February 25, 2016

Monumental Little Things

I had been making a series of miniature sculptures, thinking of ways to make them somehow look monumental despite being only two inches high.    I’m not sure what I would use such things for.  A diorama of a modern sculpture garden perhaps replete with moss, miniature benches and tiny pewter people.
The inspiration, I think, comes from the sculptures of Isamu Noguchi http://www.noguchi.org/noguchi that  I enjoyed seeing on my walks as a teenager in Princeton, New Jersey.  I loved those sculptures.  They seemed the perfect marriage of the man made and organic, natural forms.  They were large rocks just barely altered by human touch.  Some of the later sculptures of Max Ernst were like those too.  But I only became familiar with those much later. 
The materials from which these mini sculptures were made are natural to this part of South Carolina.  I mined local clay from which to sculpt them.  I burnished this natural clay, sometimes added some terra sigillata, then bisque fired them.  I then fired them in a traditional pit fire with local organic materials such as Spanish moss.  It is fascinating to think that art can be produced from all the stuff that can be mined from the ground or pulled off trees from one’s own back yard.
In firing these objects recently I did acquire some new and useful knowledge.  The sculptures were put inside larger, hollow vessels in my pit firing.  In fact, this technique may be yet another reason for their creation.  Pit firing takes a lot of effort - stoking the fire with wood and organic materials all day.  For this reason I like to make use of every square inch of space.  Covered jars and vases can be filled with other, smaller ceramic objects like beads and small whistles.  Hence the little sculptures.  After this last firing of my filled vessels, however, I noticed that two little sculptures had not made it in to the pit.  What to do?  I figured that they were small enough to stuff in to a coffee can filled with cedar chips and sticks.  I decided to see if a mini fire would work for the small sculptures.  So I lit the fire in the can and let things burn down for about an hour.  I then smothered it with some Spanish moss and put a piece of metal on top held down by a rock.  The next day I spilled out the contents and found nicely blackened ceramic pieces.  Pleased that this did not require a monumental effort I decided that  this would be a good technique for later if I just want to fire up a small collection of beads or other small objects.
These small three dimensional objects  are more like creative notes than finished art work.  They look like ideas for sculptures.  Perhaps that is exactly what they are - concepts for art that reality precludes the manifestation of.   Would that I could work in steel or concrete.  For now these little trinkets will rest on my desk until I put them away.

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