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?
12″ x 8″ 12″
20” x 6” x 6”
20 x 6 x 6”
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”
10 x 10 x 10”
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.
“Walking Headless Figure”
12” x 3” x 3”
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.
14″ x 14″ x 14″
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.
10” x 10” x 10”
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.
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’”
12” x 4” x 4”
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.
34” x 14” x 12”
“Black, Shiny and Hard”
30” x 12” x 12”
This cast from a mold that features an entire torso. Once in a while I mix material such as plaster or concrete to pour into a mold. After the mold is full I sometimes have extra material that did not fit into the mold it was intended for. So, rather than pouring it out in a bucket to harden and then discard I pour it into another mold and tip the mold so that the material runs into the desired part of the mold to harden. Sometimes these “over pour” castings are more interesting than the original, intended piece.
Ever since I first discovered sculptural fragments of ancient sculptures in museums, I have always loved sculptural fragments. Arguably, it’s a little weird to deliberately create them but sometimes the results are undeniably thought provoking or just downright aesthetically pleasing.
As I write this story in 2021, America seems to be obsessed even more than usual with the ass. When I was younger it was all about the breast. But thanks in part to Kim Kardashian and twerking tiktoks, the Ass is enjoying an elevated status in pop culture and art these days. Who knows what will be next. So, little did I know when I cast this piece of ass 25 years ago, it might end up as a feature in my collection for a group of admirers a quarter of a century later.
Breasts are incredibly charged body parts. As body parts they are of course the organ of sustenance for a mother’s child. However, they are also organs of sexual attraction and sexual experience. They are part of a woman’s identity. They are symbols of political and social liberation. They are also vulnerable to cancer and potentially challenging with respect to physical activity. They also occupy a disproportionate amount of some women’s thoughts about her appearance. Are they too small? Too big? Too visible? Too concealed? Too perky, too saggy and so on.
My first experience with being aware of women’s breasts was in the sixth grade. I was in the boys bathroom at school and remember some boys stuffing toilet paper in their shirts to imitate breasts and accusing certain girls of doing the same. They were both mocking these girls and expressing their own awakening sexual fascination with women’s bodies as well as their own fantasies about their own bodies and what was happening as hair began to sprout in various places and penises began to engorge at the thought and sight of breasts. I remember feeling a very unpleasant mixture of shame, confusion and of being left out since my relatively late-blooming self left me not even really sure what they were talking about. At some level it just looked like clowning around and yet I was smart enough to know there was something more serious and even a touch “dark” going on in the bathroom that day.
It wasn’t much later when I caught up and realized there was more to all of this than joking around with toilet paper and giggles. It was about a year or so later then, when I had my second significant “breast” event. My mother met and married my stepfather who took the family on a vacation. During our trip we stayed at a road side hotel with the kids in one suite and my parents in another. At one point, someone accidentally opened the door between the suites while my mother was changing her clothes. And there, just for a second was my mother’s naked breast in plain sight as she leaned over in the process of getting dressed. I was instantly and instinctively embarrassed and slammed the door shut. And even though that moment was probably only half a second long I can remember it as though it was yesterday. Like the experience in the boys bathroom, the moment was filled with so many strange and overlapping feelings.
Since then breasts have mostly been part of my life in fairly normal and predictable ways. I have been fortunate to have not had anyone close to me get breast cancer nor die from it. There have been a few close calls and an ex who had it many years after we split up, but even she survived it well without having a mastectomy.
The cast of this breast was an “over cast” in that I dumped some leftover concrete from another project into a mold and positioned the mold to cast just this part: the breast. What I think is worth noting here is that these photographs of this sculpture may in fact be the real art. I was conscious of how I was photographing this sculpture and have been thinking ever since there is a lot more I could do with this. I may include women’s hands, paint, different material and other objects. Since “the breast” is such a charged subject, there is so much that can and needs to be expressed.
These are not really sculptures. I never thought of them as art. But I include them here because creating these was an important part of how I learned about concrete and mold making. It’s also how I fell in love with concrete as a material and began to dream about making art with it.
I was 31 or so when I made these. I was working in a shop owned by a nutty old Italian guy who had a flair for business and an even flair for being an Italian but had no artistic skill whatsoever. He did own a shop making concrete statuary and art. He hired me to make sculptural originals in clay. He then has his team of guys make molds and cast them by the hundreds.
Once in awhile someone would want a custom project. In this case I designed and built the fireplace surround and other features for this house. I even cast these pieces and was involved with the instal. I went on to do some of this work for my own clients but did not love it enough to create my own business doing just this work. Still, without these opportunities provided for me by Marco I would never have have learned so much about concrete.
“Torso on a Stick”
8” x 4” x 4”
10” x 3” x 3”
20” x 10” x 10”
Unfired clay with wax
12” x 8’ x 8”
Unfired clay (destroyed)
24” x 16” x 16”
12” x 6” x 6”
Unfired clay, metal, wax
These 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.
Unfired clay and wax
6” x 4” x 4”
“Mother and Child”
Unfired clay and wax
18” x 10” x 10”
“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”
Rubber, wax and unfired clay
14” x 10” x 10”
“Head of Marsyas with Stone”
Stone and clay
20” x 15” x 15”
“Portraits of Friends”
Plaster and clay