The Writer's Life: Film & Book Reviews, Observations, and Stories
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Category — Sculpture

Creature from Hell

The other piece (from the sculpture that broke in two)–the one that wouldn’t morph into something–now seems to have taken a shape of sorts. A frightening shape. It has become a deformed creature from the depths of hell. This morning I found it attacking another older sculpture with its twisted, ugly beak, and I managed to take a photo before it turned on me and tried to rip the nail off my pinkie. How bleeping dangerous it is to carve in wood these days.

January 18, 2010   1 Comment

State of Emerging

One of my walnut sculptures rolled off the table, fell on the floor, and broke into two pieces. The sound of a sculpture breaking is always sickening, like a bone being snapped in your leg. Examining the edges of the break, I quickly realized I could glue it together, but was actually pleased it had split apart. I was always ambivalent about it. Although the original sculpture was evocative of plant forms from the sea, or, perhaps, a sea animal, it still retained too much of the original character of the log. You know, like one of those sculptures some guy from northern Minnesota does with a chain saw from a standing tree. It’s always going to be a tall tree stump no matter how thoroughly he transforms it into a bear raised on its hind legs. Besides, the sculpture didn’t pass the Arne Flaten test. Remember? You should be able to roll it downhill without having it break. Though I tend to think of it as the Japanese test: Nails that stick up will be driven down. I suppose because I’m the original conformist.

Allow me a moment of digression, please. Did you know that the Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas was written by Gertrude Stein? Of course, you did. And that she uses it as a vehicle to describe herself (Stein) from Alice’s point of view. You know, a sublime genius surrounded by very flat, uninteresting lesser geniuses (Picasso, Hemingway, and the like), and by even more one-dimensional types whose only purpose in life is to serve her.

Anyway. Allora.

One of the pieces (from the broken sculpture) underwent surgery, and through the ministrations of a coping saw, rasps, and sandpaper became the flying child perched on its parent’s supine body. Much better than the sea form, I think.

The second piece is still a work in progress, and, though I’ve cut a 2 inch diameter hole clean through it, nothing recognizable is emerging. I’m very familiar with this state. It’s the place between becoming and going too far. You carve, carve, and carve, trusting your instincts, and pray that something good will emerge. Often it does. Though sometimes you make one cut too many, and immediately know that you’ve pushed it beyond redemption. And, so, with regret, it goes into the pile for the next fire in the wood burner.

January 15, 2010   Comments Off on State of Emerging

Stacked Forms

This stacked sculpture began its life as a much larger piece that had been sitting around at Pratt, uncarved. But no matter what I did with it, I couldn’t turn it into a satisfying form. Finally, after weeks of carving, it devolved into four separate pieces which I stacked and fastened into this organic form. It was the beginning, I suppose, of my lifelong obsession with interlocking forms. Some of the wood began to check (crack) badly after it was carved, so I filled the cracks with beeswax and sawdust. Today I wouldn’t bother. The checking is a natural process and the resulting cracks are lovely in and of themselves.

September 8, 2009   Comments Off on Stacked Forms

Marble Piece

This was the first piece I carved in marble–and the last. As you can see, I pretended it was a hunk of wood. The block came from a business in Manhattan that sold stone to sculptors, and I carried it back to Brooklyn (all 80 pounds of it) on the subway.

Stone is unforgiving and chips and breaks in unpredictable ways. It made me appreciate Michelangelo (and other sculptors of his ilk) who could carve the most delicate detail, particularly hands, without accidentally breaking off a finger. Like the maple sculpture in the previous post, this piece can be found in my mother’s home, where it sits on the floor like an elaborate doorstop.

By the way, if you look at the flooring beneath the marble (on the right bottom), you can see a flaw in one of the boards, which I touched up with the clone stamp tool in Photoshop Elements. The line between the boards isn’t quite straight. There used to be a time stamp (from the camera) in that spot. The clone stamp tool allows you to sample the texture of the surrounding area and use that to eliminate anything you don’t want. Having a sure hand with the mouse takes a lot of practice.

September 7, 2009   Comments Off on Marble Piece

Maple Piece

This is a student piece I did in Brooklyn when I attended Pratt Institute as a graduate student in sculpture. We lived on the second floor of a brownstone in Park Slope (just before it became the place to live in Brooklyn), and the neighbors in the flat below us suggested I carve in the basement, so I dragged on old desk down there, attached a vise, and carved on the sand floor under a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling. It was a great place to work. The sand floor and stone walls deadened the noise.

The only reason this piece is still around is that my mother took it off my hands and it sits on a beautiful antique bookcase in her living room.

September 7, 2009   1 Comment

Flying Wooden Duck

Flying Duck

This piece was a retrieved from a desert island off the coast of Borneo. After bringing it home, I promptly forgot it until my wife slipped a rock beneath it and set it on the piano. Of course, now I can see what it is—a flying wooden duck.

August 29, 2009   Comments Off on Flying Wooden Duck

Mother and Child

This is a piece I’ve had around for a while—one of those I can’t quite bring myself to sand and oil to a final finish. It’s of a mother and child. Notice how the mother is perfectly poised and balanced, cradling her child (I want to say “knave bairn”) with maternal ease. It reminds me of the figures I did when I first started carving. God only knows what’s happened to them. Probably used as firewood during blackouts.

August 24, 2009   Comments Off on Mother and Child

Two Interlocked Forms

These two interlocked pieces sit on the mantel, rough and unfinished, but the forms are distinct and my intentions are clear. Perhaps one day I’ll sand them—or, perhaps, not—since I have no idea what God intends for me. I take my life from day to day, from moment to moment. The two pieces remind me of love relationships—resting upon one another but separate, interlocked but free.

August 20, 2009   1 Comment

Möbius Strip of Experience

This piece reminds me of a Möbius strip (which it isn’t, of course). It has that feeling of something that curves endlessly. Carving it, I remember getting hung up on how it twisted in space. I finished smoothing it today and added a layer of oil. I can now add it to my pantheon of sculptures that will be thrown out with my box of writings when I die. It’s not a bad feeling, just a very lonely one. But isn’t this how our lives actually are? Despite the love we make and take, we live and die alone. The Möbius strip of experience is our own and no one else’s.

July 30, 2009   Comments Off on Möbius Strip of Experience

Softened and Transformed

All things masculine becomes softened and transformed in a marriage if the woman is strong (and persistent) enough. That’s certainly the case with this piece which began its life as a simple sculpture that soon became encased in a white box with a paper flower on top. The stuck-on part of the sculpture is loosely attached to the upright piece with a single rod. The larger piece has been treated with linseed oil (and is darker); the other has not. The truth is they really did belong in a white box but I never knew it until I saw them there.

July 27, 2009   Comments Off on Softened and Transformed