Category Archives: Sculpture

Building the Black Church

The design of the last set piece of the Magic Box project was immensely important to the look and feel of the entire project.  This element and accompanying video is the culmination of our learning and focus on a project over two years in the making.  While the piece must work well with all those that came before, It must also reflect the inevitable learning that accompanies work of so much duration and focus.

As with the building for “The Empty Room”,  “The Black Church” was based on a building in our home town Pueblo, Colorado, the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. While we considered many church designs for the project, we went with the cathedral because of its classical anatomy and ties to art history, which is an important element of the last video.

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We began by photographing the building.  The main challenge in “sampling” a building like this is discovering how much of the original to stay true to and how much to simplify and modify. To help make these determinations I did an extensive series of drawings, to both see the building fully and to determine the essential elements. In the initial planning stage, before the drawings, I imagined holding a large amount of the detail, feeling that was an essential part of the beauty of the building.

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The slow and deliberate process of drawing the church again and again over a period of weeks helped me to understand the soul of the building, the essential nature of the proportion and what that communicates to those on the sidewalk or inside the structure. By the end of the drawing process I was stripping away the detail and focused on the classical structure.

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From the drawing step, our building was designed, rather than the lengthy process of constructing plaster molds for each section, a heavy watercolor paper was used. This step cut at least 4 weeks from the build which allowed the full project to be completed within the semester.

For the build I broke the structure into four sections, the front section, or Facade and narthex, was built first. This allowed the rules for construction to be set on a relatively small and simple piece and to test the scale of the building against the existing works in the series and to ensure continuity of the installation. Rather than the Laguna’s whitestone that we built the empty room house with, we returned to Laguna’s soldate, a body that we have used for years with success. This decision completely solved the major mid slab cracking issues that had been such a problem with so much of the early construction. Another modification of the build  was to  let the slabs set up several days before assembly. This let the individual units do most of their drying and shrinking before they came together which reduced the amount of stress placed on each piece.

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The second section built was the naive, this section was modified from its proportion in the original building so that we could focus the filming in this section.  Because of the size modification, the roof became problematic, columns were set into the mid center of the hall to hold a sort of half ceiling. This would serve the dual purpose of holding a multi media roof that would be constructed post firing and hide the lighting system for the enclosed structure. The decision to go without decoration or windows on the building affirmed itself as the structure grew.  The exterior and the interior were beginning to be understood as separate realms.  the exterior was to exude imposing darkness and mystery in addition to be immediately recognizable as a holy or sacred place. The interior was to evoke a cave, a hidden space not easily accessible from the outside.

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The third piece was the transept. For the long roof section of this unit a sort of joist was constructed from the side wall panel pieces.

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The last piece was the choir. This was the both the smallest and most complex of the sections.

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Once all the sections were complete, they could be placed together to make decisions about the placement and shape of the passage that would span the whole interior.

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Once the interior was opened it was coated in whitestone slip, to tie it to the earlier buildings and to enhance the cave feeling for the interior shots for filming. During construction of each section a waster slab was placed beneath to limit drying and firing stress. The building was then covered and allowed to dry over several weeks.

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Once the units were dried and fired to cone 06 they were again assembled to assess the warping that took place through the long process of clay to ceramic. While we did have markedly better results with this building, each section did move throughout this time, a solution was then sought to fill the gaps between the sections that would allow light to penetrate into the building. Several solutions were considered for this but in the end we decided on vinyl  joint compound, this substance starts very soft and plastic like clay and would dry very hard to allow the building to be handled as it moves from show to show.  The first step for this was to shrink-wrap the first and third sections so that the compound would only go on  section two and four, minimizing both handling stress and cleanup. Each section was then masked for spray paint.

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The process of application and sanding back the material had to be done through several  times before we were satisfied with the fit. The visible sides were then textured to match the ceramic.

Painting was two coats of semi-gloss black spray paint with an additional two coats of a matte clear finish, this had to be tuned up several times through the finishing as the joint compound was very messy when it had to be manipulated. The interior was largely left alone, but some of the ground bisque clay used on the interior was mixed with acrylic to cover epoxy fill and to allow the heavy texture to be picked up by the camera during filming.

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Once the surface was finished, it was then time to install the lights. small battery-powered LED’s were used, hot glued into position in the roof sections using the joint compound to hide the cord running through the walls and down through the joints into a pedestal built to house them. Initially my intent was to light the interior with fire, but having ruled this impractical from a build and display standpoint,  we opted for half flashing lights.  Though labeled as the same light, we found the flashing lights had a very different temperature from the non blinkers so I applied an acrylic wash to warm up the cooler toned lights.

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Following the placement of the lights, the god tiles were epoxyed into place since their shape and the texture of the walls would not allow them to be simply placed and stay where they needed to be.

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Gabe supplied the finishing touches to the piece, first the multi media roof was constructed of similar materials as the additions to the ceramic. His intent for the addition was that it not draw attention to itself yet compliment the overall feeling of the exterior of the building.

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All these elements unite to form what we believe is an incredibly strong piece that will anchor the gallery presence of the entire installation. The last element added was subtle decoration to the exterior of the church. Gabe executed to scale, tags in black marker around the back and sides of the building. These additions tie the piece into the overall intent and work of the studio and also reward the careful viewer looking for the details that are present throughout the installation.church tag 2church tags 1

Detail and subtlety become the focus of this object, the only one in the group with no magic boxes and aside from lights no dependence on technology. This piece becomes a resting place in the work to contemplate the various layers of meaning in the Magic Box installation and video series.

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Building the Bear Cave

The third video in  the “Magic Box” series is nearly finished, so to prepare for its release we are going back and giving a look at some of the aspects that have gone into its making. As Gabe was the lead on the cave and did the majority of the work, it seemd important for him to tell its story. Since video is his mode of expression, he put this together to detail the process of its making.

Workshop with Beth Cavener

This January 2015 FHSU hosted a workshop with Beth Cavener, an artist that I have had a serious art crush on since first seeing her work years ago. That piece, titles A Rush of Blood to the Head is still tremendously influential to my work and aspiration as an artist.  It can be viewed here:

http://www.followtheblackrabbit.com/gallery/a-rush-of-blood-to-the-head-2/

I have continued following her work and she has been the standard both for success and quality for myself as an artist. The workshop was then something that I looked forward to tremendously.

Before I begin discussing my experience I must clarify that I was very sick the entire time I was in Kansas, falling ill with the flu a few days before leaving and staying ill the entire time, that surly impacted my feelings. Another caveat was a major mental health diagnosis I received  just before leaving that left me feeling terrified and deeply constrained. So it was through this filter that I went to meet my art hero/crush.

First I must say that it was truly the most expansive and informative workshop I’ve ever attended. Her technique is radical and her approach is methodical and meticulous, it is no surprise that she has been so successful. In addition to her tremendous skill the work she has put in to every aspect of her career is astounding. She told stories of how her first showing experience in New York that was so ballsy and brilliant that I could barely cover my awe.

Her style of working is doubtless detailed in other places but I will give a brief summary. Her process begins with a series of sketches in clay.  These small studies are usually done in large numbers as a way to work through ideas and solve problems.  For this workshop she could only make one based on suggestions from the group.  We were large and engaged and there were many suggestions that came down to a vote.  through a somewhat democratic process she agreed to work with a wolf twisted in a rope.

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These models are done in oil clay so that they might stay workable and salvageable.  She rarely keeps these.  They are built solid using bamboo skewers as armature. At this point she is considering composition and posture and formulating the procedure for the armature for the full size piece which range from life-size, to much larger.

The armature for the large sculpture is made from gas pipe relying on 1/2″ pipe and a variety of connectors.

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The pipe shown here is not galvanized, which she prefers because it prevents corrosion, so these were wrapped in electrical tape to prevent that. The frame-work is screwed down to the floor or table and the structure is built with special attention to removing it when the sculpture is built. The most important aspect of this process is to remember that the frame is a chair for the clay rather than bones for an animal.  The clay must be supported from underneath for the most part.

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This structure was tried and edited many times to be sure it would suffice for the entire piece, some of the sculptures weigh many hundreds of pounds when they are in process.

Once the armature is built the clay is applied, first wrapping the pipe and then building in layers until the basic size is achieved.

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The legs are supported by dowels wrapped in electrical tape and jointed so that the body can be manipulated as it is built.

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Things like tails and ears that can be relied on to create emotion are added last or even after firing so that they cannot be relied upon.

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Once the piece is relatively finished it is cut apart, piece by piece and hollowed out, then reattached in sections and fired.

The sculpting part of this technique is quick and expressive, the restructuring and hollowing is slow and meticulous.  In the end, every surface, including those impossible to see have been finished to her own anatomical perfection.

This process was detailed in slide shows that document many of her favorite pieces including A Rush of Blood to the Head which was wonderful to see.

As I mentioned earlier we were a very large group and asked a load of questions. She was very generous in answering all of these distractions and more revealing much about her self and her process as she worked. As a result she was not happy with the progress she was able to make on the piece.  By the end of the workshop she asked that we not share images of the work but especially not of her.  I have honored her wishes not be shown in the images but not her request not to have the work shown, partly because this is a post about my experience in this workshop and partly for reasons I will now elaborate.

Throughout the days of the workshop Beth was incredibly candid about herself, her process and her struggles both as a person and an artist.  She seemed to make great connection with many of the students and their work, not however with me.  Likely she was put off by my fan girl shimmer, that while i did try to restrain it, could only have been obvious and possibly for reasons I have mentioned before, I was ill and very caught up in my own mental health issues and so may not have been available for connection. So then in spite of my attempts I felt very much unacceptable to this person that I admired so much.

Because of this I was determined not to write about this experience. both to protect her and myself for I felt very much exposed and did not want to risk her displeasure, still fawning on some sad level, and so the experience ended.  I was left to wonder what the students who did connect had that I lacked and if there was something I was fundamentally lacking that would prevent me from ever achieving the success of my idol and those class mates that were acceptable to the higher power that an internationally known and hugely talented artist represented.

I did attempt the technique but as I work at such a small-scale for the animals of the Magic Box that it was largely inappropriate.  Still, I did manage a pose for Brittany the unicorn that I have not been able to pull off before. So then after so much anticipation I left the workshop drained and exhausted, feeling less able than I had in many years to achieve the moderate success that I have worked toward.

And so it remained, I would think of this post often but could not find a way to write about the experience in a way that would be meaningful to myself and my readers as well.  In fact, this dilemma seemed to halt the blog all together, as those of you who read regularly will have noticed. Yet I was confident that time would reveal a way to relate the experience and perhaps relieve many pressures of being correct and acceptable that is such a difficult part of life as an artist.

And so that opportunity finally came today through one of my many Facebook clay groups.  I found a video, an interview with Beth that I can’t imagine her having made when we met several months ago.  It is a beautiful film that describes her process, her work and her struggles in a way that was so very revealing.

http://www.thisiscolossal.com/2015/09/interview-with-sculptor-beth-cavener/

I have no wish to detail my mental process at seeing her expose herself and her insecurities and her work for the camera, but it is sufficient to say that I was moved by her courage to do so and by the very similarities that seem to so distress me in January.

The experience did not produce a great patron or helper as I may have hoped in my fantasy before meeting, but a teacher, a true teacher, with the power to reveal one of the fundamental truths of life in the arts.  The truth of the constant self exposure that is required to survive the process of show entries and openings combined with a process of exposing ones self through work that digs into the soul every day.

I admire her more than ever, yet I no longer feel the art crush that I used to. This is obviously desirable, allowing her to be a person, complex and rich and myself also, with all of my great talents and imperfections.

I won’t try to assist her or do further workshops or any other absurd fantasy that occurred to me in the time of not being acceptable in January but she will always be held in great esteem and gratitude for showing me that even the greatest artists are people as myself, complex and conflicted.

Please look her up, her website is gorgeous and so is her work.

http://www.followtheblackrabbit.com

Pots for Beautiful Grotesque

We’ve been back in the studio again after a long absence for the breeding season on the farm and are starting right back in with work for an upcoming show.  We have been invited to the upcoming Beautiful Grotesque show at the Sangre de Cristo arts center in Pueblo. The show opens in October and runs through mid January. Stay tuned for information about the opening and sales.

For this body of work we chose to start with a functional form, since we worked with vases for the graffiti show covered jars seemed like the logical choice.  The jars allow for another layer of narrative to work with the content we are working with in this series. The jars are collage, using molds from several of our previous projects and from salvaged doll molds.  These images are reconfigured to suggest meanings that might relate to an ancient cultures fertility rituals.  Many of the pieces were then textured to reference deep sea salvage, creating a false timeline for the objects. They will be finished to reflect the layers of ideas.

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We used a combination of techniques for decorating the pieces, including sprigging, slip casting, buttoning, incising and sculpting.

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Though not recommended by clay makers or professionals, we are using two different bodies on pieces that incorporate slip casting.  The throwing/spriging body used is Laguna’s White Stone and the casting slip is Cashmere from New Mexico Clay. These fit together remarkably well and gave us almost no problems with attachments during shrinkage to bone-dry.

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The work as usual was very collaborative, some pieces we both touched while others were one or the other, and will be decorated as a team as well. We deliver to the gallery in late September, watch for finished pieces soon.

Magic Box Collectables

An important idea for us right now in Foxy-Wolff is to develop an income steam to support the video production and installation, which can be very expensive when considering the tech involved.  We have worked with a variety of ideas over the last couple years and continue to search for something compelling that ties to into the heart of the videos.  With this latest idea, I think we may have figured it out.

These came from a series of small drawings Gabe made as we were on our way home from Kansas after the semester critique last December.  While I did like the tiles, I felt they were missing something, and a reoccurring comment we heard during the critique was that everyone wanted to play with the house and the figurines.  combining these two necessities, Gabe developed these wall hanging pieces:IMG_8040As soon as we got home I began with their construction.  For most of these, the molds already exist from the construction of the houses and so the details on the build could be thought through very quickly.

The first was from “The Empty Room” house, which is a challenging piece even at a small-scale.  I chose a window and two brick walls for this, finishing with all the trim.  Part of the challenge was building solo, the piece being too small for both of us to put up the walls.  Once the construction was finished it was dried, then spray painted and fired.  Following that acrylic paint and more spray paint were applied. I wanted to make these close to the original, but art pieces in their own right so there is some deviation from the surfacing of the original.IMG_0661“Ted in the Empty Room” 8.5″ x 9.25′ x 5″ Ceramic and Paint

The second piece was also from “The Empty Room” and is more of a display shelf for figurines than a house.  Again, using molds from the original build, a plan was made.  This house does not include porches and so decisions had to be made concerning that new aspect.  Construction and surfacing followed the procedures listed above and this piece finished well.IMG_0654“Terry and Virgil After Breakfast” 8.75″ x 9.75″ x 6 Ceramic and Paint

The third piece comes from “The Magic Box” and was perhaps the most difficult build of the group.  The reason for this being the molds from which the original house was made.  They are early on in our pursuit of mold making and are imprecise and difficult to use.  That being said, the compact design of this house and the attachment style it uses are very sturdy and make a lovely little piece.  This was glaze finished like the house it is made after.IMG_0646“The Stone Woman at Home” 8.5″ x  8″ x 8″ Stoneware and Glaze

The figurines were made following the construction of the houses and were somewhat different from the originals, the stone woman for example is slip cast for these, where she was carved from solid clay in the original piece.  In this we were seeking a way to differentiate the collectables from the gallery originals.IMG_0665IMG_0650These pieces will hang in a variety of ways, the large free-standing pieces will be placed on a custom shelf, while the piece that includes its own shelf will hang on a French cleat.

This series does exactly what we were hoping for, It reunites the concept of the films with toys and action figures and  gives us an interesting opportunity to return to the “commercial”.  I love the idea of promoting the “Collect all five!” marketing strategy for ceramic art, its fantastically absurd.

 

Tang Dynasty Tomb Guardians

China’s Tang Dynasty (618ce to 907ce) is among the greatest periods for art making in the world.  The relative peace enjoyed by the people and its outward looking and accepting culture where art was highly valued, created the perfect environment for experimentation and growth by artists.

China hosted flourishing trade along the silk road, that brought foreigners, religions and goods into the country.  Among these goods was more finely processed lead which facilitated improved low fire glazes for Sancai Ware.  The word translates to “three colors” and refers to the brightly colored glaze combinations that grace the tomb guardians of the Period.tang tomb guardian 3

These objects were made as surrogates for human sacrifice and were intended to serve the dead in the afterlife.  While the Tang is a time of great artistic innovation, these objects were not considered art, but much more functional forms.

The were called Ming chi which translates to spirit objects and were critical for the type of ancestor worship that was practiced at the time.  The belief was, and still is for many Chinese, that the ancestor, after the appropriate mourning period, became an important intercessor between the surviving family and the world of the gods and spirits.  Not taking the proper care of one’s ancestors would lead to disaster and cataclysm, so keeping these important family members well supplied and happy was a families greatest duty.

Like any highly stratified society, there were strict rules governing the placement on Ming chi.  The number and sizes were governed by the persons station in life.  The smallest were around 12″ and the largest were over 40″tang tomb guardiansThey served a variety of purposed in the tomb, some, that blend human and animal characteristics and carry weapons were made to protect the ancestor from evil and tomb raiders.  Others had more mundane tasks.  The horse below is pictured alone but he would have been paired with a groom to care for the animal who would serve the ancestor.tang horseEach figure had a specific name and duty within the tomb, and were often based off Taoist and Buddhist deities.  One of these was a figure known as the Heavenly King.  He was a fierce male figure placed near the entrance of the tomb.  Many of the figures stood on vanquished demons, the Heavenly King is depicting standing on a bull or ox which represented his unchallenged spiritual majesty.  It is important to remember here that the Chinese have a very different concept of heaved than we in the west.  Heaven is more of a god, and it is from this god that the ruling elite derive their right to rule.tang tomb guardians 2In addition to traditional images of Chinese culture, the tombs often featured influences from the outside world, camels and some foreigners were common additions to the groupings

The craft of the Ming chi was perfected during the rule of the Empress Wu, and represent a departure from earthenwares of the previous periods.  These figures are made in molds, then assembled and modeled from the white stoneware of the time rather than the red earthenware seen during previous periods.  The white body, while sometimes under fired, was seen as superior because of the brightness and clarity achieved in the glazes.  Sometimes these figures were high fired before being refired at lower temps for the glazes, though its thought only pieces for export received this extra step.

The sancai glazes were composed of 3 parts lead, 2 parts loess clay or white clay and powdered quartz.  This base was then colored with iron for amber, copper for green and though rarely, cobalt for blue and turquoise.  The term sancai  is a misnomer, in that there are 6 colors in this palate from the period, though the most common were amber, green and creamy white.  Glazes were applied in a variety of ways including dipping, brushing and trailing.

Hanging Wall Tiles

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Wall hanging tiles are a new part of the Magic Box project that we have been working on.  Like the house, the mold was made for this in July.  This mold was designed by Gabe and is intended to mimic gallery wrapped canvas.  The piece is large (16″x15″x2″) and was constructed initially from wood wrapped in a heavy burlap.  The top pic shows Gabe taking the mold apart after the plaster was poured.  The piece by piece construction allowed the box to be removed cleanly without damaging the plaster.  The second shows the finished piece.IMG_6001 IMG_6177 IMG_6178Once the mold was dry, we were ready to press.  The first slabs for this were 3/8″ and weighed about 15 lbs.  This weight was usually enough to build the supports from as well, provided the slab was well-shaped before pressing.  The photo of the finished tile really shows off the texture.  The initial rules of the press have changed quite a bit as we have made several.  The piece is very large for slab work and has major problems with cracking.  We have adjusted the support structure, slab depth, dry times, clay bodies and added a waster slab.  In spite of all these adjustments, cracking is still a major problem for these pieces.

In addition to the technical exploration I have tried several finishing methods for the surfaces, depending on the image and the condition of the tile.  The first series depicts images taken from The Magic Box film,  These images originated as screen shots and then were translated into paintings or transfers through various methods.

IMG_6659 IMG_6740 IMG_6614 IMG_6741These four pictures show the screen shot after photo manipulation and then the finished image on tile.  These were rendered in oxide and glaze.  This was difficult to control saturation and color gradient and was not attempted again.

IMG_6759 IMG_6751 IMG_6748The other major technique used in the first series was a more graphic approach that relied on decals and glaze effects.  I really love these, in part because they work with the cracking a bit better than the heavily image dependent tiles.  This graphic approach also relies less on images from the film.  Only the house image here is taken directly from the film.  The other two tiles are more descriptive of the development of the characters depicted.

painting tiles1 painting tiles 2 Painting tiles 3IMG_7387The second series saw further development of both the technical clay and surfacing techniques.  The tile above was too badly cracked to glaze fire and so was epoxides and paint finished.  The process of painting ceramic always starts with spray paint for us, the first image shows the tile masked off and the second, the protected drawing after the mask was removed.  The last two are the paint in process.

IMG_7389 IMG_7391The last two tiles combine the techniques used in the first series but rather than oxides, I used commercial underglazes for building the image.  These have a painterly quality that I am interested in, but might benefit from more color.  The series is ongoing, and will likely continue to evolve.