries started in grad school, when I was looking at Mycenaean cylinder seals and conical sculptural forms. I like to make things, but in grad school you can’t just make things because it feels cool. I start with a concept and look for ways to express that concept so that it’s interesting, and also challenging for me.

TO: Do you ever just stand in front of a block of stone and let your chisel do the work?

AB: No, but there are times when I am working on a piece and feel stuck in my brain, and then leave it to my hands to do the work.

 

TO: For 13 years you have been the director of Indiana Limestone Symposium.

AB: In the European model for symposia sculptors are invited to come together to carve, they are reimbursed, and the works that they produce are left behind. In America we have the workshop model that we know from say, Camp Brotherhood.  I wondered why there was no symposium in Indiana with all this stone everywhere, and so I co-founded it 13 years ago and have directed it since. People come from all over the world and from all over this country, with a core group of people that have been coming for years and years. It has become a respected feature of the community as well. For the locals, there really is no other place where people can come and experience the limestone that their grandfathers may have milled.

 

This September we will have a symposium using the European model for the first time, with a French carver and myself, and the pieces will remain in the community.

Last summer I went to Austria to Krastal, an international symposium that goes 40 years back. We carved a very hard marble together. It was quite a challenge, a very intense communal experience of invited carvers from all over the world who run symposia in their own countries, and then a 3-day conference where each person presented her/his symposium. I was the only American, and the only one who had this workshop model. I had more women participants in mine than anyone else, and more of a free feeling and exchange – not just a bunch of professional artists coming together, but people who come to learn and share and be generous and open with each other.

 

TO: What do you look forward to, Amy?

AB: I would like to do other things as well. I love teaching. I would love to have a community studio in Bloomington, with workshops and a gallery, where the tourists can come and experience the stone alongside the full Indiana history of cut stone.