Space the final frontier or the third element
June 18th, 2004, George Neubert visited my studio and sculpture garden. He had a generous, informed response to my work and suggested that I write about space as it manifests itself in my work.
I remember, as a child, being fascinated by enclosing and embracing spaces. I knew and cherished every secret space in our old two story house from the fruit cellar and coal bin in the basement to little hidey holes under stairs and under the roof at the back of my parents’ closet. It may have been the enticement and comfort of a private sanctuary space, scaled to a child’s body and sense of containment. I used to dig complex underground “forts”, with tunnels and passages just big enough for my child’s body to pass.
Space can embody and imbue mystery in sculpture and in architecture.
One of the most resonant books I have ever read in my life was Gaston Bachelard’s, “Poetics of Space”, a loving paean to the ineffable mysteries of space.
Space, to me, though more evanescent, is as important as the materials in my sculpture, therefore, its designation as the third element.
Internal or semi-enclosed space first emerged in my sculptures in the 70’s , when I started combining wood and steel and became truly manifest in the quantum leap to combining stone and steel. The first spaces were such that they could be looked into, often reached into but not physically entered with the whole body, because of the scale.
The spaces were often slot-like in nature.
The pieces of this period were bluestone (slab-like stone native to upstate N.Y. and PA) combined with carbon or corten steel. The space in these sculptures was darkly mysterious, somewhat due to the materials.
The first granite and stainless steel piece that had a human scale space between the stone and steel was “Inheritor”, done in 1977 and is now in the permanent collection of Storm King Art Center in N.Y. The piece is roughly my own height, just under six feet. Followed closely, the same year by “Dayton”, granite and stainless steel, in the permanent collection of Laguna Gloria Museum in Austin, TX. The stainless steel of these outdoor pieces yielded a light quality and generated a complex interaction or tension between the massive volume of the stone and the slicing planes of the steel. The light and ambient color reflected by stainless steel enlivened the enclosed or contained space.
Little did I know that my first encounter with Texas, doing that sculpture in 1977, planted a seed that would come to fruition more that a quarter century later. By 1994, I was forced to accept that the NY art world had became an intolerable and unrewarding experience for me, not unlike being a “stranger in a strange land”. I felt alienated as well as exiled from an art world that no longer provided sustenance.
I chose to move to a small town outside Austin, where, my work has developed and grown apace, if even apart from any valorization and or recognition from that world that I turned my back on, in a sort of mutual disdain agreement.
For the first years here, TX was a healing place and like musicians “woodshed”, I delved into the vast and welcoming environment of the old west and searched paths heretofore unseen. For a long time I resisted doing what, ultimately became a series of works that I came to refer to as “Imaginal Bodies”, which were vaguely suggestive of anthropomorphic and enigmatic shaped bodies or some variety of living things. I abhorred them and resisted doing them but they were so insistent that I had to do them, to work through whatever they meant. I am still not sure about their meaning to me. Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, N.J bought one of the best pieces of that period for their permanent collection.
In 2001, I was ferreted out by an intrepid woman named Yasuyo Kudo, representing Town Art in Tokyo, who ultimately commissioned a piece for Kansai Gaidai University in Osaka. That commission rekindled an interest in the work I had done in the 70s and 80s, combining stone and steel and enclosing space. I realized that it was still very vital and alive within me and had simply been in abeyance out of lack of external interest as well as lack of funds.
The whole Japanese experience, a week in Kyoto was one of the greatest spiritual tonics of my life. It was truly God’s grace guiding me back to the path I had strayed from.
Since returning from Japan almost 3 years ago, I have had one of the most fecund periods of creativity of my life, creating many major sculptures, the best work of my life. I have thrown all fiscal caution to the wind in order to do my work. I am 63, in reasonably good health but humble enough to know that at this age, there are a limited number of years left for the rigorous and demanding energy necessary to do my work.
I bought a 10,000 lb Hyster forklift, which is the greatest tool I have ever had. It has enabled me to up the scale of my sculptures so that people can now fully enter some of them.
Contemporaneously with increase in the possibilities of scale, I realized that I not only wanted to be able to create spaces that could be physically entered but visually opened, as well, as in, seen through and into. I am captivated by a suggestion of translucence and lightness of weight and well as spectral light. I am accomplishing that now in stone by drilling holes or making slot like openings through some stones and in steel, by plasma cutting slots or holes through the steel, in some sculptures, which gives them a strange “veil-like” quality. The first piece of this new series was “Inari Guardian”, a modest scale piece. The stone had a texture and form that I wanted to reveal through the steel and the concept of cutting slots in the steel occurred to me, to make that possible.
Probably the greatest surprise to me was the way the light slicing through the slots in the steel plays on the sculpture, constantly changing, as the sun makes its transit. In this case, it almost as if the light becomes another texture or palpable element.
One of the first large scale pieces of this new series is “Winter Veil”. I am now working on the second “Veil”, “Pass Veil”. Both these pieces have internal space that can be entered fully by humans and are opened visually, through the slots cut in the steel.
I have always been fascinated by contradiction or duality, as metaphor as well as material, with the disparate materials being the manifestation of these qualities.
I have also been combining stone and cast bronze in pieces that I call loosely, the “Mask Series”. The space is often opened through the both stone and bronze, at the same time containing or capturing a dark and more intimate inner space that can be intuited as well as seen and investigated by those curious enough to approach the sculptures and peer into this dark interior space.
My intention is to energize space and make it an important (third) element of the sculptures and every bit as resonant and palpable as the physical materials.
What I have come to realize is that I am in the end game of my life as an artist. Having abjured any and all distractions from doing my work, I have a laser like focus and total, nearly maniacal commitment to executing as many sculptures as I can I the time allotted to me. I know that on faith alone, I am buoyed and in full stride doing these sculptures. I’m grateful that the best has been saved for last and that revelation is still possible, as new possibilities keep percolating to the surface with each sculpture becoming a further unfolding.