Saturday, September 1, 2018
The Creation of Gaia (how a sculpture is born)
The other night, my sculpture "Gaia: Mother Earth" (detail above) won 1st place in an annual juried exhibit. Of course, I was thrilled--who wouldn't be?! It dawned on me that maybe there are those who would like to know how a sculpture is born, so to speak. This particular piece was years in the making, and I spent the past year (on and off) working on her. It didn't happen overnight, and it didn't happen in a day! Sometimes things do, but in this case, it was a long labor of love along with a lot of experimentation on top of labor and time.
Gaia started as another sculpture: one that I'd sent out to the side garden to live a few years by a garden arch. You might not want to do that to a painting, but you can often do that to a sculpture! Over months and a few years, she weathered the elements and changed. As we all do. Such is life, right? Ivy started creeping up her body, moss grew here, there. Every now and then I'd tuck flowers on her head--which was fired terra cotta clay.
Being out in nature, she took on a different persona. One day, I looked at her again and pulled her armature up from the base. Hauling her to the back deck tables, I laid her flat on a sheet of heavy duty plastic, made my witch's brew of secret treatments while wearing heavy neoprene black gloves and went to work (her face is toward bottom of photo below).
The new piece begun. With a bucket-load mix of matte medium and other elements including long strands of kudzu fiber, I literally bathed her from top to bottom, then wrapped her tight in the plastic, duct-taping the whole thing so it wouldn't drip. For a while, I tucked her inside on the back porch...who knows what the phone guy thought! She resembled an Egyptian mummy at this point.
I'd collected long strands of kudzu fiber from the side street: all summer, I'd pulled those pesky kudzu-monster vines out in the side street for cars to run over, again and again. Every walk with the dog, I'd pull 'em a little more, or kick them back to the edge: so they suffered great abuse! The traffic and abuse broke the long vines apart into fiber. Kudzu is amazingly strong, FYI. For sculpture, I needed it dry, and carefully separated it a bit, folding it up to store in a 5-gallon bucket on the back porch until I was ready to work more. Meanwhile, we have a 4' foot tall mummy hanging around the house. Imagine that! Occasionally, I'd unwrap the plastic and check. With fired clay, wood, metal, and other materials in the wrap, I didn't want it to be too wet, so I'd open it up to dry. Next, I hauled her back to the work tables outside and brought along the kudzu fiber. This was exciting! (don't ask me why, but it was...)
Maybe because experimentation is curiosity. You don't know where you're going to end up. This led into winding kudzu fiber, treated with more matte medium, in naturally-flowing patterns. Already, she had wings--which I added to with organic materials from Gulf waters, a couple of large twisted shells I'd collected, and wire. After all this dried, I left her propped (no more mummy wrap) in the dining room where over months I eyed her to think about what would be the next step. A friend noticed her and mentioned Japanese Kabuto theater masks. Now that really got my little imagination wheels spinning...so, I used Bondo for more structure-building, and a Golden modeling product for filling in cracks: sort of a face lift for the old face. (if only it was that easy for me!)
I used white gesso for her 'mask'. For the fun part, lips got Cadillac Red. A girl can never have too much lipstick, eh? I loved it! Experimentation = EXCITEMENT. So...I let her sit a few more months. I eyed her to think what's next? This takes a while, folks. All the while, I'm working on other things: a bazillion paintings on top of trying to mow and survive daily. However, she's my constant companion, and always standing at the dining room door so I never miss her.
I agonized over if I would enter the yearly Arts Council "Bring Us Your Best" art exhibit. It'd cost me money to renew my membership/enter, and I just didn't have the extra $40. Well, that's nothing new! My hand/wrist ached from carpal tunnel/tendon issues, and I worried that toting the piece around would be impossible. Nobody's ever going to buy her...oh, the excuses kept rolling! Maybe I won't enter this year, I thought. But.....I did. She kept whispering to me to work on her, no more excuses. So, I got busy and pulled the sculpture outside to the front porch studio: it was time to 'bring her home' which means get her finished! I elevated her on a large plastic bucket set on a large section of old canvas so I could move around her in a circle. More kudzu fiber, matte medium, acrylic paint. I have a lovely light-weight hammer I call "Maxwell's silver hammer": it was in use, along with wire cutters, paint brushes, pliers--tools of the trade. More wire. A bird's nest with nutmeg 'eggs'. I'd made the nest a few years ago, and painted the eggs with a bit of blue after securing it on her head, with a fired clay bird I'd made years ago--I retrieved it from the kitchen window. Like stone soup, the recipe for a sculpture of mine can include just about everything! Since I'm a fan of recycling, organic, and re-purposing: this is a way of educating others what can be done with materials we might not consider.
Hauling a copper pipe down to Gibb's Welding out of Landrum, SC, I picked out a nice rust-colored square of steel for the base, with the copper to be joined. That meant a return trip to pick it up...and the old truck and I went forth the next day. Having the functioning base with pipe made it easier to work with her. Treating the base with a etching fluid and later acrylic after a bit of naval jelly to remove extra rust, I finished that part and went back to tweaking, using matte-treated hydrangea blossoms from the yard, a bit of dried orchid flowers for the nest: which is by now attached as her head dress. The kudzu whorls beautifully up, around the head, even as it does lift toward the sun. A iridescent feather circles and whirls around her head, creating the feel of a turning earth.
Again, more matte medium and shades of green, brown (all natural hues) paint here and there, with a bit more white gesso and red for her face. I built a blue planet out of a Japanese lantern for her to hold: this takes a couple days of baking it on low in the oven (drying) and loads of paint with torn tissue paper to give it the look of Earth floating in space. Around this point, as I'm tucking moss and again eyeing the piece: she names herself. Gaia. Of course, she knew. All this time, we'd been working together, I was just listening. All her elements honored life, nature, and spirit.
If someone asked me how long it took me to make this sculpture, I would say a lifetime. She's a cumulation of all I've learned, and all that is. I took what I knew, and used what I didn't know. Maybe 'un-knowing' is a good thing. So on the show intake day, I tucked her in the passenger seat of the old truck, and we rode together over to Flat Rock, best friends. I never know what people think of seeing a pick-up truck with two women up front: one driving, and one with a bird nest on her head, but I hope they smile.
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