In an age where we find ourselves surrounded at all times by a complex web of glass, steel and plastic, stone retains its elementary and essential status as the material of permanence and timelessness. There is no experience quite the same as placing one’s hand against the coolness of marble or seeing a supple flow of forms carved from its seemingly unyielding hardness. But while stone retains a place of pride in building, architecture, and decor, the grand tradition of stone sculpture, particularly figurative work, has diminished in modern times, threatening to mute one of stone’s most glorious and distinctive voices. These voices raised themselves up to counter that danger.
(Proprietor of ABC Worldwide Stone & Board Member, New York Academy of Art) Sculpture gives us the opportunity to recognize art dimension-ally. It brings art to life in a way that other forms of art can never achieve. I have had the opportunity to see some of the great masterpieces of sculpture, and each time I’m in their presence I’m humbled, and yet I’m challenged by the level of talent that our species possesses. Sculpture in the urban setting adds beauty and sophistication to the fortunate onlooker. Where sculpture exists, an oasis is created where people are drawn to explore, contemplate and enjoy the inseparable bond between art and nature.
Sculpture enriches public spaces like no other form of art, but sculpture is also one of the most expensive and time-intensive kinds of art making. Training, fabrication, materials: all require commitment, skill and an intimate relationship to a sculptor’s chosen medium.
(Dean of Academic Affairs, New York Academy of Art) I see two extremes happening simultaneously in contemporary sculpture. On the one hand there is the post-studio model whereby the artist becomes the director, orchestrating artisans and assistants to produce ambitious work that may not require the artist’s touch. This sensibility has a certain remove and coolness that speaks to its conceptual history. Artists with large studio practices and multiple assistants are nothing new in the art world, but with the advent of digital printing and milling, it is currently being taken to a new extreme. On the other hand you see artists returning to the inherent joy of being what Mark Mennin refers to as “the single combat warrior.” This kind of artist almost insists on doing everything themselves. This can lead to a certain romanticizing of the studio practice, but I find it admirable just the same.
The trend in contemporary sculptural practice in recent decades has been away from stone in favor of modern and manufactured materials, especially in abstraction and assemblages created from diverse sources. While many beautiful and intriguing sculptures have arisen from this engagement, there’s been an unfortunate side effect: a lessening of stone as the first choice for sculptural practice, which has had some unforeseen effects.
(New York-based artist) I think stone is worthy of consideration today for two important reasons. First, its aesthetic contributions are endless, both in the range of colors and applications. Secondly, we live in a time of expanding sensitivity to using natural materials and avoiding petroleum-based synthetics such as plastic.
Another unintended consequence: a loss of skill in working with stones of all kinds, as artists turned away from the material. Hard as it is to imagine, it would be difficult to find contemporary sculptors who have the technical know-how to create sculptures on the level of many figurative works executed just a hundred or so years ago.
I had the pleasure of being asked by the New York Academy of Art if I would be willing to assist in developing a stone sculpture pro-gram to an already existing and incredible sculpture department. I was so happy that they had the foresight and vision to want to further pursue this age old medium. We immediately put together a Residency program that would allow the students to travel to Italy and learn these classic stone carving techniques with some of the masters in Carrara. Carrara is the home of the Apuan Alps, which is where all of the great Renaissance sculptures procured their materials and honed their craft for millennium. We were also able to assist in designing and offering a workshop at the school which would allow the students instruction on how to sculpt in stone here in New York. The Academy then provided the space to house a dedicated stone sculpture area at the school in which a stone sculpting elective is now taught as a part of the regular curriculum. Since this process started in 2011, the community of sculptors at the Academy has grown and the interest in stone sculpture is seeing an upswing in interest and stewards.
Since the inception of the stone-carving elective at the New York Academy of Art I have seen an uptick in the sense of seriousness in the Sculpture Department. There is a feeling that along with the rigor that is demanded of stone carving there is a connection to art history and its most ambitious art-makers; there is almost no way that you can start carving stone without feeling a connection to Bernini, Michelangelo and Rodin. I have also seen how the Academy’s patrons respond to the art that is produced in the class and through the Carrara Residency; it is almost a magical reaction, as if they can’t believe that students can produce something so incredible.
There is no experience quite the same as placing one hand against the coolness of marble or seeing a supple flow of forms carved from its seemingly unyielding hardness.
The results of Tibett’s and Drake’s efforts in raising the profile and proficiency of stone sculpture have been highly successful, and the proof can be seen in the artworks themselves. Joshua Henderson, a young sculptor and winner of the 2014 Carrara Residency, created the lovely, mysterious work “Mother,” a sculpture whose flowing lines and wind-swept drapery remind viewers of just how powerful form can be when channeled into a block of creamy Carrara marble. There is nothing quite like working with stone, as both Henderson and Stephen Shaheen can attest.
(Carrara Residency Award Recipient 2014) Once I’ve selected a piece of marble, I try to grasp a vision of what the stone means… I ask myself many questions during the artistic process. How does this material relate to me? Why stone? Why this composition or gesture? Who and what am I representing? During the process many of my questions are answered, and when they are I begin questioning the answers. In selecting material for my sculpture “Mother,” I wanted a stone that was pure and beautiful as was my perception of my mother. I looked for a stone that closely mirrored my feelings for the concept. In this case, white Carrara marble was perfect, pure and strong with subtle veining.
I use many different media, but when it comes to stone, it’s quite a visceral, even brutal process. There is a violence enacted on the material, and reciprocated on my body. I don’t know that I give them life so much as an interpretable transformation; some people and cultures would prefer the stone in its natural state. Regardless, it is a very involved process that requires close human intervention from start to finish.
In order to “experience” the stone I suppose one must have involvement in, contact with, observation of, awareness of, or insight into the stone. I think it’s safe to say that the more experience a person has with stone the closer that person comes to mastering it.
And it’s safe to say that, thanks to the efforts of businessmen, educators, fabricators and artists, new generations will have that irreplaceable experience of stone that has for so long been a crucial encounter with beauty.
By Gregory Crosby