While my visual art has primarily been geared to painting and drawing, I occasionally do some sculpture. Three-dimensional design is high energy and compelling. The factors of gravity and balance are a delightful challenge, and they ground me in what’s real. Instead of a painting exhibit, I offered to do a January 2011 sculpture exhibit at the Park Forest Library in Dallas, primarily because this branch has four glass cases excellent for displaying sculpture, but not so much for paintings, which have to be small and propped up in four 3-D spaces each about 24” x 24” x 48”.
Once I realized that I needed a few more sculptures to round out my first choices for this exhibit, I had a great time this past fall nailing and gluing and painting. The energy is so high that I definitely could turn out a couple of these every week for … how long? I don’t know. Let’s say X, X being equal to whatever amount of timespace and energy is necessary to work out whatever sculptural karma needs working out …
However, not only did I call for a hiatus on sculpture energy for a while as I assess the direction of my visual art, but space limitations alone will hold down the number of sculptures I make. Even the smallish ones I make take up a lot of room. They can’t be stacked like paintings, or hung on the wall. And eight cats pose a direct threat to their continued existence.
The gamma burst of sculptures this fall made me realize how important sculpture is to me, and I was surprised to realize, as I reviewed old photos going back to college days, how many I’ve made. Not a huge amount, maybe seventy to a hundred, but I can see several recurring themes in them.
Sculptures have always been fun and easy to make because I’ve rarely thought of them as “art,” just a sort of glorious 3-D exercise, and my materials are frequently leftover wood from constructing painting stretchers or bookcases, offhand debris that doesn’t seem like expensive art supplies. But they can be glued and nailed and painted. They are balanced slabs and struts, with right angles dominating, like demented architectural models. Their meaning is simply themselves; they’ve never needed to express emotions or philosophies. And when they outlived their usefulness, or collected too much dust or became household clutter, I’ve easily deactivated the things, often using their wood for new sculptures. Most of my sculptures no longer exist.
I find I can gaze into and through them in fascination, discovering new relationships between the parts, new spaces. I can muse on their self-evident forms and postures and gestures. I call them meditation objects for that reason.
The sculptures also lend themselves to investigatory digital close-ups. In fact, these seem to work much better at describing the quality of a given piece that does the traditional full shot with two lights at different distances.
Because I now see the sculptures as important, I gave them their own section on sortmind.com. The sculptures are in no particular order, but the seven beginning on page four of the index are a representation of some of my early work.
Since I didn’t learn elementary techniques of photographing my art until the late 80’s, my photos of these early sculptures are careless to say the least, or else nonexistent. It’s funny that I would snap a shot “for the record” with my flashcube-weaponized Kodak Instamatic, but not bother to make sure I got all of the piece, or in any way seek to avoid recording a toilet in the background, before I dropped the cartridge off at Eckerds drugstore for expert, archival quality processing. As an example see the color-faded photo of The Cotton Sculpture, my most significant one from my Rice days. The Cotton Sculpture is probably the largest one I’ve done at 6’ high; only a handful of my sculptures have been this large.
But I can just imagine the gravity, weight, balance and cost issues inherent in moving to much larger work than that. Factor in X again (plus Y = rural Texas farm to store all this stuff in the sun and the rain) and I would love to explore some larger sculptural issues.
Timespace/energy X is defined by however the actual work goes, of course. We make up X as we go along. We’re building the starship on the way up.
copyright 2011 by Michael D. Smith