Monday, November 23, 2009


A few weeks ago I realized that I needed to be making three-dimensional art. Teaching myself to draw this past year or so, to draw with colored pencils mostly, has been very rewarding. It's been filled with lessons about seeing/drawing, and also with just looking to see what's there. Some of these lessons transfer very well to photography, of course; and also to video. But this is all two-dimensional work. I've realized I need to do something more tactile, more purely physical.

I haven't felt moved to make a landscape art sculpture more than once or twice in a few months; those mostly happen in response to the energy of a specific place and time, and so tend to be very site-specific. They are also usually ephemeral, only the photograph making them endure after the materials themselves have washed away. It's not a disciplined daily practice, but a responsive, spontaneous one. Although I have a small garden around my house here, it's not conducive to making lots of land art; there's not enough space for me to do much, although I have made a few small stone arrangements, in a few spots around the house. Stone magic is earth magic is representational and healing for the place I choose to live for now. Were I living in a designated monastery, I would do the same. It's as if I am living monastically, at times; so I place sacred circles and spirals on the ground around my house. In the spring the flowers emerge through their forms.

Something more abstract in form, yet also more grounded in touch. In touching materials, in kinesthetic appreciation as well as construction. The needs of making are as much the body's desire as the mind's. I sometimes get this from playing piano. Sometimes I get this feeling from running my fingers along statutes in museums, cold bronze and chill marble figures and shapes. There are beautiful Chinese jade carvings, and Indian stone statues, in the Minneapolis art museum that I have always wanted to touch, although it's forbidden. If you can't touch great art of the past, you need to make and touch your own, therefore.

So I bought myself a Dremel rotary tool, and have been sketching on small pieces of wood. Learning to use the tools, the carving of wood, the logistics and smell of it. Wood supple under the tools, taking on the mind's rough shapes, polished until left unfinished. Working with wood means listening to the wood: its imperfections and individual turns of grain and knot. Something abstract will eventually emerge, a natural form that doesn't go against the wood's own desire, but enhances it.

I think of Henry Moore's sculptures. Their rounded, circling forms. There many lacunae, windows to see through, holes into another world, another way of seeing. I've grown up thinking Henry Moore sculptures were naturalistic and lovely. They were considered radical when he first made them; but that was an era of sculptural realism, which he was among the first to completely break away from.

In my travels, I've seen many Moores on-site, where they live, where the activity of the world swirls around them, not quite touching them. Toronto, Ontario. Columbus, Indiana. The world looks different when you peer through a visionary sculpture, to see it. What part of the screen of the world cannot be seen through the holes in a sculpture?

I think of Constantin Brancusi's pure, moving forms. Bird in Space has always been a favorite sculpture series to go look at, and walk around, view from all sides, and feel its surging energy, remarkably capturing blurred movement in solid material. Brancusi himself once remarked, There are those idiots who define my work as abstract; yet what they call abstract is what is most realistic. What is real is not the appearance, but the idea, the essence of things. That's exactly what his sculptures do, I feel, and what draws me to them. There's an essential movement to his work—a reminder that even what we think is solid matter is always vibrating with light and energy, on deep levels beyond the visible. Brancusi at his most pure brings the invisible into the visible, and that is completely realistic and naturalistic. Those who think his work abstract see only the surfaces of things.

I think of Isamu Noguchi, who had a knack for making the stone and wood materials of his sculptures retain their natural textures and forms, yet become more than they were. As if he could see within a slab of granite and draw forth the Urtext, the Archetype of Granite itself. I've never seen a Noguchi piece that doesn't move me, spiritually, aesthetically, emotionally. Often there is a calmness to his finished pieces that quiets my mind and heart; a silence surrounding each polished work which radiates out into the space around it. The subtle nuances of the material, once again the invisible made visible, bring one into close contemplation of the solid materials of the world we live in.

I'm barely beginning, feeling my way into the wood. I'll stay with wood as a material for some time. Stone, perhaps glass, might follow, but later. The tools of carving must first be made into natural extensions of my hands and heart; which means taking time to absorb their tendencies and needs. I'm in no hurry. I have no real ambition, other than to find something in working with wood that addresses, perhaps looks through, a lacunae in myself. It's an ambition to work with the materials, to learn them more closely. My grandfather was a master carpenter, after all, and taught me the basic of carpentry as a boy; I have now his tools and one or two of his old carpentry reference books. So there's a lineage. It's also an ambition to find a way to heal something else in myself, something that is as yet evanescent and vaporous; something I wish to make more solid and real, by bringing it into visibility; something I can't name, that feels connected to the earth, to the ancient past, something pre-verbal, pre-intellectual, old and powerful. Something of the earth magic, made manifest. I'm just setting out on this quest; nothing remotely like Art has yet been made. But I'm in no hurry. It will take time for me to feel my way into the wood, and that required time, those attendant lessons in patient seeing and observant touch, will slow me down enough to have actual effect on the pace of my life. I can feel it, even though I can't feel it, yet.

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Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

Although I appreciate some sculpture it's probably my least favourite art form. I've never made one. I've never felt the slightest bit inclined to make one. I seem to prefer two dimensions on the whole with perhaps a suggestion of depth. Besides I'm no good with my hands. I have a little box I made in woodworking class when I was thirteen or fourteen and that is it. It functions but it's not pretty.

1:17 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

I feel a need to break out of 2D into 3D, at least for now. I watched that documentary on Andy Goldsworthy again last night, which I have on DVD; if it hadn't been the middle of the night, I probably would have gone out and walked down to the river and made something out of whatever I found there. I find his approach as inspiring as his results, to be honest.

It's something about working with the hands, being tactile and in touch with the materials, rather than just working with the mind. Working with the mind is fine and all, sometimes a good poem or whatever comes from that, and I need to work more directly in touch with the tactile world, too.

I am pretty sure that if I made a box right now it would suck. I have no idea what I'm doing yet. LOL I'm pretty sure I'll never be a great artist, or sculptor, or whatever. But then, I don't pretend to be a poet anymore either, just someone who likes occasionally to write.

7:01 AM  
Blogger Jan Johnsen said...

noguchi's genius was the calmness...

8:53 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

I agree. That's also why his gardens and indoor/outdoor spaces are always, for me, deepening and meditative. It's not that they're not energizing, on some level, but they're like still ponds rather than fireworks.

10:04 AM  

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