I watched a programme on BBC yesterday called ‘Pompeii: The Mystery of the People Frozen in Time’ which was an investigation into why in Pompeii the victims were quite literally frozen in time, but in nearby Herculaneum, all that was left of the inhabitants was skeletons. I won’t go into the scientific detail (there are clips on the link above), but it struck me incredible that an event that was so destructive could also hold the power to preserve. It also struck a chord with my project and gave me some ideas about how bring a new visual element to the sculptures. So far, they have been relatively based on my own experiences and imagination, but I am going to start doing some studies of the casts from Pompeii to give me some new ideas.
The Ceramics Workshop has been great – I’ve made some coil pots, a slab pot, pinch pots…they are just not very refined! The students have, as usual, out-shone me. Its been interesting to see what they have made – the idea of the workshop was that we would all make basic pots and then diversify into individual projects. My students are working on the title Small Worlds or their exam title, so one has been making fruit (apples and strawberries, except his strawberries remind me of baby owls), another has been making a bird skeleton, one has just made a series of ice-cream dishes. We had a go at glazing the other day, very difficult to envisage how the end result will look as all of the glazes are varying shades of grey before they are fired. We just have to hope the label on the tub was right and the colour is how we imagined it! Frosted Jade could be…well…hopefully a dusty green! Will try and get pics of them out of the kiln, with any luck they won’t be too embarrassing…
I have also been working on my stone man ideas, made this rather dashing looking gentleman – yes, before anyone else says it, he does look like a slightly gormless, toothless BFG. Made using the same processes (which I remembered to document this time) as my previous figure, I might try casting his face once he has been fired. I don’t think I am going to have a chance to glaze him, but he’s still rather a funny little thing. I find him quite endearing.
Both figures started in the same way, balls of newspaper held together with brown gum tape and poured molten wax over. The full length figure worked best as the wax was hotter and soaked into the gum tape and allowed subsequent layers to bind and it is surprisingly solid. The wax I used on the head was not hot enough so it’s just a bit flaky and squishy (those are technical terms).
I was showing another art teacher at Hautlieu, Rob Allen, my little carved man, we were talking about covering it in wax to give it more texture and a weathered look and about Renaissance statues that have been partly carved out of their rock but never finished. Rob suggested looking at Medarrdo Rosso – fell in love with his work immediately! Italian artist, 1858-1928 (the rest I am sure you can glean from wiki, or see here www.medardorosso.org) his work was made of bronze and wax. I was amazed by the textural qualities, the differences between rough material and perfect detail (there is one of mother and child which is particularly moving) which made his figures come to life out of the material they were made from. I think that is what inspired me most, not that they were perfect, clean sculpture, but that the there was a great honesty shown by the artist with regards to the material.
One of the things I am trying to do is to keep a sketch book of all of this in a similar way as to how my students are expected to keep theirs (it’s interesting, they love seeing what is in my sketchbook and are always surprised I keep one…story for another day). As part of their assessment, they are required to respond to their artist references, so here is my first response to Rosso:
I am also going to make some objects using wax and paper.
I wanted to use the clay to make some figures for my project – I thought that the process of making it and then firing it was quite reflective of the Canto, setting the figure in stone as it were. Here is my first attempt:
I started by sketching roughly what I wanted to achieve and then the tutor suggested the best way to create it was to make a base out of screwed up newspaper and build the clay up around it. The clay has to be hollow to allow for it to fire properly. This created a few difficulties as making a model out of newspaper and masking tape is pretty basic and difficult to get the features accurate. Working the clay around it made my initial design change – it fits into my hand quite neatly and I wanted to utilise the idea that it was created by hand (thinking back to the ideas of judgement in Inferno). As a result of this idea, I didn’t use any carving tools, just my finger nails and hands.
This photo is taken at the green stage, before firing. It should come out in a pale terracotta. The newspaper will completely turn to ashes and leave the figure hollow (there is a little hole in the bottom to shake the ash out).
I’ve been working on a new project which started when I read Dante’s Inferno. One Canto struck a cord with me and I’ve been trying to visualise it for a while – that of Canto XXXI, where Dante is taken to the last circle of Hell by Virgil. It is here that he meets the giants…
Short while my head turned thitherward I held
When many lofty towers I seemed to see,
Whereat I: “Master, say, what town is this?”
And he to me: “Because thou peerest forth
Athwart the darkness at too great a distance,
It happens that thou errest in thy fancy.
Well shalt thou see, if thou arrivest there,
How much the sense deceives itself by distance;
Therefore a little faster spur thee on.”
Then tenderly he took me by the hand,
And said: “Before we farther have advanced,
That the reality may seem to thee
Less strange, know that these are not towers, but giants,
And they are in the well, around the bank,
From navel downward, one and all of them.”
In my mind, I see it as a though they form part of the rock and are slowly absorbed by the surrounding cliff – almost as if those who had been there the longest were more rock than human and the new comers legs had seized to the rocks with their hands wrapped to their sides and were constantly trying to wriggle away.
Gustave Dore and Botticelli have both illustrated Inferno, but for me, neither illustration was physical enough – they lack the texture and animation which I can see. I am going to try and work this up with some sculpture and illustration to try and communicate what I am thinking…