Wednesday, May 23, 2012

How Are You Inspired?

I once asked a friend, what do you think was on the mind of the woodcarver when he was carving a wall sculpture he had purchased. I think I may have insulted him, for he ignored the question. Of course art doesn’t need explanation, it only has to evoke some emotion to give it meaning. However it seems to me it would be nice to think the artist was thinking of something when he created the art. Maybe I am being cynical to ask for this in art, I don't know.

I often talk of the barriers to stone carving, but I also think stone carvers are lucky in that they have so many ways their medium can inspire them. Stone speaks, so to say. I can't imagine a chunk of clay or a blank canvas inspiring me the way stone does. The stone provides both the limitations and the possibilities for me. This makes it a special art form. Every piece of stone has its own specific characteristics, one may try, but its unlikely that a favorable result will happen if the artist misreads the stone. To be STONEWISE is a real asset. Not to be, shows. The nicest compliment I ever received came at a stone sculpture event when a man told me, “Joe, you read the stone like no one else. ” Never forgot that. Experience helps in stone carving.



Irving Stone popularized the idea that Michelangelo could see a form within the stone. Of course, what does that say? Does an artist paint outside the canvas? My guess is that Michelangelo had a romantic vision that he felt had popular support, and found the largest block of stone he could get, to carve it out. It was all in his head. Mental imaging, genius indeed. From that point on it was all technical skill and endurance. I suspect he established benchmarks in the block so as to keep the proportions he wanted. Its hard for me to imagine the skills he must have had, as well as his artistic vocabulary. This is an extreme example of the most common approach to stone subtraction to get the desired three-dimensional form . imaged. It seems to me this what most all artists must do to create there art. I have never been good at this. But there are many other ways in stone carving for people like me.


I think this is a real plus, for the stone carver, who may be mental imagine impaired. What is one to do with a light pink marble? Carve a animal, or an abstract? Not likely, more likely the human form, most often feminine. For most stone carvers, basalt almost demands a Noguchi like form. Noguchi spent time in Japan's basalt islands working basalt so it was a natural for him. Cut a side away, leave a crusty side and polish another and you're done. Stone speaks. Pure white, to me, almost demands a youthful form. That’s why I did my David in the whitest marble I will ever get, which came from Mt Calder, Alaska. (See my blog “The Making of My David”) The translucence of alabaster and onyx seem to demand natural forms, flowers and foliage etc. Color can be masculine or feminine. Does a gray sandstone want to make you carve a flower? I think color is a great source of inspiration that is unique to stone carving.


I have no heavily veined marbles. If I did, it would likely be used for either an animal form or an abstract, where the beauty of the stone stands alone. The artist only has to bring out the stone's character Many a stone carver has found that heavy veining does not work on a head but great for a free form. Heavy veining in a stone makes it sing.


The most uninspiring shape I can imagine is cubical. It demands pure artistic mental imagining No doubt about it. See the shape in your head and subtract material to free the form imagined. I find this hard to do. On the other hand a difficult shape like a triangle can easily lead me to the New Mexico sculpture pictured. Remember, stone carving is a tough art form and most carvers I have known remove as little stone as possible to get the form they want. The half circle shape definitely inspired me to create Men at Work.


Early Traveler

Practicing Physics

Glacial Activity

I found “Early Traveler” on a beach in SE Alaska where scientists now say that men first came over the Bering Strait to North America. An artist friend, Cindy Dececco, thought she saw a human form there. It immediately jumped right out at me and “Early Traveler” was born. Even the red color worked this time. So “Early Traveler” had shape, location and color to inspire me . What an easy job for me. “Practicing Physics” was pure found art I found these two pieces of quartz on Wadleigh Island Alaska and attached them to a green argillite less then 10 miles away on Prince of Wales, Alaska. “Glacial Activity” came from a road trip and hiking in Montana’s Glacier National Park. The green and red stone forming G. N. P. Are very inspiring to all basalt basin residents like me.


Natural Cleavage



The manner in which natural processes weather stone is a great form of inspiration to me. I have no photos, but I know the skin on basalt is a big part of basalt carving. My favorite stone by far is marble, preferably a northwest marble weathered by wind and rain. Chinese culture has long been enchanted with nature's weathering process on marble, They have elevated it to monumental proportions in what they call scholar stones. The Chinese call this Wuxi and the Japanese use the word Suiseki. The beaches of SE Alaska are weathered by tide coming and going. The photo I took in the Prior Mountains in Montana showing weathering from rain. I used to have a geography professor who would say we came just in time, one million years earlier or later it wouldn’t be the same as we arrived at our field studies. For me weathered local marble is a great source of inspiration.


The Leg Lamp

High Style

My Idaho travertine leg lamp is a salute to Jean Shepard, the author. Some day I hope to put Garrison Keillor’s fishing dog on one side; and Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, with a fishing pole, on the other side. Sadly no space left for Will Rogers in my ranking system. All four of these great American observers of the human condition deserve a stone carver salute. “High Style”, a tip of the hat to the human fixation on appearance and the fashion industry. There is nothing like an elegant woman to get my attention. Wonderful inspiration.


Apples and Pears

Apples and Pears

Apples and Pears

I have always felt that comparing apples and oranges just doesn’t work well. It's a lot more fun to compare male and female with apples and pears. This idea can turn many ways from abstract to rigidly formal. I like it, and hope to develop this concept many ways in the future. The great book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance struggles with creativity, so I certainly would not presume to know where creativity like apples and pears come from, it's way beyond me, it just is.


Human forms

Carving the human form never gets old. It's a great challenge to get the proportions the way you want, never easy. I am prejudiced but I feel that a lot of abstract stone carving I see is merely tool manipulation. As an old stone fabricator in the industry for so many years I just smile to myself and say looks like he got a new core drill or chain saw etc. Classical form demand classical ability, not tool tricks. Even though I do a lot of tool tricks myself . See my stone bowls below, a subject of future essay. In the end I hope anyone who looks at my sculpture will know what was on my mind when I carved it.

Tool tricks


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