Sunday, September 20, 2015

Teaching Philosophy



Making Heads in Anticipation of Visiting Artist, Thaddeus Erdahl


Good teachers inspire their students to greatness. We all know these teachers, we have sat in their classrooms, where we’ve found our worldview expanding. These teachers have given  encouragement to our children who have brought home stories of inspiration and insight that they have gained in class. As colleagues, these teachers have set the standard, such that we continually perfect the craft of our own teaching.

Humility and education follow the same trajectory. The more one learns, the more one realizes there is much that is unknown. Once a student and teacher crosses that threshold, they will spend the rest of their lives discovering what they don’t yet know. Arrogance is replaced with humility in the face of the mysteries of the world.  As an art teacher, my charge is to find ways to get the student to understand their unique voice and help them find intelligent ways to express it. Whatever the message, the struggle they face is to find a way to express it as intelligently as possible.

There are moments in every class when every student is engaged in the conversation, when their senses are heightened and their ambivalence shifts to active participation. When these moments occur, the student and teacher know that their lives have been altered in some inexplicable way. It may be the result of a successful completion of an art assignment or a devastating disaster. Either way, these moments lend themselves to self-discovery and are the conversations that I strive for.

If I can facilitate a student to accept uncertainty when beginning a new idea, most often they quickly gain the confidence to experiment with new materials and accept the inevitability of failure along the way to a realized idea. It is in the actual making process that new ideas are born. My goal is to give them opportunities for success, preceded by failure, so they can become life long risk takers.

In the classroom, I give contemporary and historical context to each assignment. I demonstrate technique to the extent that the assignment allows. I provide feedback, critiques and technical help. There is give and take between student and teacher, a kind of dance between the experience and wisdom of the teacher, and the tools and background that the student brings to the class. By encouraging the student to push their creative limits and question their comfort zones we begin to move as partners in the pursuit of excellence.


Each semester, I am continually reminded that each teaching breakthrough is a stepping-stone to more insight. Teaching is never static; it exists on a continuum and each success or failure in the class act as a source of information for the next assignment or conversation. As a teacher, like students, one is always becoming. Both require a curiosity and a willingness to venture into the unknown. As I continue to improve, I hope to be a stepping-stone on the student’s path to a life of learning and curiosity.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Get in Line

Last July, two articles were written about me in a regional (read it here) and local (read it here) magazine. They were well written and there were some positive outcomes, including an opportunity to curate a ceramics show at the Meyer Gallery in Park City, Utah in December 2016.

Some negative responses (that I only heard through the grapevine) from readers were that they didn't like my work because it is "just about sex"or it's about "torturing animals", which got me to thinking about the merits of their critique and if they are correct. I'm not here to discuss the merits of my subject matter, although metaphor is a major component of my work. If one is to take my work as literal then one should take the literary works of  the "Life of Pi" or Aesop's Fables as literal, as well.

The Stiletto and the Hare
What I am interested in is the assumption that since I am the maker,  I always like what I make.
During Graduate School and for years after, I always felt compelled to have a meaning before the work could begin. That's due to the nature of Graduate School and critiques.  I couldn't just say "it's a visual metaphor" and leave at that. In graduate school, you have to justify what you make. Otherwise, the critique would be short and there'd be no exploring and mining the depths of idea.

Now when I make work, I just have to first be interested in the form. For instance, the recent addition of the high heel red stiletto to my repertoire is a response to a dancer at last year's SUU graduation. She wore them so beautifully and gracefully that I decided to come home and make one. The test to determine if an idea is compelling is that I stay engaged. If I don't get bored, then there's something important to explore.


If I stay engaged,  I start to attach meaning to the idea and a narrative develops. The narrative usually corresponds with memories or experiences from my formative years, but not always. Sometimes I stay with an idea simply because I appreciate the formal qualities of the object and nothing more. I suspect, however, that the meaning will eventually come if I'm compelled to stay with it.

Untitled
Here's the thing about my method of working; just because I make it doesn't mean I believe in it or even like it. It takes a while to know if the sculpture is any good, this happens when I'm less emotionally attached. When I can view it objectively and still I like it, then I know it's a good idea.

So to the critics of my work, get in line, behind me.

Untitled (detail)



Saturday, August 15, 2015

A Dalliance with the Taboo

Raven Skull Clay Pipe
OK, I'll admit it. I'm not entirely comfortable making smoking pipes. I'm not sure if it's because of what they imply, a dalliance with the so- called underground "drug culture", or if it's more personal in nature.  I was the Jeff Spikoli of my high school ceramics class who would clandestinely try to sneak a pipe through the firing process. Or maybe it's because of my religious up bringing and the conservative nature of the state where I live. Or maybe I'm just over thinking it. Whatever the reason, I perceive there to be an element in society at large and in the art/ceramics world in particular that proscribes the making of pipes as improper and unacceptable.

Red Hare Head Clay Pipe
On the other hand, clay pipes have been around for centuries. I'm no expert on the history of the clay pipe, but a quick search reveals a wide range of clay, figurative, narrative pipes.

I align myself with the Dutch, French and English figurative clay pipe makers of the late 18th and 19th century. Then there's Netsuke, miniature narrative sculptures that stand on their own as art but also had a practical function.  I've referred to Netsuke on and off over the years as inspiration for and influence on my sculptural body of work. The academic in me is always looking for historical precedence in everything that I make. I hope historical figurative pipe making and Netsuke
elevates the craft beyond the contemporary "taboo" nature of the subject. My pipes are available at
www.russellwrankle.com

French, Dutch and English figural pipes made between about 1860 and 1925. Animals, Birds, Fish, Famous people and various creatures. 
Meerschaum Pipe German 1800-1900

Netsuke

Netsuke







Sunday, September 28, 2014

New Work for Kansas


When I first conceived of this show at the Lawrence Art Center, before any work was actually made, I thought it would be a continuation of my then current studio practice of making various animals in varied contexts. After making the “Hare Muzzle” piece, the original concept became background noise and this current body of work took shape.

As a University professor, I teach my students to make their artistic discovery in the process. One can think of and imagine ideas but until there’s haptic activity, where the hand, material and mind are activated together, one cannot know what might be discovered.

When making the “Hare Muzzle” piece, I began to recall stories from childhood, that if a master has a chicken-killing dog, one could strap the killed chicken to the dog’s neck until the dead chicken rots off. I have asked around and it seems that it’s not entirely uncommon to do this and someone recently confessed to witnessing this practice and confirmed its usefulness.

Tension and gravity has, for a long time, been a driving consideration in my work. I use Tromp l’oeil elements such as:  strapping, knotting and fleshiness, and a strong commitment to craftsmanship as a vehicle to support the conceptual in my work. In this case, the idea of strapping various animals to dogs seemed like the perfect marriage of my existing technical repertoire with this new concept.


"Hold It"

"Frog Muzzle"

"Hare Muzzle"

"That will Teach You"

"Prehensile Muzzle"

"Apex Tourniquait"

"Sooie"

Friday, April 4, 2014

Wishy Washy

Earlier in this blog I wrote about paying less attention to the meaning of my work while concerning myself strictly with the way my work looks. However, not too long ago, I received a second hand compliment from a gallery owner. It was my technical abilit that captured the attention of her customers. I wasn't at the opening so I don't know which piece it was or what else was said, but this got me to thinking. 

A few years ago, this compliment would have been very flattering, as I was quite invested in becoming an accomplished sculptor. This time, however, I was surprised at my disappointment with this compliment. The disappointment, I think,  has to do with my growing interest in successfully illustrating a narrative. To be sure, most of my time is spent on the technical i.e. smoothing, refining, attention to gravity, axes and tromp l'oeil. But the technical should be a supporting actor in the theatrical drama of the conceptual. I would hope that the strength of the piece is its narrative.

This makes me question my story telling and the use of historical references. If the piece below is the one that warranted the "compliment", does this mean that my use of the stirrup spout is too vague and out of context for the general public? When I made this, I was ready to accept that only ceramic geeks like me would understand the reference, but I also thought that it could be appreciated on any number of levels beyond the formal. Do I need to be more precise in my thinking? What responsibility as a maker do I have to provide more clues into possible meanings? Is it ok for viewers outside of "the know" to appreciate this work on its technical merits alone? 



Saturday, March 22, 2014

Get to Work

I wasn't raised in an academically friendly home, I took no art classes or even imagined life beyond High School. What I did do is consume a lot of alcohol and marijuana, I was the class clown. I also worked hard at manual labor jobs since a work ethic was my dad's solution to everything and work was a badge of honor. "If a man knows how to work, he'll never go hungry" he would often say. A work ethic is what has lead to my success.


Since I teach foundations, I get students from a wide range of talent and experience. I tell them that when I started taking art classes, including 3D design (which I now teach) I thought everyone else was more prepared than I was. 3D Design is an intimidating class. Students make objects that they have never made using material that they have never used in an art making context. I share with them some aspects of my "formative" background to hopefully put them at ease. I also tell them that where other students had innate talent, I had the ability to work, to stick with an idea long enough to determine whether it's workable and I worked harder than many of the more "prepared" students. 


 I've developed a significant amount of technical skill and conceptual insight over the years. I'm often complimented on my sculpture and my facility with clay. I'm asked, "How do you make clay look like that?" My joking reaction is, "brute strength and ignorance". There's some truth to that (minus the ignorant part) I work on a piece until it's right. I'm engaged and actively pursuing the next question and invested in the work so that I can respond when a new idea presents itself. "Inspiration finds me hard at work".

I want to convince my students that if they can transition from working on their assignments for a grade to working to make them great, those skills and habits will transfer to every aspect of their professional lives whether in the arts or some other path.


Friday, March 7, 2014

House and Studio/workshop for Sale

We're selling our place to move closer to Southern Utah University where I teach. This place has been magical. This studio is where I worked when I was awarded Emerging Artist at NCECA, I got into some great exhibitions and developed a body of work that I'm proud of. The house served us well with  parties, open houses and holiday sales. The kids grew as individuals and musicians. The landscape is spectacular with Utah's red rock desert all around and Zion National Park just up the road. We hate to leave but the commute is getting me down. You can take over and make your own magic. We reduced the price, now it's even more affordable.

http://www.trulia.com/property/3144610357-143-N-Toquerville-Blvd-Toquerville-UT-84774






Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Dangling Amphibian







Awhile back, someone posted the piece below on Facebook, it got me to thinking and the piece above is a result of my musings.


Manual Conjuring


This piece will be on display at the Clay Studio National in Philadelphia. It has been years since I entered a "competition". Because I earn a salary now, I'm less motivated to sell, which means I have the work to exhibit. I like this piece and the direction my work is taking. Gravity, sex and tension. 

"Manual Conjuring"

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Elan Magazine Article


You can expand/zoom the article if you want to read. It's too small otherwise.





Friday, June 28, 2013

Frog

 This piece went through several iterations before I landed on this idea. There was always going to be something in the mouth and originally it was going to be a diner mug in some sort of bag. But the proportions were off and if a shrunk the cup, it wouldn't read as a diner mug and I didn't want to increase the scale of the frog. So I ended up with this non specific/open ended object. The stirrup spout is a nod to ceramic art history.  


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Feed Bag

"Feed Bag" Ceramic, Glaze, 5"x5"x12" 2013
I have a new approach towards the way I work. It used to be that I would need a precise meaning for a piece to justify making it. If I couldn't come up with a viable concept I would abandon the project. Often the "meanings" that I came up with were contrived, but that was enough to keep me going.

Now when I begin a new sculpture, I turn off the conceptual part of my thinking and focus strictly on the formal aspects of a piece. That is, if it looks interesting and compelling, I will proceed.

The Red Hare has been a subject that I've been exploring for a few years now. I like to place them in various anthropomorphic positions while exploring personal and universal themes. Much like Aesop and Grimm do in their Fairy tales.

In the piece above, the instant the idea came to appropriate the Stirrup Spout I was quick to reject it as I have used the reference before and decided that it was redundant. Below is an example of a piece I made in grad school several years ago using the stirrup spout from the Moche Culture in Peru, 300ad. It was my nod to ceramic history while folding in contemporary imagery using pallets and bags of food. This is one example of the way I use art history and personal experience in my work to view the world with fresh eyes.
Wrankle Grad School Sculpture 1996
While coming up with reasons to not revisit the stirrup spout, I recalled visiting a retrospective of one of my art heros, Don Reitz, at the Belger Art Center in Kansas City, MO. The docent gave us a wonderful tour and pointed out some themes that have run through Mr. Reitz's work for his entire career. I realized that if he can use themes and ideas throughout his long career (he's in his 80's) then so can I.

I  made the grad school sculpture above more than a decade ago. In that time, we have moved to 3 different cities, had 2 kids, my dad died, I've read a few books and have enjoyed huge successes and debilitating failures.  I have changed as a result of living and this change can be reflected in old themes made new.
Don Reitz Retrospective Exhibition
The meaning of the "Feed Bag" above isn't clear in my mind. I only have vague ideas that only lead to more questions. But I am pleased with the way it looks. It's difficult to change my thinking habits and the way I work, from attributing meaning first to primarily focusing on the formal qualities of the work. If I am driven to return to the studio day after day, stay with a piece, change it, make it better and spend a hundred hours or so, that's reason enough to make it. There has to be some compelling reason that may or may not reveal itself to me if I am willing to put that kind of effort into a thing.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Floof

"Floof", Earthenware, Glaze, 11"x7"x11"
Over the past several months, my work has begun to evolve and change. This piece has been percolating for over 15 years, the actual making took just a few weeks.

When I was living in St Louis, my wife and I went camping along the Merimac river with friends. We had the camp fire, tents and hot dogs. It was hot and humid but that's the midwest in the summer. We took along our dog, Jake a 90 pound Chesapeake Bay Retriever. If you're familiar with this breed, you know they can be hard headed and stubborn and our dog was no exception.

Somehow he got off his leash, I looked first in the river because he lived for water yet he was no where to be seen. Then I heard him approach from the nearby bushes with an object in his mouth. I thought "here we go again" because he'd often return with chewing on something half decayed and smelly and it would be impossible to get it from him. When he approached I saw that he had a huge bull frog in his mouth and the closer he got to me the more vigorously he chewed.  I backed away because it was his habit that once I approached him he'd gobble whatever nefarious thing down with barely a chew as fast as he could. I figured the frog was dead by now but I didn't want him swallowing it and getting sick. (he already drained our bank account once with emergency surgery to remove a rubber duck from his intestine)

I backed away hoping he'd lose interest and drop it. He didn't and a few minutes later he returned to his humans, empty mouthed and happy. I went back to the place where he was last seen with the frog and found remnants of the bull frog scattered around the area. To my relief, the frog in question was just a rubber toy that some kid lost and my dog found. It was so realistic that it had me fooled and I then realized it was the squeaker in the toy that he was after. The same squeaker that was in the rubber duck that we had surgically removed a few years previous.

In the beginning, I didn't know that it was just a toy frog. I was tempted to grab the legs and body of the frog but that would have made him more aggressive and I didn't want be left holding frog parts. In the end, the frog was not real yet the experience remains after all these years.

The older I get the more I realize that I can't predict where ideas will come from and with a few years behind me I have a rich history to draw upon. The experiences from the past that leave long lasting impressions, from the books I read, to graduate school to relationships and the mundane, are the ones that I pay attention to and turn into a sculpture. The education of an artist consists of everything.

Over the next week or so, I'm going to highlight five more sculptures that make up the new direction my work is taking. I will also discuss the Stirrup Spout that's in the frog's mouth. An idea that I have visited from time to time in the past.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Red Hare White Hare

These two hares will be leaving for SOFA NY http://www.sofaexpo.com/ (The International Expositions of Sculpture Objects and Functional Art). They will be represented by the  Duane Reed Gallery,  http://www.duanereedgallery.com/  I am thrilled and honored to be a part of this prestigious exhibition.

I remember attending SOFA Chicago many years ago as a grad student at SIUE and being overwhelmed by all the amazing art. When I left the event my head was spinning with ideas and inspiration.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Butcher and the Brain

For the past year or so, most of the meat we consume is grown locally and processed by our local butcher. If I can, I'll show up to the kill site to watch the skinning and evisceration process. Recently, we purchased a goat to be roasted whole for our Thanksgiving dinner. I met a friend in Virgin (yes, this is a town in Utah) who joined us for Thanksgiving and who introduced me to the goat farmer just up the road. We purchased the goat and drove it back to my town and dropped it off at the butcher's.

Later that day I was in the studio working on a sculpture, when I had the idea to make a mold of the goat's brain, if possible. I called the butcher and asked him to give me a call when the goat was going to be killed and processed. Later that day the call came and I went over about the time he removed the last of the goat's skin. When I arrived, he hack sawed the top of the skull off just below the horns. We then scooped out the brain, but to my disappointment, he cut the brain in half and besides it was too mushy for mold making.

A day or so later, the idea persisted so I went on line to look up "brains for sale" and yes, they can be purchased. They are sold to schools where the brains are dissected for biology class. I ordered a sheep's brain for about $18 and a few days later it arrived at our door.

The preserved sheep's brain that came wasn't as visually interesting as I would have liked, the gyrus (lobe) and the sulcus (groove) were not defined, probably from the preservation process. I made a mold of it anyway and once the plaster hardened and dried, I pressed clay into the mold and the resulting positive had to be touched up to emphasize it's "brainyness". I then made a second generation mold and this is the result.

More brain sculptures are in the works. I'll be putting the brain through its paces adapting it to already existing imagery that I have in my quiver.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Rabbit Fur Coat

When I was about twelve years old, I was trusted with a .22 caliber rifle. At first I sharpened my aim with bottles and cans. After a while, that grew boring so I sought moving targets. Where I grew up, jackrabbits and cottontails were plentiful.

 I remember the first rabbit I shot. It was down a long shallow draw in the shade of a creosote bush about 50 yards away, sitting on its honches. When the sun is low on the horizon and the rabbit is back lit, there's a distinct fleshy redness of the the jackrabbit's ears. In my  peripheral vision, that color caught my eye. The breeze must have been in my favor, because the rabbit just sat there. I stopped, dropped to a knee, drew a bead, pressed the trigger and shot. To my surprise the bullet found flesh, bone and hair, the rabbit squealed, leaped several feet in the air, and hobbled off. This was unexpected.

Up until this point in my adolescent development, the jackrabbit was this "thing" that lived in the desert. This was no longer the equivalent of an aluminum can, it was a living creature that felt pain. There I was with the rifle in my hand and an injured animal scrambling to safety. I knew that I couldn't allow the thing to suffer, so blinded by tears, I followed its tracks in the sand and the trail of blood to where it lye dying. When I found it, I put the barrel to it's head, its one eye staring up at me, but before I pulled the trigger, it quivered, spasmed and died.

It took a few days to recover from the experience but I soon went out again and began to shoot up the desert. I got pretty good with my aim and could kill a rabbit in a full run. To justify my useless killing, I brought the jackrabbits home and skinned them. In my naivety my plan was to sell the pelts to a "fur trader" because my sister had a rabbit fur coat that she loved.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Gathering Influences


I make discoveries through the process of making. The crab claw, for example, has been an important image in my work for some time but recently it took on significant meaning. The first crab claw I ever made was the result of an 'all you can eat' dinner at a Chinese Buffet. The hot buttery crab claw in my hand demanded that it be clay. I wrapped the thing up in my napkin, brought it home and made one the next day. Over the past few years, I've made several sculptures and attached the crab claw in various ways with no special significance attached.

In his book The Emperor of all Maladies, Siddhartha Mukherjee says, "It was in the time of Hippocrates, around 400BC that a word for cancer first appeared in the medical literature: karkinos, from the Greek word for crab. The tumor, with its clutch of swollen blood vessels around it, reminded Hippocrates of a crab dug in the sand with its legs spread in a circle. The image was peculiar (few cancers truly resemble crabs), but also vivid."

After reading this I quickly made the connection to the Zodiac sign of Cancer and the image of the crab. As a result the crab claw no longer functions as "decoration", but is an important conceptual component to my work. Also, my dad recently died from skin cancer so I was primed for this new information. If you scroll down, you can see the different uses of the crab claw. The hare with the crab claw piercing the skin (below) is the most recent.

The frog holds no special meaning at this point. Sure there are words and snippets of phrases that emerge in my thinking but nothing substantial at this point. This is the first one made and like the crab, I expect it to take on meaning as my  hands work through ideas.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Student's Review of my Work

This is an excerpt by Rachel Indelicato, a young college student at St Louis Community College Meramec, whom I met this last week after my lecture/workshop there. She was required by her teacher, Jim Ibur, to write a review of a themed exhibit that he curated called "Death and Rebirth". I contributed with the two pieces that are shown in this blog. Rachel is quite the writer and I like her insight into my work. She has a bright future.


Death and Rebirth

There were two sculptures that especially caught my eye.  They were by a man named Russell Wrankle.  I was immediately drawn to their smooth, matte look.  The first was Cancer.  This piece depicted a sitting hare with a crab claw cutting through its skin.  The hare had a somewhat comical, yet still serious, look to it; the face had a humanistic startled expression and the body appeared tense.  The rabbit is a stout primary yellow and the crab claw is an eye catching, bright primary red.  To me, the hare symbolizes agility and longevity.  The crab claw, cancer, weakness, and death.  This makes me think of someone who may be fit and healthy, but had his or her life cut short by cancer, or is battling cancer.  

The piece next to it was called Leporidae.  Leporidae is the scientific family of hares and rabbits.  In this sculpture, the hare is standing on his neck and shoulders with his back straight and feet in the air.  In his feet he is holding the skull of what seems to be another hare.  The hare is in a silly position.  He is playing with death.  He has the same smooth look as the yellow hare, but he has a tame, light vermillion color to him.  The skull is stark white.  When I saw these pieces, I saw them as a pair playing off each other.  A force of death is overpowering the first hare, and the second is entertaining himself with it.  

Sunday, November 13, 2011

I Quit

 My artistic path began at the potters wheel, the hypnotic rotation of the pot growing at my touch, the slathery clay in between my fingers. Not to mention the notion of a romantic life style of the quiet potter toiling away in his studio to create useful beauty. I was young when I considered pursuing art as a lifestyle. No longer does this mystique answer my creative drive.

The last time I made pottery was about a year ago. Since then I've been in a few invitational pottery exhibits and used pots that I had left over. The last invitation to exhibit a teapot was from a prestigious gallery that was attending SOFA(Sculpture Objects and Functional Art) in Chicago. I  made it as far as the trimming and seating of the lid and, for the first time, I made press molds for the handle and spout (knowing this is the point at which I lose interest). However, I gave up when it was time to attach the spout and handle. I didn't have the patience to follow through to the end.


I am not quitting sculpture, however. Interestingly,  the same additive and subtractive processes that I use for making a spout or handle I also employ for making a crab claw or the foot of a hare. In fact, the time consuming nature of the way I work increases with sculpture. I can stay with a hare for hours, days and months if necessary.


During my growing up years, there was no academic discipline in my home. Embarrassingly, I read my first book in the 11th or 12th grade, "The Old Man and the Sea". It was the first time that I experienced art in a way that transported me to another life and time. I can still conjure up mental images of the old man, a fisherman, Santiago, with cramped hands, his "dry spell" broken as he's pulled out to sea by the 18' Marlin, "What kind of hand is that," Santiago says, "Cramp then if you want. Make yourself into a claw. It will do you no good". Eventually the marlin dies of exhaustion, too large to bring on deck, the old man lashes it to the side of his skiff. He awaits night fall so the lights of Havana can guide him in his arduous return to shore. Then the the eventual degradation of his catch by predatory sharks. Hemingway created a character that "remained undefeated after losing his hard earned, most valuable possession",  a fictional character whose mind I was able to enter and a person I knew better than most people in real life. I left my reality and found empathy in a simulated world.


When I make pottery I think formally: form, function, surface, craftmanship and beauty. All noble pursuits and things that I value in the work of other potters. With sculpture I think formally and, additionally, I think about narrative. I think of visual metaphor, story and layers of meaning.

The advantage of discovering story later in life (if there is one) is that I know what it's like not to have my head filled with ideas. Sure, there was wild, hardscrabble adventure with nature (there was no nature deficit) that I draw upon in my sculpture, but no books. Once I read my first story, there was no returning.


We've held a holiday sale each year for the past 10 years. By now, I'd be elbow deep in turning crockery for our gallery shelves. This year however, I'm not interested in making pottery just for money. The clay's sensuality on the wheel that drove me years ago, no longer seduces me. There's fear and a sense of loss associated with this admission. My customers have come to expect my sale. My hope is that my audience will grow with me and evolve as I evolve. Hopefully new opportunities will emerge that would not otherwise had I continued to straddle both worlds.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

What I Learned at Summer Art Camp

I arrived at Red Lodge Clay Center for the Artist Invite Artist Residency this summer with different expectations than what I accomplished. I wanted to complete at least three new pieces. Once I arrived and started working with the other artists, my idea shifted from making completed sculpture to making a mold of just one sculpture. Jason Hess and Brenda Lichman were making molds of teapot spouts and handles and I wanted in on the action.  I cut an almost completed sculpture into pieces to avoid undercuts and spent a day making  molds. The mold that produced the two pieces above is what I came home with.

Since I cut the sculpture into pieces to make the mold, it comes out of the mold in pieces as well that I then have to put together. I'm guessing that the piece is 3/4 closer to being finished with the mold process than if I started the piece from a bag of clay.
My reason for making the mold is so that I can focus more on the narrative of the piece. For example, I don't have to make a new hare if the impetus is to pierce the skin of the hare with a crab claw (above). I already have the hare as a "ready made" which frees me up to take more risks with the narrative since I have less time and hence less emotion invested in the piece.
        
I like to evolve within an existing aesthetic/formal framework with each new piece. Before molds this was accomplished by answering questions that arise from the making of the previous piece. My fear is that the mold disrupts artistic question and answer and commits me to a particular form. I have put off making molds for years for this very reason. We'll see if the ease of exploring narrative outweigh the inability to explore form.

I made the mold of the hare holding the monkey skull when I returned home with what I learned at RLCC. This is the second piece that I made with a hare holding an object with its hind feet but the first from a mold. The first one holds a human skull (see below). The next one will hold a human brain and a hammerhead shark is in the works. Here the time spent on narrative versus form works well. Instead of making a new hare each time so that I can place an object in its feet, I can now spend more time on narrative and the relationship between two seemingly disparate objects.