Our past two “Conversations” [March/April issue asked the question “Where do you get ideas for your sculpture?” July/August issue asked “When is it your art?”] have not only been fun to put together, but also well-received. The Conversation in this issue asks the all-too-broad question “Why do we carve?” Four of our fellow carvers have courageously shared some of their deepest feelings regarding the carving process, and we want to personally thank Bill and Doug and Vic and Barbara for stepping up.
I began my adventure in art twenty eight years ago when my 3 children were all in school and I needed to see if my brain still worked. I took a Visual Forum Course in 1987 at Okanagan University College which awakened my creativity. Following a move to Vancouver, I earned a Diploma in Fine Arts at Langara Community College. I went on to earn my Bachelor of Arts at Okanagan University College in Kelowna in 1995. I am the epitome of “Leo the Late Bloomer.” I graduated at the tender age of 52.
While still in Vancouver I met George Pratt (one of the founders of NWSSA) whom I will always refer to as my mentor and friend. His encouragement (he was actually very pushy) led me to Camp Brotherhood in 1993 where I fell in love with stone and my fellow dusty, dirty playmates at Camp B. Twenty two years later I continue to plan my holidays in July for the trip south and inspiration gathering. Each summer I feel like a beginner and so appreciate the wonderful support so freely offered. This summer I was struggling to create what I thought was going to be a swan out of Brucite. My dear friend MJ Anderson lovingly pointed out that my errant swan could indeed be an owl. A swan? What was I thinking? I clearly see the outline of an owl now. It is a work in progress. I still need to remember that the stone is the boss and it is my privilege and responsibility to see that the image within the stone is released.
Ever since I saw Brancusi sculptures, I, like many others, was captivated and inspired by the flowing graceful lines, the simplicity, and perfection of his work. The human form and forms in nature also informed my work and much to my surprise, I have created a few animal shapes which, at one time, I vowed never to do. My belief at that time was that George Pratt, Michael Binkley and Native Indians carved animals – that was their wheelhouse, not mine. But apparently not.
Although I have sold many of my sculptures and have been involved in three public shows, I have never carved for anything but selfish pleasure. I carve only at Camp Brotherhood, my excuse being that I do not have a studio, time, etc. Yes, I know. One of my greatest discoveries during my early carving days was that when I am fully engaged, four hours can feel like a few minutes. This is what I refer to as the “Zen Effect.”
With Camp B over for this year, I have packed away my stone and my tools. I know they will wait with me for next year and another sculpture.
I carve stone to create something new that addresses an inner need. I could do that in three dimensions with clay, or in two with paint, encaustic or pastel, but the fine particles of clay have only the life the artist gives it. The same is true of featureless white canvases. I prefer working with a medium that has its own personality, each stone different but all with their own opinions. Plus I confess my aptitude leans more toward subtractive rather than additive media.
I don’t carve to sell, but selling work is important to me. If a friend says “I love that salmon,” that’s sweet, but if she says “I love that salmon – here is a check for $3,000,” then I know she loves it. Van Gogh sold only one of his more than 900 painting during his lifetime, and yet he kept painting. I don’t have his strength of character, flawed though it was. Thomas Wolfe said that “[t]here are two kinds of writer’s block. One is when you freeze up because you think you can’t do it. The other is when you think it’s not worth doing.” The critic who sits on my shoulder already scoffs at my work; if I didn’t sell anything, I’d have no proof that what I do is worth doing. That said, I have no interest in making sculptures the only purpose of which is to be sold.
What if I were left alone on a desert island equipped with an art studio, protected both from approval and from condemnation? I think I’d open the basement to my soul and invite out the devils. (That, or I’d watch a lot of television.). My guess, though, is that my executor would find troubling sculptures dealing with anger, hate, guilt, sex and desire. Even now in some of my artwork, I’m toying with the handle to the basement door. Will I open it? Perhaps, but I’d be on my own: there is no art market in Friday Harbor for some of the work my basement devils might craft, such as the clay model gathering dust in my garage of a half-man, sculpted from waist to feet, spiked through his abdomen to a stake. His phallus is erect; his legs writhe in agony. Yikes! Close that door!
Tim Burton, the moviemaker, is good at opening up his art to what lies in his basement. He says that “[m]ovies are like an expensive form of therapy for me.” Like Burton, I make my sculptures as much for the therapy as the art.
I also sculpt stone because if it doesn’t like what I’m doing it fights back. Sometimes I have to struggle to get what I want out of my stone, and I like that. Of course, I like it in part because (I’ve just knocked on wood) more often than not I win the struggle. Sometimes the stone and I are of like minds, and then we do this nice little dance together. As many of you know, I like dancing.
Art is a different to each individual as we are to the entire collective. It is the marvelous that stands before us in our social reality, which we call life.
I have spent most of my life as an artist, never to let my self be harnessed into one genre or medium. It is my personal assertion that all of these “things” that we work with are interconnected.
The purpose of my work could be many things. In my custom Jewelry it is primarily to help others signify a special touchstone event in their lives. While sculpting bronze, wood, clay or stone I try to evoke a feeling or emotion that strikes me while I am in the design phase.
I have had good years where money was not the primary for my work. During those times I feel I was the most creative. I am a full time student at U of O working on my Fine Art and Folklore degrees. The financial expenses connected with tuition are enormous. At times I feel too pressed to turn on the creative process.
I feel that when I am done with school I will be pouring myself into writing and creating with a greater level of understanding concepts of design.
The purpose of my art is to express “my force within.” Having been “farm raised” with parents and 15 siblings as #16, I was creative, independent and a hard worker like the rest. My father was a farmer/carpenter, my mother, also a farmer/dress maker and milliner. With repeated voice commands, they taught me “the world don’t owe you a living boy” (Dad) and “you can always do more than you think” (Mother). I learned to obey and work hard, yet I found time to be creative and to be alone (much needed my artists).
It took me a long time, however, to be honest with my art and to really “bring it out.”. The voice of my heart, the feelings in my gut, the fantasies in my head, and what I observe around me – inspires and influences my studio practice: what I carve in stone, model in clay or sketch with charcoal and pencil.
I do not create for the market, though I have followed guidelines and budget for commissions. I give a nod to the stars above, when someone sees a value in my sculpture and wants to own it. This validates that I’m not the only one who loves it.
Early in life, I thought that an artist needed expensive materials and tools. . Later in life, I remembered that at age 6, I was digging clay in our Texas yard to model my horses, people and cars. Over 60 years later, I enjoy natural resources: stone and clay, to create unique expressions. This connection with the Earth and the universe is important.
My motto is “expressing what I love through art.” It’s all autobiographical folks. Just look at my art and then you can write the book; what I’m about, where I’ve been and what I’ve experienced. I approach my art with a professional attitude, but I’m fortunate that I don't rely on sales for my living. It is a pleasure striving to be an artist with frequent help from Everett DuPen, Jacob Lawrence, Pablo Picasso, Auguste Rodin, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Sabah Al-Dhaher and Richard Hestekind.
In my early years of ‘old age,’ I am gaining a deeper understanding of expressing “my force within” with painting, creative writing and with more works in stone.
It’s been a grand experience being a member of NWSSA since 1986. Everyone who has kept NWSSA a wonderful network, deserves a nod from the stars above.