Sculpture, 2005-2023

“Seated Woman”
Ceramic 
12” x 9” x 9”.  Approximately. 
2023
 
This piece was carved rather than modeled. The block of clay had dried out and was leather hard. I used a wire and other tools to remove clay. The only thing added is the little ball at the top of the sculpture; the head. 
 
This piece is about how light falling on texture creates form and energy. Part of the energy comes from your own oscillating perception of the piece as a figure on the one hand and a chunk of dirt on the other.     
 
The little ball on top creates an oscillation of scale and ideally has the same energizing affect.  
 
Ok….that’s all well and good. But there is something else about this piece that just “works” for me and I’m not sure any of the preceding paragraphs explain all of it. Somehow it just came together….and quickly as well. I don’t think this piece took more than 30 minutes.   

Ceramic 

“Kneeling Study”
Unfired clay
12” x 6” x 6”
2022
 
This small study was done from life with my model, Crystal.   Crystal has been modeling for me every Thursday evening for almost 2 years.  However, recently due to various other commitments we have not been able to meet for almost 2 months.  Fortunately, we fell right back into our dance of artist and model.   
 
I set the stage, prepared clay, positioned the Dias and set the lighting.  The general idea was to just pick up where we left off with a small study.  She in turn responded by moving slowly on the Dias until she found a pose she thought might appeal.   Yes, it did….but….it gave me an idea for something a little different.   Could you move your arm here, tuck your foot here….etc.   well…not quite….not sustainable.   Ok.   Let the pose settle to were it’s sustainable and I’ll see if I still like it.   Yes…oh…that great.   Ok.  Here we go.  
 
And so it went, off and on for about an hour and a half.    At one point I added a complete left arm with hand and a suggestion of a head.   But later I ripped the arm off and most of the head.   Then later still I removed even more of the head.   The missing limbs seem especially important at this scale.  But these amputations are not as easy as they might appear.  The energy of the removal has to convey the sweep of the piece.   It is like a final stroke in a piece of calligraphy.  It has the potential to ruin a whole piece.   Sometimes I am unsatisfied with the removal and so reattach a limb and completely rework it just so I can rip it off hopefully to greater affect the second time.  
 
This piece has a particularly harsh working of the back and conversely, an unusually accurate and sumptuous fleshy roundness on the front.  It’s really satisfying to move around the piece.  And the amputated arms give enough guidance to the eye to keep moving without adding their own story.   

“Matt”
Ceramic clay
20” x 12” x 10”
2022

Matt is a friend and a carpenter that I sometimes contract to do work on my spa and studio. He is also an artist who makes some sculpture and various mixed media. This piece is a bit uncharacteristic for me in that he did not model for it. Well…not in the formal sense. And I didn’t make this sculpture while he was in my presence. But it is undeniably him.

But I also include it here because the photographs of it are as much the art as the piece itself. The painting behind the sculpture happens to be the piece I was working on at the same time. The sculpture is fresh. The tools that I use are still sitting on the workbench beside it. The painting is fresh too. I recognize it and can easily see that it isn’t finished.

When I am making sculptures this size I usually take a break when they arrive at this state. I go away and come back with fresh eyes. At that point I usually play with the lighting to see it differently and often photograph it as well.

Once in awhile the photo is more compelling than the sculpture.

Matt
Matt

The 3 Morai 
Unfired clay and paint
14” x 6” x 14”
1990 and 2022
 
This piece was started in 1990 and then sat around my studio until recently.  And now, in 2022, more than 30 years later, I finally finished it.  In between time it has an interesting history.   In the 1990’s I had a studio with outside storage.  Along with many other sculptures I did the previous few years at another location this piece was stored on some very makeshift shelves I erected along the outside of the building.   They were sheltered from rain but not from vandals and thieves.   One night I heard something outside my studio and when I went out I discovered some people helping themselves to my sculptures.   Of course they ran when I came out.  And who knows what they made off with.  It was too dark to really see which is partially what made the whole thing so weird.  How did they even know they were there.   And what did they want with a bunch of dusty broken piece of sculpture that had no value whatsoever and in most cases were really heavy.  
 
The next day, when there was plenty of daylight, I went out to take stock of what was taken.  Several pieces were gone and many were knocked over and broken.  But I had no inventory so I don’t know what was taken and what wasn’t.  The only piece I was certain was stolen was a bust of Martin Luther King Jr.   
 
Years went by and eventually I decided I wanted to make some large sculptures and one piece I had been carrying in my mind was an enlarged version of this piece.   So I started looking around for it.  But it was no where to be found.  Then I remembered that I had put it on the shelves outside.  Well, after the theft that night years previously, I built shelves inside and moved everything inside.  And sure enough, on those shelves was one of the 3 pieces of this stature.   But the other two were nowhere to be found.  I assumed they were stolen.   
 
Then, in 2012, after 20 years in that studio, I had to move.  In the process of moving I needed to clean up the yard outside the studio.   The yard was a dirt lot under a major highway that cuts through Seattle so is mostly loose dirt and gravel.   Well, in that loose dirt I found the remaining two pieces of this sculpture.   However, it was no longer in tact.   Each of the figures that you see here were broken into several pieces and some of the pieces were missing.  I packed everything in a box and moved.  
 
Ten years later I was finally organized enough to unpack that box and recreate this piece.  And now, my hope is to at last make a larger version of it.  The vision is to carve it from large logs and then blacken the wood with fire.  
 
The 3 Morai are legendary figures that the Ancient Greeks believed shaped each souls destiny at the time of birth.  One of them wove the fabric of your soul. Another measured it and the 3rd cut it.  These spirits were the most feared by the Greeks.   Interestingly they show up in Northern Europe as 3 witches toiling over a cauldron cooking up potions and casting spells like the famous scene in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. 
This idea of 3 aspects of making, measuring and cutting has always fascinated me so I decided to make a sculpture in honor of these actions. 

“Couple”
Unfired clay, wood, wheels
8’ x 3’ x 3’
2022

Initially I did these pieces separately.   And as of this writing in July of 2022 they are the biggest clay sculptures I have completed to date.  It is my intention to use them as models for the creation of life size pieces in concrete.  
 
Concrete is very messy and toxic and to work at the scale I intend, there will be the need for several people working together and large machinery. In short, this is not a good environment for a nude model to be sitting around.  
 
These pieces will serve as a substitute for a live model and have also given me an opportunity to work out the pose and affects that I want.   

“Large Male Torso”
Unfired clay
40” x 20” x 20”
2022

I did this sculpture in clay as a way to develop my ideas for a large reclining male figure.   It is inspired by among other things a male torso stolen or taken from the Parthenon by a British diplomat at the height of the British Empire    It is known as one of the Elgin Marbles.  
 
I have seen well executed computer generated images of what this piece looked like before it was broken.   Even taking into consideration that I’m looking at a computer generated image rather than a photo of an actual piece of carved marble, seeing the whole thing is not as interesting to me as the broke statue.  Furthermore, I have never actually seen the Elgin Marbles but I have seen many fragments of ancient statuary beautifully displayed and lit in museums and galleries.

Large Male Torso - Second Photo

“Female Torso”
Unfired clay
40” x20” x20”
2022
 
A tension exists between the disciplined and intentional forms of the figures worked on with skill and feeling by the artist against the “accidental” raw and natural affects of breakage and entropy enacted by the forces of nature upon the stone.    That tension is the most compelling part of these ancient sculptures and what has shaped my own approach.

The way the limbs end is as important if not more so than the how they are positioned or what they are doing.  And I did not include a head because I could not see what it would be doing, expressing or look like.  I could not see how it would advance the piece and quite frankly I just didn’t see it.  Instead, I did my best to terminate the limbs and neck with as much natural flow as I could.  This quality is something I leaned a lot about in my studies of Chinese and Japanese brush painting.  So it’s a little funny that I am applying it here in large Western inspired statuary. When I got this piece to the state it is in now, I decided it needed a female figure directly behind it.   Since he is essentially in a curved up position, I saw her in a curved down position.  I created her separately and then lifted her into position.  It didn’t work.  
 
Fortunately the two pieces worked well individually by themselves.   And so they sat that way in my studio for awhile.   But one day I realized that what they needed was more space.  And so I ginned up this set of boxes to display them in this way.  
 
The space between them is now poignant.   And their arrangement draws you around the piece.   They are still too small and too low to the ground.   But the piece is starting to work the way I intuit it must.
 

“2nd Portrait of Crystal”
Unfired clay, wood
18” x 12” x 12”
2022

 

Why a second portrait of the same individual?    Well, “ why not” would be a perfectly good answer.   But there is more to the story.   Crystal is a woman who has been coming to my study every Thursday nearly without fail for almost 2 years now.   She poses nude while I sculpt.  The sessions are informal.   I almost never know what I will work on until she gets there and until recently I have always used our time together as “practice” rather than working on something particular.  
 
“Practice” seems too vague.   In fact, our sessions are more like preparations.   I am preparing my skill at both finding the pose that my intuition seeks as well as being able to render it in clay with freshness even at the expense of realistic finish.  These studies can be seen here on this website and are known in Italian with a much more artistic name than the English “studies.”…..sounds almost scientific.  In Italian they are referred to as Bozetta.  
 
There are now many Bozetta lying around my studio and spa.  And even Crystal has caught on to what I’m looking for.  She will often present a pose within minutes before I am even ready to work that is exactly what I’m looking for.   This silent communication between artist and model is so satisfying and one of the quiet rewards of consistent focused work.  I am blessed to have this connection with Crystal.  
 
Before she started taking her clothes off for me, something that is always rarified even in the defined environment of a working studio with doors open to a busy spa, I did a portrait of her just sitting calmly in a chair.  It was a fair if strained success.  I had not done a portrait in clay in almost 30 years.  So i was a bit rusty and unsure of what I wanted to accomplish other than getting to know my new model and giving her a chance to get comfortable with me.  
 
Well, 2 years later I wanted to take the measure of my progress and honor her with a fresher vision in clay.  I don’t know that this second version is better than the first.  These things are so subjective.   But it is definitely more poised and relaxed. And I find myself pausing for a moment to look at it every time I pass through the lobby where it is displayed. Crystal is a beautiful woman and smart enough to know that.  She doesn’t need a sculpture to reassure her of her majestic poise informed by her former career as a professional ballet dancer and natural long lines and cool demeanor.  But it doesn’t hurt that this second version captures and accentuates those qualities.  
 
“Why not” would have been so much simpler.  But the explication was hopefully worth it.  Crystal certainly deserves having this story told.  She has been and is likely to be the catalyst and inspiration for many more beautiful creations.  

“Tiny Torso”
Cast and painted plaster
6” x 2” x 2”
2022
 

Great things sometimes come in small packages.   And cliches sometimes actually have a kernel of truth.  This little torso is about 5” long.  I did the original while sitting on the toilet squeezing a piece of clay.   I know that sounds bad but stay with me.  I had my pants securely belted around my waste.   The toilet was not attached to the floor but rather sitting in my studio waiting for a remodel project to reach the stage where its install was the next step.   And the clay was unfired potter’s clay and I was squeezing it with my hands.  
 
After it dried I decided to experiment with something I had seen on you tube…making a mold with construction grade silicone caulk, the kind that is used for remodel projects …especially in bathrooms…around sinks and toilets.  It worked….sort of.  I got one cast out of the mold…..in plaster.   I painted it black and set it on my shelf. And there is sat for nearly a year.  
 
One day, shortly after starting a weekly meet up with a new model, I saw this sitting there.  I was struck by the fullness of its volumes, the tension and grace and the power of its tiny little torso….no arms, legs or head.  
 
It is fair to say that every figure you see on this site since 2021 is inspired by this little piece.  

“Mediocrity”
Unfired clay
24” x 20” x 2”
2022
 
Usually when an artist does a second version of a sculpture or painting, the second one turns out more abstract and looser than the first.  But here is a case where the second version is more realistic and more “complete” by conventional standards than the first one.  And I don’t know why.  
 
I did the second version for various reasons.   One reason was that I was curious if I could maintain the emotional directness of the figure with arms and feet.  Unfortunately it does not.  This piece is dull and uninteresting especially when compared to the first one.  Yes, it has clearly defined arms and hands but these add nothing to the piece.  Moreover it just falls flat. 
Secondly, I really liked the first one and wondered if I could start with the same idea and create another piece that was even more intense.  But again, this one falls measurably short from the original.  And so, here it is, a cute “character piece” that reminds me of Mozart’s lesser known contemporary, Solieri’s famous quote, “Mediocrity is everywhere.”   Yes, that shall be the name of this piece.  “Mediocrity”.  
 
It is a perfectly ok piece.   And I’m ok with that too.  

“Muse”
Unfired ceramic clay
30” x 15” x15”
2022

 

This one just came out in one sitting.  Without a model. But with many sculptures I have seen over the last 30 years.   There are the Indian sculptures carved in stone in the basement of the Norton Simon museum in Pasadena.   And 2 particular sculptures by Rodin.   I included two images of those sculptures here on the site.   And one of the Indian pieces.
 
These sculptures did not just inspire me in the obvious ways…..like what they look like, how they distort the figure , the compactness and tumescence of their forms.   But also in the way Rodin did several versions of them.   In fact, it is hard to say where his work entitled “Eve” ends and “Meditation” starts.   The images I featured here are of the versions that I could find on the internet that most match my memories of these pieces.   
 
The piece here of my work is the first of 2 versions that have already come out.  The second one is a little more realistic than this one for reasons I don’t understand yet.   I suspect it is like an inbreathe one takes before exerting themselves like lifting something heavy or jumping over a puddle of murky water.  Yes….I feel another piece coming out of this group of Robin’s and my own work and the ancient Indian carvings in the basement.  It won’t be as easy as this one.  It will be heavier and less certain.  
 

“Circle of Dreamers”
12 individual clay figure sketches 
Each figure approximately 10” x 12” x 12”
2022

 

This is an elaborate study or sketch for a much larger piece.  The final vision is for each figure to be life size and arranged on a pedestal about eye level and arranged in a large circle allowing the viewer to roam freely in and around the individual sculptures.  In the center there will be an empty dias that viewers can climb on and see the sculptures slightly from above.  
 
For a long time I have been fascinated by circular cosmologies: the wheel of fortune, the circle of life, the circular nature of zodiacs and most recently the very way our calendar is constructed….on the premise of a circle in imitation of the way the earth revolves around the sun.  Recently I even wrote a book about America’s holidays and one of the premises of the book is that the holidays are arranged either by design or chance along basic geometric principles that help give them their resonance and strength.  
 
For a long time I have also wanted to paint a large painting about 16’ square.   Imagine a person lying naked on top of another on top of another and another and so on. But not in a big pile from top to bottom.  Instead they would be arranged in a kind of doughnut shape.  Seen from the side.  All ages, races , sizes and types of people.  It would be circle a circle of humanity.  
 
There could be many versions of this idea of course.  Heads all towards the center.  Heads out.  Only 4 people for the 4 times of day.  12 people for the 12 months.  As many as possible ….just cause.   And so on.  
 
Well….one day….as this usually goes…the idea just popped into my head.   Why not make a sculptural version of this.  The engineering required to bolt large heavy sculptures to a wall seemed daunting so I moved on to pedestals.  I also like the idea of being able to walk around the pieces and experience them this way ….getting overwhelmed by them rather than simply looking at them.  
 
The idea for this group would be that they are all people struggling to sleep.  The process of slipping from one world to the next is fascinating to me.  And I believe one of the defining issues of our time.  So many people struggle with sleep.  Falling asleep and and falling into a deep enough sleep to be truly rested.  These struggles are beautifully revealing to me and of course powerful metaphors of we as a people and as individuals struggle to transform ourselves from the quotidian materialistic era we live in to place of deeper consciousness and connectedness in our sleep.  From the world of measure and the finite, to the world of mystery and the unmeasurable.  

“The accidental masterpiece”
Unfired clay/ black epoxy/wood
20” x 14” x 14”
1989 and 2022.  (Unfinished)

 

In 1999 I did a lot of sculpture.  Among other things, I made portraits from life of many of my friends and students.  I don’t remember who this woman was.  But her bust sat on my shelf for many years.  Since it is made of unfired ceramic clay over chicken wire and wood it was not possible to fire it.  So to preserve it I poured hot wax over it.  That helped. But since there is a stick of wood protruding from the bottom a little further than the base of the clay it is very unstable.  It wobbles.  
 
Over the ensuing 30 plus years since I made this bust I did a lot of paintings and theatrical presentations.  I also did a lot of body painting and this invariably led to pouring paint directly on to my models.  
 
The act of pouring paint on a model is much more complex than one would think.  Even with total consent and in a highly cultivated setting it feels a little exploitative….like throwing a pie in someone’s face.   And yet unlike a pie in the face, pouring paint is sensual and slow.  There is time for the model to really feel the cool paint moving along their skin.   Gravity and their form are in a slow motion dance for the viewer’s eye and the result is surprisingly sexy.   And like all good sexy moments…a bit messy.  
 
It’s also wasteful.   Most of the paint ends up on the floor.  And in order to get the desired sensations and “look” one has to have a real excess of paint.  As a painter who prides himself with working with an economy of means, this has always been a little discomforting.  
 
Nevertheless, the results are compelling.  
 
One day, I was pouring black epoxy in my workshop to help preserve a slab of wood.  I prepared too much and was thinking about what to do with the extra product.  As I was pondering this, I looked up and saw this portrait bust on my shelf.   I took it down, set it on a wooden plinth and poured the remaining epoxy over its head.  Just like a real head, the epoxy slowly oozed down the hollows and rises of her face and skull.  And the excess pooled on the plinth underneath and around her.  
 
Epoxy is a powerful glue so the head was now firmly attached to the wooden plinth making it a much more practical work of art.  But more importantly, the affect of the black epoxy was disturbingly both sensual and upsetting.  
 
Had she been defiled.  Was this a gush of crude oil?  Does her bust represent nature being sexualized and exploited at the same time?   Is there an inseparable entanglement of excess and exploitation?   Is there anything inherently bad in this?   Does beauty trump evil?   
 
It is said that the measure of a true work of art is the degree to which it raises, not answers questions.  If that is true, this is my accidental masterpiece.

“Homage to Iris”
Unfired clay
24” x 20” x 12”
2022
 

Iris is one of the messengers of the gods in Greek mythology.  Like Hermes, her male counterpart, they are able to traverse between different worlds or constructs.   And like Jesus, the Christian version of this same archetype, they have a messianic mission….to remind humans of their divine nature and that the journey to discover this is a painful messy and unsafe process.   
 
Rodin made a sculpture in honor of Iris.   I first saw it over 30 years ago.  After all these years I can not stop thinking about it.  
 
I have wanted to do a sculpture inspired by Robin’s.   My vision for Iris called for some of the same physicality and muscular tension.   I also wanted the raw “in your face” carnal sexual element that is so much a part of the Rodin Iris.    But I wanted my Iris to be more of nature itself, not just allusions to rippling and gnarled wood and rocky crags, but also actual entropy and collapse.  I wanted her to be sagging and twisted as well as swelling and tumescent.  And lastly, I want a plant growing out of the top of her torso.   A real plant ….that will need to be watered regularly and will eventually die and need to be replaced.  
 
This is my first attempt at that vision.  And here is a picture of Robin’s Iris. At some point I will do another version which will bring back a little more of the human anatomy and proper alignment of bone and muscle.   And of course….it will be bigger.  
 

“Small Bozetta”
Unfired clay
8” x 8” x8”
2022

“Seated Bozetta”   
Unfired clay
12” x 10” x10”
2022

 

I do these sketches for 2 reasons.  The first is to work out the idea with a live model.  The second reason is so that I have some visual aide when I make the work larger and with material not suitable to have a person sitting around naked. Sometimes the material is toxic or just too dusty.  And often the process is just too slow.  
 

“Large Bozetta”
Unfired clay
24” x 8” x 8”
2022

 

When is a piece too big to be a Bozetta?  I’m not sure what the official limit is. But like a Bozetta of the more typical size…. about one third the scale of this, it is meant as a study for a larger piece.  In this case it is meant as a study for a much larger piece. But since we live in an era that has an appreciation for the creative spark, we love seeing these pieces that are more about working out an idea than presenting a finished concept.  In fact, I even fussed over the finished-unfinished aspects of it so as to have it work as a complete work of art meant to be presented and appreciated as a complete work of art.  

It was also an experiment with firing. Could I fire a piece this big? Happily, yes, it fired without breaking. And so I spray painted it black of course. 

Perhaps someday I’ll figure out how to make it six feet tall. 

When is a piece too big to be a Bozetta? I’m not sure what the official limit is. But like a Bozetta of the more typical size….about one third the scale of this, it is meant as a study for a larger piece. In this case it is meant as a study for a much larger piece. But since we live in an era that has an appreciation for the creative spark we love seeing these pieces that are more about working out an idea than presenting a finished concept. In fact, I even fussed over the finished-unfinished aspects of it so as to have it work as a complete work of art meant to be presented and appreciated as a complete work of art.

It was also an experiment with firing. Could I fire a piece this big? Happily, yes, it fired without breaking. And so I spray painted it black of course.

Perhaps someday I’ll figure out how to make it six feet tall.

“War Chest”
Mixed media
12” x 12” x 12”
2022
 
This is a direct response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  It is an intuitive response to “things” you hear about in the news with respect to war.  Things like “war chest” “gold reserves” “human costs” “collateral damage” “targeting civilians” and so on.   These terms all are reasonable attempts to communicate intelligently about what is going on and what various factions may be thinking.   They also resonate at a deeper level as well and begin to create their own hybrid constructs beyond their rational meaning in our unconscious.   They surface as dreams and may collect to form chronic emotional states like depression or anxiety.  
 
They also tend to surface as intuitive symbolic leaps like this piece.   The face is a cast from a clay sketch I did of my friend Crystal.   It has an individual likeness but it is also generalized enough to simply be a person…not an individual.   This is in fact an unfired squeeze casting from a plaster mold I made off the original clay bust I created.   This squeeze cast sat around my studio over a year not doing anything.  
 
Then, one day while listening to the news about the war in Ukraine I heard the word “war chest” mentioned.  In the same news cast there was talk about the cost of human lives as a result of the war.  My eye landed on this old wooden box on one of my shelves.  And instantly I knew what to do.  I spray painted the face gold conflating material wealth with human lives and put it in this box which could be both a war chest or a coffin.  Something precious yet horrifying.  And for some reason the face needed to rest on a nest of tangled wires.    
 
It became clear immediately that the lid would not shut.  The face is too big.  And without hesitation I decided that was perfect.  One can not shut the lid on the human face of the war and one can not seal the war chest for its safe keeping.  It is open and vulnerable.  
 
As for the tangled wires….who knows.  That’s just what my intuition demanded so there it is.    

“Ceramic Figure”
Unfired clay
12” x 10” x 10”
2022
 
On one level this is a simple figure sketch in clay referred to as Bozeta in Italian where the idea of doing such a thing probably originated during the early Renaissance.  It is unfired because it would probably blow up in the kiln because it has air pockets and chopsticks stuck in it to support its own weight while being created.   Those would ignite and expand faster than the clay and cause it to shatter.
 

Also, it can be preserved with products not available in Renaissance Italy such as polyurethane which when applied to the unfired clay will penetrate deeply and harden the piece.  It would still break if it was dropped, but so would a fired piece of clay.   On of the ironies of sculpture is that it is both more durable than most art forms and yet more fragile.   If undisturbed it will not fade or crumble like a painting.   On the other hand, if moved carelessly it will break.   
 
I have included this piece here to show how I am beginning to think about the photo of the sculpture as a work of art in its own right.   Here, I placed it in front of one of my recent paintings.   The contrast is visually rich.   However, what also interests me is the play of various levels of distortion and abstraction in the figure and the painting both separately and in contrast to each other.   This photograph is itself a sketch….a recording and a process of a developing idea. 

Salome
Wax and wood
12” x 12” x 12”
2021
 
I am fascinated by the Biblical story of Salome for lots of reasons.  Some of those reasons are somewhat predictable.   But there is one reason that I think is a little unique.  
 
The somewhat predictable reasons are that it is a story of the power of female beauty over some things, but not everything.  Salome is able to control Herod who is a man of political ambitions.  But her charms are ineffective against John the Baptist, a man with deep spiritual ambitions that not so incidentally are about his humility despite his obvious power.   John doesn’t even have noble blood or political position.  
 
The juxtaposition of female beauty, lust and physical violence have been portrayed over and over in every art form.  Some notable examples from modern times are are worth mentioning: Gustav Klimpt’s painting and an etching by Picasso.  
 
But I am also interested in this story because it is one of the more Greek like stories from the Bible.  This is a stretch and probably a gross over simplification but Ancient Greek stories often have a mythological or archetypal quality about them.   They are broad in scope and rarely have the particulars of individuals in gritty real life situations.   Bible stories, on the other hand, are to me more psychological with lots of individuals in complex almost modern like situations compared with the Greeks’ grand sweeping situations that are as mythological as the characters.   
 
The story of Salome is rich with psychological polarities and nuances.   But it also has almost over bearing archetypal characters where their roles and their very beings are almost bigger than life…bigger than an individual.   But not quite.   John the Baptist is just a powerful man.  He is not Jesus, a half man half god being.   And Salome is a woman.   A powerful and sexy woman, but a woman nevertheless, not the daughter of Athena or something like that.  
 
This is interesting in ways that are more than academic for me.   The story carves out interesting territory in story telling that is under explored and perhaps just right for our times.  I don’t have grand ambitions for this little sculpture.  Unlike other small sculptures of mine, this is not a study for something bigger.  Oh, someday I would love to have it cast in bronze.   But it doesn’t need to be any bigger.    
 
In the meantime, I will explore this middle ground between myth, with its long arch and broad sweep and the individual, with its gritty real life details, in my drawings and paintings.  The speed of these mediums is better suited for this fast moving middle ground.   The issues might be sexual power vs. spiritual conviction or the difference between gifting and purchasing or any number of other ways in which life can quickly become way more complicated than it would seem and where the poetic insight of an artist may be lead to a life changing epiphany or just simply be entertaining.   

“SARS-CoV-2”
Terracotta
2021

I am writing this in March of 2021. The pandemic is beginning to show signs of ending as we pass the one year mark since it began. During this past year I did not paint or sculpt any figurative work that was about or a response to COVID 19. Arguably my last couple of abstract pieces were an emotional and intellectual response to the mode and spirit of the past year.   But until now there has been no deliberate attempt to do anything figurative of or about COVID 19.

Every Thursday night since last summer a woman named Crystal comes over and models for me. Initially, I painted some portraits of her. But eventually I started sculpting her. At some point I started doing bozetta of her in low fire clay on a scale about the size of Barbie dolls.  These were usually done in about an hour or so. And I never returned to these works to refine them after our meetings.

Almost every Thursday, Crystal would leave at 8:30 and I would go off to the grocery store for some fresh air and food. When I returned I would eat at my desk and stare at the piece I had just created. I would make a few adjustments and then go to bed.

These bozetta are accumulating with no particular vision of what they are about. Last night I returned from the grocery store, plopped in my chair to eat and stare at my new creation. It was at that moment I realized I had at last inadvertently created my first real COVID piece.

It is often said that we are what we eat. As I sat there eating and looking at my piece I thought, maybe it’s also true that we are what other people eat. In other words, maybe we are more interconnected than we realize. I always interpreted that phrase to mean something more like our health is dependent on the quality and kind of food we eat. And so, maybe I should give more thought to how the quality and kind of food other people eat affects me.

But as I stared at this piece a little longer I began to wonder if we are shaped as much by the way we treat the creatures and plants that become our food as by the quality and kind of impact that ingesting them has on our bodies.

And so I stared a little more. And thought about how and to what degree we become one thing or another by the way we judge or evaluate others’ behavior and relationships to their food, my food, all food. And by that point I am almost full circle. Back to simply being hungry and simply eating.

But am I simply back to where I started? I prefer to think not. I prefer to think that this thought journey was useful. That mindfulness is not simply a symptom of privilege. That it will yield less suffering for others and the plants and animals we eat as well as for our loved ones and strangers. But it’s a slow process.

The sculpture is a woman. But is she. As I sat looking at her I realized that I had shaped her upper body to look more like a bat than a human. Is she in fact a bat? Or a woman becoming a bat? Is that why I instinctively wanted her leaning back over the edge, like a bat preparing to rest as they do hanging upside down from the roofs of caves. And then I thought about Cov-2 and COVID. It came from bats didn’t it? From the increasingly over crowded places bats are forced to squeeze together in. And they are hunted and eaten by many people throughout the world. How could anyone do such a thing? And then keep them alive until the last minute where they are butchered and eaten. Who are these people and who does such things?  How can my judgement propel them away from me and thereby protect myself from them? Judgment keeps me clean! But Is that working? Am I safe if I judge and wall myself away from such messy complications?

“SARS cov-2 comes from bats” we heard from every corner this past year. And those bats and bat eating people are in China.  It’s the “China virus,” they screamed.

But did it? And if so… Okay… Now what? Saddle up the scape goat with as much blame and unresolvable vitriol and send it out into the wilderness of problems too complex to be resolved easily and without deep self reflection. Trot them out in one liners and catchy denigrations. So much better to not have to see ourselves… except as hapless victims of other people’s transgressions.

Is this a woman… or a bat? Is it a woman becoming a bat… or a bat becoming a woman? Is she lying back to rest the way bats sleep upside down? Or is it just a coincidence? It’s just a woman laying back over the edge of her modeling Dias.  

Or is it?

“Clench”
Unfired Clay/Wire
12″ x 8″ 12″
2021

Like so many other pieces done around this time, this piece was inspired in part by my good fortune to have my friend Crystal come to my studio every Thursday evening to model for me for a few hours.  From the beginning of our friendship, the intention was to have her model for me to create life size or larger sculptures. Well, 2 years later we are still making table sculptures like this one. And while that is admittedly a little disappointing, it is still very rewarding to work with her and I have prepared well for larger work.  
 
The intent here was to create tension in a seated figure. Because I used copper wire to help hold the piece together I can not fire it. However, I was able to soak it in epoxy resin to help harden the clay.  And the protruding wires clearly add to the tension of the piece.  Quite frankly I’m not a fan of carefully detailed sculptures of any size but particularly of small works. They end up looking like dolls to me.  Nothing wrong with dolls, but I would describe dolls as being for amusement or pretend play…both wonderful and worthy activities. But with sculpture I am trying to get to something deeper in the experience of being human as expressed through the body.  It’s somewhat counter intuitive but in order to get to deeper awareness I need to distort, twist and minimize the accretion of mundane facts.  I have always wondered if “reality” and “awareness” depend to some degree as much on dissolution as revelation.  Or maybe it is the simultaneous movements in both directions?  This little sculpture is one little exploration of those kinds of questions….more than an attempt to create a miniature version of my friend.  

“Woman”
Sculptor’s wax
14” x 3” x 3”
2021
 

One would have to be living under a rock to not have some baggage associated with being a white male and making a sculpture of a black woman at this time.  And, to some degree, I do….live under a rock.  Among the many other privileges I enjoy is having an amazing studio in a spa run by capable people allowing me the freedom to devote large chunks of my time to making art with no intent of financial remuneration. In actuality, it’s more like being self exiled in a cave than living under a rock.  
 
Yes, I worked my ass of to create this reality.  And yes, it would be a living hell to many of my peers since I still don’t own my own home and at 61 I still have no financial security for my rapidly approaching elder years.   And I hardly go anywhere.   Still, I know I could not even have this perch without some of the silent advantages I have had just by being who I am at this time and place.  
 
But none of that really has anything to do with this piece, why I created it and why I think it’s so awesome.   I created it because I have always admired Michelangelo’s David and wondered if I could create something as singular, balanced and powerful with a totally different kind of human.  
A few years ago I had a Black lover.  I always admired her poise and the tought power in her form and “style.”    While I don’t have the advantage of being able to look at her nude anymore, her form is etched in my mind and is the basis for this piece.  
 
My hope is to find a large log that is big enough for me to carve her out of a single piece of wood 11’ tall.   I want her to be monumental without being gigantic.  
 
I am also hoping that in 25 years or so we will have evolved to a point where no one gives a shift if the artist was white or male or left handed or bald or preferred latte’s over cappuccino.   The power and magic of this piece is not in its political or social positioning.   It is in the grace and balance under pressure that come straight out of a long line of sculptures going back through Rodin, Michelangelo and the Ancient Greeks.   It’s not the realistic details that make this piece worth enlarging ….although they are nice.   It’s the proportions, the balance…the design.   These are principles based on mathematic proportions.  And as such they are about as close to a timeless and universally experienced sense of balance and fullness as I could muster.   If I do my job right, no one will think this is a woman…or a Black woman for that matter.  They will be awed by the fullness of its humanity and hopefully be speechless, empty of judgement and instead full of joy.  
 
If anybody knows where I can acquire a large log at least 12’ long and 3’ in diameter please let me know.   I could not be more ready and I’m running out of time. 

“Reclining Woman”
Unfired Clay
20” x 6” x 6”
2021

Sometimes the photograph of a sculpture is a better work of art than the sculpture. I think that’s the case here. I photographed the piece on the pedestal where I created it. It is an early study of a woman who I have now worked with steadily for 2 years. Most of our sessions result in work I’m really excited about. But not always.

The intertwining of her long legs culminating in the abrupt thick volume of her upper torso with no head looks powerful and effective in the photograph. In real life it looks a bit like a twisted Barbie doll. Too long in places and too short in others. It’s hard to say what is causing the photo to be more evocative than the actual art….maybe it’s the flattening affect of the stark lighting against the aggressive curves of the silhouette. Or a maybe the scratching red marks on the wall create a tension with the figure. Who knows.

Recently I put this piece on display in one of the lobbies of my spa just to torment me. And it works. Every time I see it it makes me want to smash it and create something better. I haven’t smashed it yet, but I have created many much better pieces since this one.

“Jenni as Museum Piece”
Clay, steal, wood
18” x 14” x 14”
2020
 

The title is a clue to its intention.   After sculpting the piece and making a mold from it, I cast a few pieces.  Then the mold fell apart.   The original art had all the marks and scars of the mold making process.  These marks added to the impact of the piece.   The conventional thing to do after making a mold would be to toss the original.  But I have always seen making molds and casting pieces to be part of the creative process including what is left of the original work.  One reason I feel this way is that my molds are always “homemade” with basic materials which allow for a lot of my spirit and chance to imbue their impact on the piece. 
 
Finally, the way a piece is mounted and displayed has also seemed like part of the “making of the art.”    In a way, the minimalist cubes of Donald Judd would not work as art if they were not displayed the way they are in exhibitions.  In an extreme sense, if tossed on the sidewalk along with some garbage bags and irregular sidewalks, Judd’s work would simply be lost or misconstrued as simply more urban clutter.   Welding the support, spray painting the plinths….these were inseparable from making the clay part, more conventionally thought of as the art.   In the same way that Judd must have felt he was still in the creative process when deciding that his pieces needed to be displayed in the way that is now inseparable in our minds from the pieces themselves.  
 
Some art is more durable than others.  But that doesn’t make it any better or worse.  Like Judd I am picky about how my work is displayed.  Perhaps I’m not as demanding as Judd is famous for being.  But then again, my art is probably more flexible in that it will still be experienced as art in a greater variety of settings.  Judd’s work is at risk of being misconstrued as furniture at best or simply a perplexing nothing at worst if it was anywhere just outside the carefully prepared arrangements in very carefully select environments.    Mine is at risk of being misconstrued as decorative fluff.  I’m not sure which is worse.  But artists worry about such things.  I suppose no matter what we do one man’s fluff is another man’s box. 

Female Torso
Cast plaster
20 x 6 x 6”
2020

It’s hard for an artist who came of age when I did to say this is a plaster caste without wincing in shame just a little.  You see, plaster casts of the great classical sculptures from the Ancient Greeks on up to the 19th century were included in the great museums and every self respecting art school had at least one somewhere in its classrooms.  These relatively inexpensive casts were used to assist artists in learning how to draw but at another level they were used to communicate the cannon of what was considered “great” or “important” art.   

The canon of Western art came under fierce attack with the advent of modernism towards the end of the 19th century as artists and all kinds of thinkers began to question the legitimacy of the very idea of a cannon much less its imperialist and white European dominated perspective.   Yes, 120 years ago forward thinking artists were already seriously railing against the hegemony of the negligence that the cannon had exhibited by not taking more deeply into account the power and majesty of non European art and just simply more individualistic ways of making art.  

It took awhile, but eventually the art academies collapsed and disappeared and the Boards of most museums relegated their classical plaster castes to the attic or basement.   Some were even defaced or damaged intentionally in the process.   In fact, so much was this so that by the time I came of age around 1980 “plaster cast” became a kind of buzz word for art that was hopelessly old fashioned or dogged with politically incorrect stigma.  Even the material, plaster, was a taboo material.   

Ironically, over the last few years, the plaster caste is making a comeback at major university art schools and museums.   They are being sought out by a young group of artists who have grown weary of the over zealous individualism they have witnessed in their older peers and their struggle without any guide posts.  But they are wanting to use the plaster classics in some creative new ways.   They are using them as a kind of tonic alongside their own work or more famous contemporary artists.   These have yielded fresh visual experiences and new ideas the same way making something traditional for dinner pairing it with something unexpected or switching up the ingredients might excite the menu and lead to whole new ways to cook something.   

So there is a lot of baggage with plaster.   But above and beyond all that, I love it.  It’s cheap, easy to make, easy to cast with and easy to sand and carve.   It is also easy to paint or alter once your art is finished.  

In the case of this piece, I made the original art in clay.  Clay is great to sculpt with but it is very fragile unless it is fired in a kiln.   This piece is too thick and has a wooden armature inside so it cannot be fired.   So, I made a quick and inexpensive “piece “ mold out of plaster and then cast it in plaster. 

Now the piece is plaster.  I can sand and detail it as much as I want.   Then, if I want to make additional copies I can make what is called a production mold that will allow the piece to be cast many times with very little clean up labor to be done after each cast is unmolded.  

Below are some pictures of this process.  The “piece” mold is very fragile and meant to get one cast.   However, I intend to use its fragility as a creative opportunity.   The second and subsequent casts will fail and yield interesting results that can be more powerful than the intended piece.   Let’s see what happens. 

“Large Bozetta: Crystal seated”
Terracotta
10 x 10 x 10”
2021

My bozetta’s are getting larger. The first 20 or so were about 6” square. Now they are about 10” square. This was a conscious choice. And it is satisfying to be in control of the scale.

I am curious to see at what scale the figures will be big enough to add extremities and heads and finally heads with facial expressions. There are many reasons I don’t include those elements in works like this and on this scale. One of those reasons is that I simply can’t make tiny hands and feet. And I am not compelled to develop that skill. Moreover, I think tiny hands and feet would diminish the direction of the pieces development which needs to emanate from its core.

“A Study For My Own Medici Chapel”
3 Sculptures and a stone
36” x 6” x 14”
2021

This is an idea for something truly grand. Maybe someday I’ll get to create it. A long time ago Michelangelo spent a disproportionate amount of his adult life creating a funerary chapel for his patrons and arguably some of the most powerful people in Italy at the time, people who played a big part in the way we do banking and accounting now, the Medici family.

What is most striking to me about the chapel is the way the sculptures interact with each other. It is paradoxically dense and sparse. The individual pieces are so striking but the sum of the parts is far beyond simple math.

What I have set up here is less complex but still relies on the dialog between the individual pieces. In the center is a highly finished study of a singular female nude. On either side of her is a figure that appears to be female emerging from or taking shape within the muck that she is made of….her gender no more defined than her humanity.

The space between them was deliberate…..roughly the length of the height of the central piece. The stone slab that connects them was just a random piece of stone that I had. But if I were ever to create this piece at scale the dimensions of the slab would be important and based on other aspects of the grouping so that the piece had a sense of order. The slab ties them together in a way that simply arranging them on the floor would not.

“Walking Headless Figure”
Wax
12” x 3” x 3”
2020

If you study the history of sculpture sooner or later you come across Rodin, the uncontested master of 19th century figurative sculpture and most certainly the doorway out of the dead end that 19th century European sculpture had trapped itself in through ever constricting academic standards. And among Rodin’s most beguilingly simple yet complex works is his “striding man.” Originally it was “John the Baptist” but when he removed the head it became “Striding Man” and took on much greater import.

Much has been written about the piece and even though I had seen countless reproductions and read volumes on the piece before I ever saw the actual sculpture, I was still deeply moved when I first saw it on display in a sculpture garden in Washington DC.

Anybody who has been to any major museum or seen a documentary about ancient art has become accustomed to seeing sculptures without heads or limbs. And since Michelangelo’s powerful celebration of the expressive power of the torso that has echoed through the ages, artists have felt free to sketch and even present finished works of sculpture featuring the human form without heads and limbs.

But remarkably few actually. I am surprised that one sees very few works of art over the last 500 years without heads unless they are pieces that originally had heads and limbs but were defaced somewhere along the way. Well, in fact, since modernism became the overwhelmingly dominant way to make art 130 years or so ago, there hasn’t even really been much sculpture of the human form that even has something that resembles a body.

For some reason, though, I am drawn to create figures that are at one and the same time fully embodied, vigorously endowed with energy and even swollen forms but never the less may be missing important limbs or even their heads.

I think I often do not include heads and hands because the head would bring their presence closer to being an individual and further from the more basic power of their essential humanity. And hands limit their presence to a more defined and specific action. Without arms it is less clear what they are doing and more emphatically just simply being.  And yet their “simply being” isn’t a quiet meditative state. Instead, my figure seem to be charged with restless energy. I’m not happy unless they are twisting or pushing both outwardly and yet squeezing themselves inward at the same time. That nonspecific tension is what makes my sculpture work and why they often don’t have heads or limbs.  

What is this person doing after all.   Is she walking down a hil?   Is she turning to look at something?   Has she stopped or is she still moving?   Is she in fact really a female?  Is she becoming male?   Or is he becoming female?   I don’t know the answers to these questions.  But I’m hoping that the piece can hold you as the viewer in a suspended state of anticipation and wonderment about how powerful and joyful and complex it is to be human.

Walking Headless Figure (3)

“Crystal portrait”
Cast concrete
14″ x 14″ x 14″
2020

Crystal is a woman who offered herself as a model to me in the summer of 2020. After discussing what I was looking for she began visiting my studio Thursday evenings. Initially I painted a portrait of her as a way for us to get to know each other a bit.   

However, I soon started working on a simple and straightforward portrait of her in clay.   After a few visits I felt the piece was complete.   So, I decided to make a waste mold so that I could cast one piece in a more durable material.  Firing the clay sculpture was not possible because it was way to thick to fire.  

A waste mold is usually made with a material that is at one and the same time firm enough to endure the process of unmolding the original art as well as casting the replica piece. Plaster is often used.   It’s also inexpensive and pretty easy to do. So I covered her head in a 2-3” layer of plaster. Then, I dug out all the clay original. This left a “negative” of her head inside a thick shell of plaster.   

Then I cast the head in concrete.   In order to speed up the process I decided to use rapid set concrete. This turned out to be challenging since the concrete was setting up even as I was dumping it into the mold.  This caused a number of irregularities that turned out to be part of the success of the piece.  

Once the concrete was completely set I chiseled away the much softer plaster mold.  I was able to preserve chunks of the mold so that I could do partial casts of the face. I have already created one squeeze cast.   This is a process whereby you squeeze soft clay into the larger chunks of the mold.   After the clay is squeezed into the mold you can wait a day or so and then carefully remove the clay from the mold.   Once this dries it can be fired.  

This whole process of making molds and then experimenting with different methods while constantly re-using and re-thinking how materials and pieces can be used to create new things is very exciting.  

I have included a few photos below to give you some idea of what this process looks like. 

“Figure Study”
Unfired clay
10” x 10” x 10”
2020

A “bozzetto” is an Italian word for a sculptural sketch.  There is no word in English for this other than the generic “sketch.”  Therefore, this Italian word is often used in the world of art to describe something an artist made in three dimensions that is the equivalent of a sketch where the idea is just beginning to take shape.   This is distinct from a “model” which among other things is also used to describe a small sculpture that an artist creates that will be used to look at and even take measurements from when the artist is creating the final work in the intended design, presumably much bigger.   The “model” is usually very finished looking and in the old day’s was used to secure a commission.   

An artist will often make a small model of the intended piece to work out as many details of the composition and anatomy at a scale that is manageable, malleable and has few consequences.   This “model” is then quite literally the stand in for the live model during work on the much larger piece.   Large sculptures, especially ones in stone take enormous amounts of time and are usually very messy or done outdoors.   In either case, they are very challenging conditions for a live model.   So the small piece becomes quite literally the model for the artist to look at when working on the large piece.   

This little piece is an initial idea for a sculpture.  I was working with a live model when I created this.  But I had no previous idea about what it would be when I started.   It took about 20 minutes to create.   It was done at the end of our 2 hour Thursday session when I had finished my work but we still had a little time left.   

I like this piece because there is a dynamic balance between the fullness of the forms, a distinctive line and surface marks as well as irregularities.   This “unfinished” or sketchy quality often has some of the freshest and most vital feelings that are more difficult to convey in a larger more conventionally “finished” piece.   

“Hand Studies”
Unfired clay
Life size
2020

I created these hand studies to prepare for creating life size or larger sculptures of figures.  My intention is to work in concrete which will require working very fast.   There is a short period of time between the time when the concrete does not slump under its own weight and when it is too hard to manipulate.   So it will be important to have a fresh understanding of the anatomy but also some models sitting around for me to look at in the heat of the moment.  

These are unfired clay. They are very fragile. Unfortunately they can not be fired because they are too thick and have a wooden armature. Perhaps I will make molds of them and cast them in plaster. 

“Study for ‘Couple’”
Unfired clay
12” x 4” x 4”
2010

This is a small bozzetto.    My intention is to carve these figures in stone life size.   The drawings on either side below are near life size sketches of the figures from two different view points.   The back sides of these panels feature 2 more views.   

The magic of this piece will hinge on my ability to convey the figures interdependence on one another.   I want the figures to be both complete in and of themselves as well as deeply connected to each other.   Since their faces will be mostly blocked from view this will need to be conveyed through their postures and the way their bodies lean on and simultaneously support each other. 

“Male and Female Torsos”
12” x 6” x 6”
Sandstone
2009
 
Those tiny sculptures were carved as a gift for a husband and wife who offered financial support to my bistro/theater experiment. 
 
The sculptures are carved from a type of sandstone that is quarried near Seattle. It is called Wilkson Sandstone. 
 
I have held big ambitions for this stone since I discovered it in 2000. It is fragile and beautiful. It also lends itself to those dual concerns I have in painting; volume and form on the one hand, and nature’s own forces including decay and entropy on the other. 
 
These little dashed-out torsos were intended to be “studies” for large-works.