Bresnahan Residency Day 21/22

As much as I want to start new work in this final week, there are some pieces that need to be processed.  I spent the past two days addressing the needs of the two big heads (working titles "Concern" and "Contentment").  These two pieces were initially made on blind impulse.  In both cases, I grabbed lots of clay, smacked it together and hewed a face with my palms and thumbs.  Now I'm responsible to prepare them for the inevitable trauma of wood kiln firing.  I spent much more time on hollowing and reassembly than the actual sculpting.  Hollowing the heads was a matter of judging when the clay was stiff enough to stand, but soft enough to carve.  That window of opportunity has to stay open for rejoining pieces as well.  

"Contentment" surprised me.  It turned into my daughter.  Then it turned into my elderly daughter as I'll never see her.  Plus there are soaring pelicans again.  After hollowing out the interior and repairing the seam, I got to surface work.  I was surprised that:

  • reworking the surface took most of the day,
  • I enjoyed it so much,
  • there are passages of subtle grace

This is a weird sculpture.  It toys with a Japanese formalism (replace those pelicans with cranes and add gold leaf or imagine the whole thing is made of jade) and evokes American Western taste (that smiling old leather face).  Is it a new age-ish tribute to mother earth?  Oddly, it all feels dangerously close to kitschy "aw shucks, will you look at that" cuteness.  At one point this evening I declared, "I'm afraid I may have made a Jeff Koons piece."  Then I threw up a little in my mouth and followed up, "but I made this myself so that can't be true."  Still, I may not sleep much tonight.

But why?  As best as I can tell, I think my daughter is beautiful.  But it's not the kind of beauty that is only because she's young.  If God will that she lives to be an elderly woman, I see her light continuing to shine.  This is more than hope.  She's been blessed with a deep generosity and love.  I guess that had to come out somehow.  So, kitsch or not, there it is.  I love you girl.

With sculptures this large, the weight, moisture content, and amount of material to be removed are all greater than my typical clay experience.  Recall that this clay is fairly raw from the ground.  It has particular characteristics, such as high iron content, up to 20% shrinkage rate, and a strong capillary effect.  Water moves from higher clay down to lower clay more freely than I've seen before.  Therefore, lower portions can get soft.  

This sculpture, "Concern", fell over backwards after standing for over 12 hours.  The fall distorted the dimensions and tore the neck apart.  I decided to slice it up like bread and deal with pieces individually.  Each piece was hollowed and restacked when I judged the base could handle an additional ring.  This rearranging of matter took its toll on proportions.  The whole thing lists to one side in a nauseating, shifted, almost-rightness.  Like when you walk on a floor that's not quite level.  

The whole surface has been resculpted several times throughout the process.  It has a coating of iron slip to encourage a dark (red, purple, black, blue...) metallic reaction in the kiln.

We all get concerned.  I don't intend this to be a portrait of an individual, but rather an expression of a universal experience.  Many conflicts seem to stem from a disagreement about what causes us the most concern.  Admittedly, I have had world events on my mind and I see us entering into a very different era in world history.  Conflict approaches persistently.  The slightly tippy, bloated distortion of this sculpture feel just disorienting enough.  Tell Bob Ross I just had a happy accident...

I have had some time to wrestle with a new concept.  It's a modular piece.  It incorporates the Louis Sullivan concept of basic systems of living, David Kolb's learning cycle, generational influence, variation within constraints, repetition, support, lineage, patterns of inquiry, anatomy, and the realities of building terra cotta figures.  We'll see if I can pull this together in the next 4 days.