Why Figurative Sculpture is Important in the Twenty-First Century

 

I have been asked by many people what the title of  "Form No. 2" means, and I tell them that it is the second form in a series of four that I'm planning on sculpting.  "Form No. 1" will be a figure lying down in a fetal position with one arm reaching upwards for that first hint of awareness.  He will be completely covered by a cloth, his face hidden.  "Form No. 2," a finished life-size bronze at UC Irvine, is the same figure crouching down, his muscular body ironically weighed down by the soft cloth that partially covers him.   The end of the cloth, curled around the head, slightly falls away, being a hint of his determination to rise.  In "Form No. 3," he is now sitting up, a mask in his hand, and is engaged in intense personal introspection.  "Form No. 4," the last in the series, is where he will be standing in an affirmation.  Not knowing all the answers, the mask dangling in his hand, he is confident in partaking the journey we all face.  Each piece is separate and stands on its own, and yet they are intricately linked in an emerging progression.  

Other than that, I won't elaborate any further as to the specific meaning of the series, for it is a mirror that seems to reflect the internal state of the viewer.  I've heard many views expressed as to what "Form No. 2" means, and I've always hesitated to speak up for fear of destroying something personal and vital.  It seems the piece, as with all art, carries with it a momentum and energy that is unleashed when first encountered by the viewer.  To concretize the meaning is to imprison it.  As Walt Whitman said, "you must not be too precise or scientific about birds, and trees, and flowers."  It seems that there is always a cost with precision, or definition.  Are we merely the sum of our parts, i.e., elements ordered on a chart bound by physical laws?  Or are we more than the sum?  If I were to analyze this sculpture and tell you every thought that went into its making, will that add to the power of the piece, or merely detract from it, filter your perception and reduce it?  What is the meaning, I ask, inherent in the title of Beethoven's fifth symphony? Or any of Mozart's for that matter?  Sometimes I feel a title is appropriate for a piece, for a hook is given, a door opened to guide the viewer to a place from which he/she can begin to relate to it.  Its title grounds the work and contextualizes it.  But for this series, I'm letting the forms speak for themselves.  The clarity of the figure and its position is contextualized enough.  It's the mystery, what's unspoken in the work, that's important here.  I would like the viewer to feel a part of the piece by having him/her discover in the work something that might reflect how they intuitively feel to be true about themselves, or about the world in general.

I truly believe that these non-verbalized elements are an intrinsic part of all art -- figurative or abstract.  I love viewing abstract work, and am especially fond of, and intellectually/emotionally moved by, the brilliance of such artists as Picasso, Mondrian, Duchamp, Pollack, Brancusi, Kline, Irwin, Noguchi, and Jenkins.  However, I'm personally drawn to the figure and the rigorous technical skill needed to express it, for I find a direct and deep connection through it that I can't find by any other means.  And the figure also seems to me more accessible.   Figurative work displays an emotional and conceptual spectrum  for both the layman and the academic alike.  I think of both the beauty and the brilliance of the "Loacoon," Michelangelo's "David" and "Pieta," the "Victory of Samothrace", Bernini's "Apollo and Daphne," or Rodin's the "Thinker."  They are all conceptually complex and strikingly beautiful and arrest the attention of nearly everyone who views them.  Through great skill and effort, they have been recognized as humanity's segue way to the soul, a direct and non-exclusive doorway that leads both the initiated and uninitiated into those deepest of layers of being that we all ultimately yearn and hunger for.  Though commercial or surface work has their place, they are not a healthy substitute and will never be able to truly satisfy us.  

The Greek painter Eupompos, when asked which of his predecessors he had taken as a model for his artistic creation, said, "one should imitate nature itself, not another artist."  Nature was the seminal starting point of the abstract movement, and most of the masters understood anatomy and perspective and light and how to translate these principles into an artistic representation.  Thus, they first had to learn to "see" nature before they could remodel it, and more importantly, to transform it -- a lesson that seems at times to have been forgotten today.  

I feel the closer art reflects this "seeing" or awareness of ourselves -- our own nature as a function of nature -- in this point in space and time, the more powerful it touches us at all points in space and time.  The figure is the next best thing to the real body.  There are no other layers to filter it from our perceptions.  Thus the thought and emotion it elicits as we view it can have a profound effect on us as it's closer to the source of our inner being.  As modern science has shown, the images the mind's eye sees are mere models our brain, the master artist, has painted under a brilliant spell of illusion.  The physical reality is there, but how it looks, feels, smells, tastes, sounds, from an absolute sense, we will never know with our species specific cortexes. Thus we deal in models of models.  And the more abstract they are, the more layered filters, the more distance, the less energy is felt in the experience of them. 

Figurative sculpture has been around as long as art has, and as long as we inhabit bodies made of flesh, we will feel the urge to mirror them and to transform them in our own image as a function of the time we live in.  There is a tradition of figurative sculpture that goes back at least 27,000 years to the Venus of Willedorf, and just as those early artists never strayed too far from the flesh that they deemed to be just as vital as the spirit it housed, I truly believe that the figure will always have something to say about what it is to be human.  For it's not only the most immediate and direct sensual link to our spirit or soul, but its biological and physical properties allows for the very act of consciousness itself.   And its evolution.

When I sculpt, I find it is important to be aware of and find that inner spirit reflected within the core of the piece itself.  This in turn leads to a harmony of parts -- plane flowing gracefully into plane, line into line, which is akin to dance -- form flowing into form flowing into form.   

And why should I attempt to find such rhythm in my own figurative work or in others?  Because ultimately it is a reflection of the rhythm which we have experienced in our own lives, the rhythm of life itself, of our place in an evolving continuum.  We are not abstracted upon the earth -- whimsically placed over it.  We are physical, connected, and have evolved from within it.  We are a function of a deeper evolutionary process -- a conscious reflection of a natural organic rhythm that has emerged and is reaching ever higher towards conscious complexity.  I feel the job of the artist is to capture that rhythm, that flux, so that a viewer may someday resonate with and unleash that same energy within his/her own body, within his/her own unique persona.  To that aim, I hope I'm at least partially successful.

 

 

 

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