Almost every time I attend an event, someone asks me how I became a sculptor and how I get my ideas, so here's my attempt at answering.
Sculpture occupies the public square—and the private self. Done right, sculpture offers a vital spark of new meaning for anyone passing by who pauses to allow a connection. But what gives the sculpture meaning? Who originates the vital spark?
As one who made my life shaping sculpture, I often wonder which parts of me make up what I make. All of my sculpture comes from all of my self. I occupy the time and space called Right Now. I cannot do otherwise. So, when I make the ten-thousand decisions which create a sculpture, they undeniably come from me and all that I have felt and failed and learned over the decades. I think I started this process young.
Going to Hell
I grew up in a religion-based community. Though I had my own religion, it was not accepted by my young friends who announced that their mothers told them I was going to hell—whatever “hell” was for a six-year old boy. I asked why, and was told it was because I didn’t go to church. I told them I did go to church, but that didn’t matter, I didn’t go to their church and therefore I was the other—alone, while a neighborhood full of children my age played together.
It hurt and I didn’t have the social tools to either understand or stand up to being the Other. Growing older did not help much. Junior high was a nightmare. I found some friends who were also Other and together we fumbled and found ways to deal with the hurt. We dealt, but I know it shaped me in all my life’s relations. I dove into science and engineering with their safe, predictable outcomes governed by formulas and equations, not personalities or prejudice.
I don’t write this in search of sympathy. Many others suffered worse. I write because after all these decades I see the effect of these lessons on me and my sculpture. In fact, now I am grateful to have walked through that fire. Here’s why.
In making my sculptures, I don’t seek nor expect the approval of others. Some will like me and my work and some will not. . . and for sometimes unfathomable reasons. I’m OK with that. This quality frees me up to follow my own music and not look to see if the parade galleries are full. Also, “good” is when I say, “Good,” not when someone else decides. For any kind of artist, following one’s own spirit requires the ability to ignore the ghosts. The fire blessed me with that ability.
Diving deeper into my subconscious, my sculptures for the last dozen or so years have no “insides.” They stress gesture with the least possible volume. In photos, my sculptures appear mostly complete, but up close you see I represent the volumes, the insides, only by their bounding shapes—the gesture markers—the sinewy essence of flowing movement. This concept pulls on all of me as I sculpt. Why?
Looking inside me deeper still, I believe this style, unique to me, comes from being uncomfortable depicting what lies inside someone else. What I can see, I understand. People’s “inside” matters would confuse and sometimes disappoint me in ways where I was extra-sensitive. I feel uncomfortable with what I cannot see or understand.
The Joy is in the Gesture
Not so with gesture. Gesture, especially in dance, communicates pure emotion—our best offering, pure beauty, grace, motion, joy. So I decided. Sculpt gesture, not insides. I delight in the beauty, grace and purity of gesture. As a bonus, the implied “inside” forms create complex and sweeping shadows, tracing the gesture once again. As I create more and more gesture sculptures—I call them Swoopies—their force on me snowballs, convincing me I’m on the right track. The right track for me, anyway.
Another deep question remains: Why do I ache to create sculpture? Why spend every uncommitted moment in the struggle for “better still?”
OK. Here goes. Three things: The challenge, Exploiting me and Legacy.
- The challenge. I never faced a harder job description: I must create meaning using no words, only forms. You see, the what of things is the domain of physics. I have that in my back pocket. But nothing in my world of equations and engineering points toward the meaning of things. The meaning of things is the domain of the spirit—a spirit, I confess, I had sidelined for many years. Finding a wordless meaning and crafting it into sculpture with my hands makes me new. I connect with a world that once betrayed me and now we can be one again.
- Exploiting me. I have a deep background in design, publishing, management, teaching and making. Not bragging, I just do. Sculpture uses all of me. Every talent I possess goes into one aspect or another of creating a sculpture. No other application exploits me better. No other challenge is so exciting or rewarding.
- Legacy: I want to leave joy behind. My greatest goal involves someone, somewhere, sometime after-my-time, viewing a sculpture of mine and saying, “He thought the world was a beautiful place.”
I’m too busy chasing the dream. Embrace your own dreams, and stay healthy.