Sculpture, 1980-1990

Male Legs

“Male Legs”
Unfired Clay With Wax
30” x 10” x 10”

It broke and I fixed it. It broke again and I fixed it again. Eventually it was beyond repair. And so it is gone.

Maybe this piece was a masterpiece of synthesis. Or maybe it was just a lumpy pair of miniature legs. If it was a masterpiece it was so because it synthesized two great moments in modern sculpture that seem diametrically opposed, the legs of a well know sculpture by Rodin and any of a number of pieces by Giacometti. This piece has something of the existential gravitas of Giacometti’s attenuated bodies with oversized feet that seem to fuse them to the earth. And yet it also has that “bursting beyond its own volumes” quality of Rodin’s work. Even the bizarre and aggressive cropping and incompleteness of the torso is right out of Rodin.

Strangely, the figure seems both impossibly glued to the earth, yet just about to burst off its pedestal like a rocket. The forms are sensual and strong yet seem weighted down by nature’s forces of entropy. Eventually nature won, of course. The piece eventually was unrepairable and discarded.

The photograph, however, is a work of art in and of itself. A few years later, I would be photographing live models with the same strategies for posing and lighting I developed here. It’s interesting how these art works inform later work in unforeseeable ways. Perhaps one of their greatest messages is to simply keep going. Create the next thing no matter what. This will to continue is what these legs are about… to move forward and create the next thing with no real idea of what that might be.

“Female Legs”
Cast plaster
10” x 3” x 3”

This piece is a plaster cast of a piece I made with sculptors wax. It is one of my first attempts to make a mold. And what I quickly discovered is that it is a lot of labor. However, I also discovered that one could make a lot of interesting art by treating it differently in a fundamental way.

Instead of thinking of the mold as a means to the “end” of being able to replicate the original art piece, one could see the molds themselves as works of art. And, if the goal isn’t so “end result” focused, the molds might not only be works of art in and of themselves but they will likely produce unexpected results if still used to create a cast piece. In fact, I subsequently found these weird unexpected casts were more interesting than “perfect” replicas of the originating piece.

Since this was my first one, naturally I endeavored to get it “right.” I wanted the cast piece to look exactly like the original. And it does. In fact, because I had more experience working plaster, I was able to finish this piece a bit after it was cast to make it a little more appealing.

Not so incidentally, this piece reveals my focus on Rodin’s work at this time in my life. These legs were my attempt to absorb as much as I could about the focus on strong volumes, counter rhythmic movements and a lack of concern for complete figures that were hallmarks of Rodin’s work.
Since I studied his work I was also aware of how he used molds and castings to speed up his creative process and production.

Unfired Clay & Wax
14″ x 12″ x 12″

This is essentially my head. And as such it “works” for me in a very special way. But before I tell you how it works for me I want to talk about the idea of art working.

The story starts with the very word….artworks. I’ve always wondered, why not art things? There is the oft used “art objects.” That term is usually used in a context where there is an effort to distinguish being utilitarian and something else which typically gets lumped under the term “art.”

But what are all those “other” things and what makes them different than utilitarian? Whole books have been written about this so I won’t pretend to be able to do a thorough job of sharing what I think this all means in a short essay about this sculpture. However, for the purposes of my story let me say that I think what is generally meant by this phrase is anything made to assist in quenching appetites that are not of the body. In other words, the need to be entertained or the need to feel connected to things we intuit but cannot see.

And of course, these concerns can be combined, and I would argue were combined for most of human history because not until the last few thousand years did people have enough largess to have enough means to make enough objects that an ability to separate these concerns was even possible. Now we have so much excess these concerns have become completely separated. We went from ancient pottery which on one level was simply made to hold water but was so artful we put it in museums thousands of years later and see it as art. To now where we use a bottle for water once and toss it away as garbage while at the same time struggle to find anything made today that is artful at all.

Oh this so deliciously complex and yet, at the same time so simple. Here we are now, in the 21st century with the ability to produce so much that we are in the process of poisoning the entire earth as a result of our ability to do so. And at the same time, have in many ways lost sight of even an appetite for increasing our awareness and joy in things that would help us balance our treatment of the earth and each other, and all this excess of stuff.

And that is where the idea of art working comes back into play. How did art integrate with utility to help our ancestors be more aware of their connection to the earth and each other. Or to put it another way, how did culture evolve in such a way that it both separated mankind from nature and yet keep and possibly even deepen their connection to it. And how, if at all do those 2 forces work at all today?

We typically think of ornamentation as a defense against banality at best and simply superficial at worst. But I have come to see ornamentation as possibly being a key to understanding how our ancestors achieved balance even through the rise of culture.

These days it is the era of the art object in an art setting that struggles to provide that balance. The art world is the modern day ornamentation predictably set far apart from the scrum of everyday activities. The art studio. The art gallery. The art museum. The art world!

These are 4 big spaces where this mysterious and hard to define “work” is happening….or not. Sometimes these hallowed spaces degenerate for various reasons. I’ve been to art studios that were simply spaces for reckless hedonistic abandon where little if any art was made. I’ve been involved with art galleries that were money laundering fronts for massive amounts of drug deals….all in cash. And I have been to art museums that looked more like shopping malls. And the art world sometimes looks a lot like Disney World. But even these negative examples lean into the hallowed intentions deeply embedded in the culture as a means to cover their nefarious purposes.

Every artist’s studio is supposed to be a den of disrepute to some extent in the public’s mind. And no one dare put a limit on the price of a work of art so what a perfect front for converting illegal cash proceeds into a legitimate bank account. And how can museum ticket sales which must be kept low to allow everyone access possibly pay to protect priceless works of art without a gift shop that needs ever more retail space?

Oh I could go on. But here we are….with a clay head lying on its side. A self-portrait displayed lying down and to some people…conspicuous in its disembodied state. Not fired. Not glazed. And therefore, very fragile.

This piece works for me in a very straightforward way. I sleep in a loft. To get to my bed each night I climb a special ladder I designed that looks like a bookshelf and indeed has lots of books, personal items and art. About eye level when my feet are on the floor is this sculpture. So each night I see it as I prepare to sleep. And seeing it I am reminded gently of my mortality and of the beauty of sleep.

It works. It does it’s job. It is a kind of personalized prayer. When I go to bed I think about my day. I take stock of what I did and didn’t do. Who I helped and who I harmed. What am I grateful for. What should I let go off. What will I do tomorrow. Next week. Next year and the with the time I have left. I feel more connected to my day….my future….my people. Myself. The moment becomes present. The point becomes infinity. It works.

I turn off the light, which also did its job. It’s that simple.

“Small Figure Study”
Clay and wax
14” x 3” x 3”
Shortly after I moved to Seattle I set up a studio which became mostly a sculpture studio. I created hundreds of small figure studies like this one. Even though I had known the work of Rodin very much since my undergraduate days, for some reason at this time it suddenly became my focus. I wanted to paint the figure too, but it would be a few more years before I gave myself permission to do that.  
Because the process of making moulds was so time consuming and expensive and because a lot of my pieces exploded when fired, I searched for another method of preserving them. Somehow I stumbled on the process of dipping them in hot wax once they were completely dried.  This technique did not make them permanent but definitely made them more durable.   It allowed me a whole new creative way of working as well.  
Some of the best pieces explore the idea of decay set against development.  
This piece is one of three that were intended as studies for a monumental work that I want to do in sandstone or concrete one day.   At the time of this writing, it was 28 years ago that I made these pieces. I am hoping it is not much longer before I get to realize them as I had originally envisioned them.

“Portrait of my Sister”
Unfired Waxed Clay
20” x 20” x 20” Approximately
This piece was most likely destroyed. During 1989-1990 or so, I liked sculpting portrait busts from life from anybody who would sit for me. They were almost always done in one and occasionally two sittings. They are almost all made of potter’s clay over a rough armature of poultry wire and wood, meaning less clay could be used and rendering them unfireable. 
After they dried out completely, I discovered I could make them more durable by soaking them in molten wax.
Almost all of these pieces were head and neck studios only. The neck became the “stand” or structural support. This made them both easy to complete and stable. Most of these pieces were done as “studies” or a kind of elaborate practice for some grand body of work that I never got to. 
What did happen was that I developed my ability to look much more carefully. I grew to trust my hands. I learned how to “check profiles” and even found various “approaches” to create a physical likeness. For example, by establishing the jaw line and major tendons of the neck first, the rest would fall in place by itself. 

Unfired clay
12” x 6” x 6”
In and around 1989 I had a sculpture studio and thought that would be my career.  I did not think I would become a painter.  These hands are made of unfired pottery clay and coated in wax. I also remember taking some pride in finding a way to photograph them to enhance their beauty.  I do not know what happened to this piece.  

“Broken Head”
Unfired clay
20” x 10” x 10”

I recently visited a world heritage archeological site in Thailand call Ban Chiang. It is famous for its early Bronze Era villages buried in mud for thousands of years and most notably for its distinctive pottery. The pottery struck me in many ways but not least of all by the it’s combination of ruggedness and elegance one almost never sees and yet looks so natural.

The visit to Ban Chiang made me think of these clay pieces I created in my late 20’s. In most cases my pieces from this period are not fired and hence quickly took on the look of something made by human hands into something cultural and set aside from nature on the one hand. Yet quickly deteriorating into the rugged formlessness of nature like so many clods of mud laying on the side of the road.

This head is barely a head. It’s almost as much a lump of dirt as a work of art. And unlike the pieces I created that appear to suggest form emerging from formlessness, this one appears to suggest form crumbling back into formlessness.

Well yes. I can almost hear my kids saying, “ bla bla bla dad. Whatever.” And that is perfect because their language would be expressing something powerful as well even as it degenerates from language into formless sounds the way my sculpture is devolving into formless dirt.

Perfectly formed thoughts, eloquently expressed? Yawn. How much more fun to see the thing falling apart? Like letting out a nasty belch at the dinner table or ripping a fart in a crowded elevator. Juvenal at age 14 yes. But perhaps a touch of genius at 62?

“Guns and Roses Chic”
Unfired Clay and Wax
20″ x 12″ x 12”
I don’t remember her name, but I remember that she introduced me to Guns and Roses. I never liked their music but I knew she was introducing me to important pop music. She was a physics student at Seattle University where I held a “day job” at the time. She was an American student but liked hanging out with my International students.  
At the time I had a studio donated mostly to sculpture. I loved doing portraits of my friends. These were fairly quick usually only taking 2 sittings of an hour or so each.   
Like most of my busts at that time, I had no intention of casting it. But I didn’t want to simply throw it away. So I evolved this technique of dipping it in hot wax. The wax would penetrate the dry clay and give it a kind of coating in glue.  It also produced interesting surfaces.  
Just as importantly, though, I became interested in photographing these pieces as an art form in its own right. Initially it was just a way to document them, but eventually I began seeing my photographs of my sculptures as works of art in and of themselves. 

“The Foot”
Unfired clay with wax
12” x 8’ x 8”

I created this piece in 1989. I was 28 years old. I was fortunate to have a ramshackle old warehouse as a studio near Seattle’s downtown. I ended up creating a lot of sculpture and without a doubt produced some of my best work up to that point. In fact, I didn’t appreciate what I had achieved until many years later.

This piece is among my first attempts to highlight fragments of the figure as ends in and of themselves. It’s all the more remarkable to me as I look back and remember how anti figural art speak was at that time. Any self respecting young artist wanting to fit in would not have been inclined to create figural works of any kind. And I did want to fit in. Not only that, I wanted to be financially rewarded.

Well, that didn’t work out. There was nobody remotely close to me in proximity or culturally who was prepared to buy my work at any price much less at the level that would have sustained me, even if I had adhered to what was popular or trendy in the art world at that time.

And yet…..

And yet, even in this remote little warehouse in a seriously derelict part of Seattle, a few people found their way to my studio and either bought or commissioned a few things. I’ll write more about that in other sections of this website.

But no one bought this piece, thank God. In fact, I don’t think anyone has really ever recognized this as a work of art. And that’s ok. I no longer need the money or the recognition. I know what it is. And I am equally confident that it will find its audience in due time. It will never be an influencer the way I had hoped my work would be when I was much younger. But now that “influencer” has become nearly synonymous with narcissism, I am grateful to simply own the piece and have it continue to inspire me. Perhaps that is the highest form of narcissism of all.

It is begs the question, where does onanistic end and narcissism start? As creating and maintaining relationships become more challenging and more people retreat into themselves, this question may be more relevant than I thought.

Unfired clay (destroyed)
24” x 16” x 16”

Ahh yes. The old cliche of the figure emerging from the formless muck of the earth rising up as though by the force of God into form itself. Taking flight, of course, or at least struggling to do so and putting up a good show in the meantime.

Well, yes. I’ll confess to having something like that in mind. But my skepticism about this old chestnut must have been at play even while creating the piece. After all, why did I leave the upper torso degenerate back into a formless lump with no arms or head, the very parts that should have been most defined according to the natural conclusion of the cliche. I remember thinking that trajectory, unimpeded by complexity, just wasn’t satisfying. It was getting at the truth of the matter.

Instead, I put the couple back-to-back and then smooshed their upper torsos together in a formless blob that suggests all kinds of emotional dynamics. Now, I thought, we are getting somewhere.

Unfortunately, this piece didn’t survive. Since it was unfired clay and since I spent little time and energy on the engineering aspects of it, it was very fragile. It simply didn’t survive my many studio moves in my early 30’s and eventually just fell apart. Ironically, my relationships with life partners also did not survive my many moves and like the sculpture just fell apart. And like my relationships, I have a few nice pictures and a lot of great memories.

“Small Renata”
12” x 6” x 6”
Unfired clay, metal, wax
Renata was one of my students during my 2 year stint as the International Student Advisor at Seattle University. Like many other students, she would hang out at my studio and basically party.  She was Italian and was a sculptor’s ideal model. All of her forms were clearly defined. She had a thin long neck which meant her jaw and facial features were clear and distinct making them easy to find in clay. I did several portraits of her.  
Like a lot of my work at that time, it was unfired clay which meant it was very fragile. And, as such, at some point, it broke.  So, I glued it back together with hot wax and mounted it on an old light socket cover.  Many of the pieces were broken beyond repair and so I left it as is, with just enough to capture the essence of her general form as well as some of her personality.  I can still recognize Renata even in this broken fragment.  

“Freedom and Democracy Heads”
6” x 4” x 4”
2 VersionsThese were examples of a small replica I made to raise money to pay for a life size recreation of the makeshift plaster sculpture Chinese students erected in Tianannen Men Square in Beijing in 1989. Their sculpture was itself based on the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor. These little plaster cast have the general look of the Beijing version and ended up being little works of art in themselves. I made a mould and cast over 100 of them. Each one was hand crafted when it came out of the mould.

“Statue of Freedom and Democracy”
Various sizes of replicas of the statue built by students in Beijing in 1989
Plaster, wood, wax
1989 and 1990

This website is not the place for a total re-cap of modern Chinese history or even a summary of the Freedom and Democracy Movement in China in the late 1990’s. However, I will say that during that time China had taken several meaningful steps to modernize and liberalize the country. The result got them to where they are today, the second largest economy in the world and many other positive economic measures. However, it remains a totalitarian state governed by one party and increasingly under the leadership of one person.

In the late 90’s there was real reason to believe that China’s economic reforms would also become political reforms allowing for multiple parties, the rule of law and democratic freedoms. Well, that all came to an abrupt halt on June 4, 1989 when the leader of China ordered the abrupt end of the pro democracy protests with a military style massacre. The event was so painful to Chinese people and so embarrassing to Chinese leadership that it has been censored right out of Chinese history. The mere mention of this event on this website will ensure that it is banned in China.

The students in Beijing erected a large plaster replica of the Statue of Liberty as a mascot for their movement. Pictures of it were spread around the world. So when it was destroyed by tanks on June 4th it became the symbol of this terrible loss of life and hope for democratic reform.

My Chinese friends and students decided right away to build a replica of the replica to commemorate and raise awareness of this event. First I made a small table size version. Then a 6’ version in clay. To raise money I also made a small head of the Chinese statue and a mold to cast it. We raised some money but they became small works of art in their own right. I knew nothing about mold making at the time or production casting but we got started.

Then I made a 14’ version out of solid styrofoam and plaster. This actually looked good and was very sturdy. But it was not big enough. So I attempted to build a 30’ version in my back yard at my apartment complex. That failed miserably. So we tried again outside what was then my new studio. This time we prevailed and finished the piece. It was huge and immensely heavy.

When the crane arrived to lift it on to a truck to be transported to a city park it broke. Everyone was heartbroken except me. I was actually afraid it would break at the park. Or worse, fall down and hurt someone after it was all set up. So, we loaded the smaller 15’ version on the truck upright. This proved to be its own success because then the statue could be driven around the city. And so we did. We spent an entire day going 10 miles an hour driving around the city stopping to give speeches and let the media take pictures before arriving at a park in Chinatown for a more formal ceremony hosted by the larger Chinese community in Seattle.

This was the closest my art ever got to “political art.” It was exhilarating. I worked so hard to meet deadlines, incorporate well intentioned but unskilled volunteers and keep people focused on the issues who barely knew where China was on the map much less what was going on and on artistic merit.

I am still a dedicated novice of Chinese history and politics. I continue to develop my Mandarin speaking skills and read lots of books on what is going on in China. I have even made several trips there since 2016. Someday I hope to help in some form of cultural exchange between our two countries.

On this website you can see many of the creations I mentioned here including the table sculpture, the little heads, the six foot version, the 15’ and both the 30’ versions. There is even a picture of my painted version of the “tank man” and the posters I painted for rallies.

“Face of Freedom and Democracy”
9″ x 4″ x 4” 
At some point after the Democracy Movement in China in the late 1980’s came to an abrupt halt with the Tian an men Square massacre in June 1989, I began making replicas of the student’ “Statue of Freedom and Democracy” which was their symbol and mascot for the movement in Beijing. You can read more about my work around the Democracy Movement in China under other entries in this catalog.
Along the way I created a 6’ version of the sculpture in clay as a way to prepare to make a 30’ version in plaster. I made a cast of the face before I destroyed the 6’ version. It had to be destroyed when I moved out of my studio because it was very heavy and very fragile.
To create this piece I squeezed a piece of fresh soft clay onto the hardened face of the large sculpture. Then carefully pulled off the fresh clay with the imprint of the face. I then poured molten wax into this impromptu “squeeze mold.”
This is a fun and quick way to get a mold of something which has no undercuts. It allows for chance and fresh energy that comes from handling the soft clay to enter into the process resulting in an imperfect but more lively “copy” of the original.

“Goddess of Rot”
Plaster/wood/vegetable matter
6’ x 4’ x4’
 I made this statue in 1989 and 1990. Then ten years later in 1999 I put it all together. Prior to that the figure just sat around my studio.  
During a brief period from about 1989 to about 1991 I had a studio that was primarily devoted to sculpture. Most of the sculpture I made was from clay. Then I would often make moulds and convert the work to plaster or concrete.  
The process of making moulds and casting them was very time consuming. So, I tried an experiment with this piece. The original art was made on an armature of wood and chicken wire in the conventional way. The base was built up with plaster. Above that I then built the figure with soft clay over the chicken wire. Then I covered the clay with a layer of plaster. After that I stuck a garden hose inside the whole thing and washed out the clay.  I then turned the piece upside down and filled the cavity with a very hard white plaster.  Then I chipped away the softer outer plaster to reveal the sculpture. While this may seem like a lot of work, and it was, it was considerably less work than creating a mould.   
Many years later I decided to build a small deck over my compost pile and place the statue there. I felt it was appropriate because the sculpture was supposed to represent hope through the promise of resurrection. What a better place to do that than over a compost heap where rotten vegetables are turned into fertile soil to support and nurture new life?

“Bald head on Traditional Plinth”
Unfired clay, wax, plaster, marble slab
30” x 12” x 12”
Most likely destroyed
This was one of my favorite portrait studies from that time period. I don’t remember who the sitter was.  
In this piece, like many others at that time, I experimented with combining plaster with unfired clay. Initially it was a way to create a shape using both materials’ strengths but which eventually would be cast in a unified material.  The costs and effort involved with casting and mould making meant that most pieces never got cast. In turn, I quickly began seeing the juxtaposition of materials as it’s own thing. These “combination” pieces were fragile though. As a result many of them broke within days of creating them. Many never left the studio.  
That is the reason I took such care in photographing them. This effort prepared me for the work I would do in the coming years when I used my camera and the whole rarified moment of a photo shoot to work with models and compose paintings.  

“Seated Torso”
Unfired clay and wax
6” x 4” x 4”

Unfired clay, wax, wood, plaster
25” x 12” x12”
Francisco was one of my international students from Brazil when I was working at Seattle University as the International Student Advisor. During those years I had a sculpture studio and on Wednesday nights I invited my students to come over and make Art and hang out. Some of them sat for me while I did sculpture portraits in clay. Firing them was impossible because they were too thick and would have exploded in the kiln. Making moulds was too time consuming or expensive so I needed to find another way of making them at least a little more durable.  
When clay dries it shrinks. And if you let it dry quickly it will crack because the thinner parts will shrink faster than the thicker parts and cause parts to crack or even separate from the rest. Since it was built over an armature of chicken wire some of the cracking parts would fall off and others would cling to the wire giving the piece the look of being very old.   
I discovered that poring hot wax over these dried pieces not only helped glue them together, but also added something positive to the way they looked. A lot of this process was uncontrollable and so the element of chance was a big part of the process. If a piece looked good in some hard to define way, I would take the trouble to cast it on a large block of concrete or plaster so that it could be displayed standing up. The size, dimensions and material were all important elements to consider in order that the final piece cohere.  

“Leg Study”
Unfired Waxed Clay
2 Pieces
12” x 6” x 6” Approximate
Possibly Destroyed
When I first set up my studio in Seattle, I focused on sculpture. I wanted to pick up where Rodin left off. I wanted to create volumetric sculptures based on an idea of elegance and beauty. Clearly, I was interested in volume as a means of expression as well as the power of the fragment and the “raw” and “unfinished” as can be seen in the “pedestal” of this piece.
I also took a great deal of care in photographing these pieces. Unlike photography flat art, photos of sculptures became a kind of art in themselves. During this process I developed a way of lighting that became central to my way of working with models in the 90’s and formed basis of my art for another fifteen years.

“Mother and Child”
Unfired clay and wax
18” x 10” x 10”

Perhaps a better title for this piece would have been “Mother and Muck.”
For on thing, you can’t really see the child. And for another, it just sounds better. But I guess the real reason it might be a better title is that it gets at the nub of what this piece is about, the frustrating effort of motherhood along with the constant dread of having one’s own identity subsumed in the gravitational pull of nature’s powerful forces.

I’m not a woman and so I don’t really know what this must feel like. My body is not wracked with pain every month as it sheds an egg and prepares my very core for the next one. When my kids came along, I didn’t grow and distort into a swollen lump and my hormones didn’t threaten to transform me into a raging monster one day and a depressed immobile lump the next. And those cute cuddly little creatures didn’t emerge from my body, leaving it wracked and stretched forever.

But I am a parent. And I have seen this process up close. And did my best to be a consistent support system throughout. And I saw the mother of my children, a professional person with a highly developed sense of self, giving birth and raising a child in her late 30’s. And I watched her struggle to both celebrate and enjoy the miracle of motherhood and yet maintain her sense of self even under the relentless grind of nurturing this helpless creature that just emerged from between her legs.

I did this piece when I was in my late 20’s, a full 10 years or so before I became a father. But I was watching carefully both the women in my life who were becoming mothers, but also what was happening in the culture as women put off childbearing more and more to develop themselves first…. or not having children at all. Being male, I knew that becoming a parent would not feel this way, and I was right. It was much harder, even being on the easier side of nature’s great divide.

Mother and Child
Mother and Child

“Clasped Hands”
Unfired clay, wax
Life size
I made many life size sculptures of hands and feet during this time. These pieces were not intended to be finished and presented works of art. They were more like studies to learn how to do them with the idea that one day I would meet the skill to incorporate hands in a larger piece. However, once I discovered how easy it was to preserve them by dipping them in wax, I began to think of them as finished works of art. Some were sold and others just broke or got lost. I’m not sure what happened to this piece. 

“Portrait Bust of Some Guy”
30” x 14” x 14”
Plastor on steel

In the late 1980’s I moved to Seattle from New York City. Within a few months I set up a studio and began making sculptures.

Rodin was my overwhelming influence. Although, concurrent with this, I was still studying East Indian philosophy and art. I was interested in Yantra’s, meditation and how these ideas were expressing themselves in contemporary American culture.

It was almost as though all this ethereal spirit work was needed to be counter-balance the physicality of the sculpture.

At this time I would sculpt from life with anyone willing to sit. I worked fast discovering I had a natural ability to find the form and likeness of my sitter. And I loved the materials including clay for making the originals as well as plaster and concrete which my work was cast in. I hated the mold making process and had little or no natural ability for it.
I remember making this piece and I remember casting it for the man. I don’t remember who he was or how he came to sit for a portrait for me.

It’s also worth mentioning that I have always felt I had an almost messianic responsibility to be a sculptor. I have felt a kinship with the great form makers reaching back through Rodin to Bernini, Michelangelo, Donatello, Phideous and many unnamed sculptors from even earlier times. That feeling still lingers.

Unfired clay and wax
16” x 12” x 12”

This was one of my first life size portraits in clay and done from life. At the time I did this piece I had a day job as the International Student Advisor at Seattle University. As such, I knew the International students very well. I also had a very active art studio where I was mostly making sculpture. My studio was often full of students from all over the world. Renata was from Italy.

Because I could do these portraits in one sitting, I ended up doing a lot of them. The problem was what to do with them. They could not be fired because they had wire and wood inside. And making a mold to cast them in a more durable material was something that until then I had no experience of nor the money to do it.

Eventually I learned a few things about mold making. The traditional ways were time consuming, but the materials were cheap. And so, I made a few plaster molds and plaster casts in the traditional manner. In this case I made three casts. I gave one to Renata and one to her friend.

This piece is the original unfired clay. Because it is so fragile parts of it have broken off making it impossible to stand it up. However, I like this presentation better. These photos were taken in 2021 during the Covid pandemic when I had lots of time on my hands. During that time I experimented with photographing some of my old work that had never been documented. And in the process rediscovered how much potential there was in those old boxes. Unfortunately I could not find the one plaster cast of this piece I kept for myself. It disappeared somewhere along the way.

When I made this piece, I was 29 and Renata was 26 or so. Now, at the time of this writing, I am 62 and she would be about 60. Because we met in 1988 there was no internet or Facebook so keeping in touch with people was difficult. I don’t even remember her last name. But it would be fun to meet her again and do another portrait of her at this phase of our lives. So Renata, if you somehow come across this website and see this portrait of you, please contact me.

“Rubber Man”
Rubber, wax and unfired clay
14” x 10” x 10”

This piece began as an ordinary portrait study of one of my friends. When it dried out I decided to make a mold of it and cast it in plaster.  However, the cheap brush on rubber I used to create the mold began to delaminate from the art.  I couldn’t figure out what was wrong but eventually discovered that the art had not completely dried when I started applying the rubber coatings.  As the art continued to dry it also continued to shrink causing it to pull away from the rubber mold.  Eventually I realized this was actually more interesting than the original art so I left it as is. Over the years the rubber has turned brown and saggy which in my mind has only increased its impact.  

“Small Renata Bust”
Unfired clay, wax, plaster and wood
10” x 10” x 10”
Renata sat for several portrait busts. She was one of my Italian students at Seattle University and had a classic Roman profile: strong, clearly defined jaw and facial features with a long thin neck. This portrait does not convey most of those attributes but they were part of what inspired me to make this piece in the first place.   

“Head of Marsyas with Stone”
Stone and clay
20” x 15” x 15”

Marsayas was the name of a talented musician from Ancient Greece and the subject of one of the more popular Greek myths. His was a story about hubris among other things. In a nutshell, he became quite enamored of himself and his musical abilities. So much so that he challenged the god of music himself, Apollo, to a musical duel. Of course this required an audience which is in itself an interesting part of the story…audience as judge.

Well, Marsayas went first. He played the violin with such zeal and musicianship that the crowd was moved to its feet when he laid down his instrument. But then Apollo played and heaven itself opened, moving everyone to tears of joy. When he stopped the audience was struck silent in awe.

Marsyas’s punishment for his hubris was to be flayed alive. And there are some awesome paintings of this. One of my favorites is the one I have included here by Baroque artist Josepe Ribera. But there are many paintings and sculptures of this subject perhaps because it is to a great extent about artistic talent.

What interests me is the punishment. Why flaying his skin? Maybe it’s because the skin is the outer surface and the part that to a great extent is the individual identity. Aside from the gruesome pain, perhaps the message is that to become an artist means to let go of one’s ego and personal identity and that to hang on to that is itself a cutting off of oneself from the very force that is music.

Many artists talk about the perils of fame and how their fame has challenged their ability to create or even enjoy their work. But even artists without fame have described the anguish of being detached from the muse.

That anguish is what motivated me to create this piece. This is the anguish of loosing the muse. Losing the connection with god. For Marsayas he lost it through hubris and pride. For me, like most modern people, through distraction and boredom. In either case, the result is anguish. But perhaps like Marsayas, this pain is the pathway back to a connection with the muse, the music of one’s soul, often lost in the constant flow of YouTube feeds, doom scrolling and tiktoking one’s life away into a numb mediocrity.

In some ways I admire Marsayas. At least he did something. As I write this story I am sitting in a coffee shop. A few people are chatting, but most are slumped over staring into their phones rising only occasionally to lift their phones, smile thinly and snap a picture of themselves. I wonder if any of them will ever challenge Apollo to a duel.

A frustrated composer once said, “mediocrity is everywhere.” Well, not here. Mediocrity implies a falling short even with effort. Other than the one arm selfie, these folks haven’t even exerted enough effort to qualify as mediocre.

But perhaps that’s not fair. Now that I’ve finished my writing, I take a spin through my own tinder account as much for distraction as hope…. and wow, there are, as it turns out, some surprisingly entertaining ways of presenting oneself. And so, I get to be judge too…swipe left…no right..damn it.

“Portraits of Friends”
Plaster and clay
Various sizes

“Portraits of friends”
There is this weird and intense short period in my art career from about 1988 to 1991. During that time I got very involved in making sculpture. And I had an entourage of International students who were interested in art in varying degrees. This entourage was the result of my day job as the International Student Advisor at Seattle University during those years.  
Despite having a day job, I went deep into making art. I rented a spacious dilapidated warehouse and spent everything I had on tools and materials. I had a regimen of copying old master sculptor’s drawings and even did copies of sculptures. I even fancied myself a sort of modern day Rodin.  
The part of the story that is “weird” to me now from the perspective of 30 years, is the fact that until right up to that moment I was very focused on abstract painting with a very ethereal if not spiritual emphasis. Then, suddenly I was mixing plaster and modeling in clay.  Then, almost as suddenly, it ended.  And I didn’t do another sculptor until almost 10 years later.  Painting returned with a vengeance.  
During those brief but intense couple of years, I made a lot of portrait busts of my friends and students.  In most cases these were modeled in terracotta or similar pottery clays which meant they were very fragile when dried out.  Firing them was not possible because I built them over wire armatures.  And casting them in a more durable material meant enormous hours of tedious mold making.   
This piece is the rare exception where I made a plaster waste mold and then very carefully made a single cast in plaster of it.  A waste mold is so named because one has to destroy it to get the cast art out of the mold, essentially wasting it in the process.    
Fortunately, I discovered I could preserve the clay art to some degree by soaking them in hot wax.  And much later, as in 2022, I discovered I could pour liquid epoxy into and over the piece to provide a high level of stability.  But in 1989 I knew nothing about those techniques.