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Something New

I haven't done any painting in a few months, all you've been seeing here are old pieces. With a recent move and visit across the country to relatives for the holidays two weeks time, I simply haven't found time to arrange a corner to work in, pull out and prepare my materials. But after a visit to the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco, I felt inspired... to do sculpture. Usually I'm poring over the paintings but it's been a long time since I visited a museum and this time what really grabbed my attention and thrilled me was looking at the sculpture, especially tribal works of African and Early American peoples. There is something about three-dimensional work that I find fascinating. The objects are not an illusion, they are a real presence. They take up space, they demand to be noticed, they watch you with their eyes. The cast shadows and reflect color and shift their contours with the movement of sun and shadow over them.

Creating the illusion of three dimensions in drawing and painting is a challenge and skill. In three-dimensional media it is another thing altogether. You are not creating the appearance, you are making the thing itself. The greatest demand in sculpture is that the object must be pleasingly aesthetic from all sides and angles of view.

And yet it is something that came easily to me in art school. I only took a few sculpture classes, one in junior college and two at the university, but they were so much fun for me. It was a delight, not a drudgery. Textures and contours and angles and planes and materials molded under my hands... I didn't get very far in any one material, just dabbled a bit in everything: mold making, plaster carving, found object assembly, clay modeling, paper folding. If I can find photos of some of those works, I will post them up here.

I still had my sights set on children's illustration at the time, and thought it improbable to find studio space large enough for so physically demanding a work as sculpture. But all through college whenever I got bored or frustrated with my painting, I fell back on sculpture. It was usually bent wire at the time, in mind of Alexander Calder. One of my instructors commented on it, how I always ran away from my assignments to make these twisted wire animals. He said if that was in my heart so much, it was what I really ought to do. But I only half-believed him, and doggedly plugged on with my painting.

Until this week. I felt so inspired by the museum's sculpture collection that I couldn't stop thinking about it, and talked about it over and over with my husband until he said "if you want to do sculpture you should just do it. Start now."

Well, I don't have studio space, or a garage I can mess up with stone, wood or clay. I don't have a kiln to fire in, I don't have a yard to work in. I don't even have a spare bedroom I could cover the floor and convert into workspace. Nor do I have a lot of resources right now to buy expensive materials; even a student-grade clay is several dollars a pound!

But I have junk. Everyone has junk. So I set a box aside for my junk and started collecting everything in the house that didn't have a proscribed use or owner, and wasn't perishable or too fragile. Broken toys, plastic containers and bottles, a coil of wire, ends of string, a cloth strap to who-knows-what. Glue, needle-nose pliers, scissors and that's it. At the end of the week my box was full (my toddler keeps asking to play with "the stuff in mommy's box" but I won't let her!) and my kid went to bed early.

So I cleared off the table, dumped out all the stuff and made something. It took about two hours of rummaging, twisting, cutting, pinching, snipping. At first I thought to make a turtle out of the domed back of the pink barbie car, but a yellow plastic lemon-juice bottle became a dog's head so that's what it turned into. He's not quite finished yet. I photographed it black-and-white because the bright colors are distracting to me. I'm planning on painting it all one color (black, probably) and adding a studded collar. And he still needs a round tummy.

My daughter saw it up on the shelf this morning and didn't recognize that it was her car turned into a dog, but that the bright colors meant toy: "what is that thing up there for me?" she said. I wouldn't let her play with it but took it down so she could see up close. What is it? I asked her. She couldn't say, but pointed: he has feet, and he has windows. I asked her about all the other parts: does he have a nose? eyes? ears? tail? back? When she had pointed out all the body parts I asked her again what is it?

"A doggie!"

Although I still dream of doing large-scale sculptures with smooth, flowing lines and abstract planes, right now I have to work small. Until I can buy some clay and find a means to fire it, I have my mind set to do more found-object sculpture. With the pleasant thought that perhaps I am also helping the environment a bit: every piece of junk that goes into my art is one less thing in a landfill.

1 comment:

David Colman said...

You s/b really created something great from found art.....I dig it...