The Sculptor's Muse: Earth, Fire, Wind & Water

July 7, 2010

 

 

Before I started 'blogging' per se, I read a lot of artist's blogs, and subscribed to some. However, it seems that 99% of them are painters. So while a lot is applicable to me as a sculptor, some of it is not. So, I am enjoying writing something that - while it can speak to all artists - does have posts that relate to sculptors and potters, and this is just such a post----
One of the aspects I love about working in clay is that I am able to touch all the elements: earth, fire, wind and water. Each is very important and has to be reined in and controlled by the artist with a mastery of touch that comes only from long experience.
Earth - of course, is the clay. I have always loved that clay is always referred to as a clay 'body'. As Genesis states we were created from the 'dust of the ground', and also some tribes in Africa believe there is a different clay body for every race of people, I love the connection between the two. Since moving to Tennessee and having to find another clay supplier, I have been thrilled to find a clay body that pushes the limits of what I can do more than the clay I used in Mississippi. The properties of a clay body - strength, elasticity, memory (yes, clay has memory - after sculpting an arm in one position, if I move it and don't work with it through the drying stage it may try to move back. Potters see this more. It comes about from the alignment of the molecules in the position first sculpted, unless the clay is slipped back down, even if you move the clay after it reaches leather hard, the molecules are still lined up as they were previoulsy. so sometimes, as the clay continues to dry, it will try to torque back to the original place, unless, of course, you know all this and know how to work the sculpture as it dries - though sometimes a clay may surprise you in the firing by 'remembering') All to say, as I fashion figures from the clay - I see so much in common between the flesh and the clay body.
Fire - this of course, is the kiln. To become permanant, all clay must be fired to vitrification. I've used both gas and electric kilns. We use an electric kiln for sculpture and to bisque fire Robert's pottery. We use gas for the raku kiln. Potter's usually really get into this element, they like fire and like to experiment : wood kilns, salt kilns, primitive dug out kilns - potters are a breed unto themselves. For sculptures, we just want the peice fired and fired well.
Water - potters use water constantly as they work, as a sculptor I use a mist spray bottle. However, I'm using it to control the amount of water in the clay, not as part of my actual sculpting. As the sculpture is blocked out and I begin to sculpt details, I work with the clay as it starts it's journey towards reaching 'bone dry', the water keeps the clay at just the right amount of 'dryness' or 'wetness' for me. It's probably good too, to settle the clay dust, I use about a bottle a day when I'm working solid.
Wind - Now, where fire is more to potters than sculptors, I say wind or air is probably more on the sculptors side. Since sculptures do not have even thicknesses like pottery does, I work a lot with air to aid the clay in drying evenly. I pity the sculptors who had to live before the invention of plastic bags! I use them from the largest lawn and leaf bags, to the small grocery bags, and at times even small ziploc baggies - by wrapping smaller parts of the sculpture with plastic bags, and controlling the airflow from ambient air, to open windows, to using a fan - it's one of those poetic dances a sculptor does to dry a figure evenly. If a scupture dries without this attention, there is a tendency to have cracks and parts breaking off during drying.
So, as an artist, and not to goad all my painter friends too much (you all outnumber sculptors anyway!) I find that working with a medium that touches all the elements is thrilling and fulfilling.
Renior, in a letter to a friend:
"Sculptors are the lucky ones, their statues are in the sun and when they are of pure form, they are part of the light, they exist in nature like a tree, but for us, we are reduced to the indoors at the risk of existing for only a few days like withered flowers. Why did I become a painter since I'm reduced to admiring without ever imitating, except from so far, so far?"
and, as a nod to my painter friends:
"Painting and sculpture have the same parents; they are sister arts." - Praxiteles

 

 

 

 

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