Friday, October 23, 2009

Where does it come from?

Strong talent brings with it both wonder and suspicion. What is the origin of such skill? How does one create it? In what balance is it learned, practiced, or developed? Does everyone have a gift that lies dormant until it is accidentally exposed? Do we all have within us the possibility of genius? Is it only a matter of discovering the appropriate medium that will permit the unknown genius to be excavated, transferred and recognized?

These are questions we’re left pondering in the midst of a long overdue visit from Steven’s parents. Though Steven and I may struggle to balance everyday realities with the fact that we do somehow manage to build huge monuments, there is nothing more certain to bring humility and surefootedness than the presence of those who knew you when you were young. If they happen to be of Scottish and Yorkshire decent – all the better.

Both of Steven’s parents have a true and perfectly uncomplicated love for him. Speaking with them you have the impression that anything from accountancy to car repair would have been a perfectly acceptable career path for their son and only child. As it is they seem a bit non-pulsed by the path he seems to have fallen into. While they are without question proud, their clear headed assumption and stoically tempered praise actively prevent any temptation to place too much stock in our own hype.

During their last visit, they were visiting the studio when two of Steven’s more substantial collectors stopped by to check on the progress of a piece they had commissioned. When I introduced them to Steven’s parents, they were thrilled to meet the people responsible for the artist. The wife of the couple asked Steven’s mother with great reverence: “Did he always show such remarkable talent?” His mom replied quite quickly and firmly, “goodness no.”

The collector then asked, “Where you very surprised when he managed to create such wonderful work?” With the kind of faith that reminds you why its family you call for both celebration and sympathy, his mom said, “no, I wasn’t. He was always good with his hands.”

Steven’s talent is a mysterious blend of innate skill, teaching, and miracle, but there’s no question he is who he is today, sculptor or not, because of the remarkable individuals who are his parents.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Why Couldn’t He Have Been a Painter ? - Lamentations of Sculpture Roadies

The most basic fact about cast bronze sculpture is often the most overlooked. Each piece is made of metal and is, as a result, very heavy. With the inclusion of the expected granite or marble base you’re hard pressed to find a piece that weighs less than fifteen pounds. And, of course, each sculpture has to have a pedestal on which to be displayed. While these aren’t made of cast bronze they are still heavy and certainly awkward. When the gallery is properly set-up with all the most recent works placed to best advantage, prices and signage in place, and lighting correspondingly designed, it’s easy to forget what a mammoth effort it is to move work around.

The reality came crashing down on us this weekend due to our participation in the new Carmel Art and Film Festival. In addition to a slew of other events the festival, which was organized with the director of the Sunset Film Festival, included an art show in a local Carmel Park. As a selected artist, Steven had a booth to display work. The idea of an outdoor art show with noted artists all displaying their work in the usually sunny Carmel autumn is a romantic concept and I’m sure it’s a pleasant attraction to visit. But, the transport and set-up for the event is a mammoth and cumbersome undertaking. Not to mention it was strangely cold all weekend.

The event found us loading trucks with sculpture at 5:45 in the morning, only to have to bring it all back in the evening for security and then return it the next day. Of course, as with any struggle, you immediately feel as though your lot is the hardest. This mature response is how we have come to hate all painters. It’s an indiscriminant, purely selfish resentment based solely on the fact that their artwork weighs less, takes up less room, displays faster and is just generally more portable. The painters at last weekend’s event made one trip and set up their booths in an hour. Five trips later, we’re exhausted, bitter and depressed that the other painting artists have eaten all the good muffins. The noble pursuit of artistic expression is nothing in the face of such hardship and unbalance.

At 8 p.m. on the last day of the festival, when two and a half hours of transporting finally brought the conclusion of our participation, we drove out of town and passed the park. One car was still parked near the edge, hazard lights on and back door ajar. We looked over to find it was being loaded up by one of the festival’s only other sculptors. If I had his address I’d send him a solidarity muffin.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Bill: Chief Cadet in the Sculpture Corps

When I think about the amazing group of people who work with us at the studio I’m frequently reminded of the Peace Corps slogan, “The hardest job you’ll ever love.”

It’s a strange invitation to make to anyone: “Come and be a starving artist with me. You’ll work until you drop, make no money, have to walk the dog, and come home covered in plaster, fiberglass, clay and who-knows-what else.” That anyone would even think of applying, much less staying and working, is a kind of miracle. Perhaps it’s the invitation to share in the adventurous struggle, the good, the bad and the messy that fosters the amazingly high quality of people who become the studio family.

Bill is our head studio manager. He just returned from a much-deserved vacation and his absence from the studio was palpable. The studio is in so many ways lost without him. Bill knows where we keep the “good rubber,” the scalpels that are still sharp and a host of other items that we seem to need as soon as he walks out the door.

In the years they have worked together, Steven and Bill have taken mutual admiration to its highest level. To their own frustration, they get mistaken for brothers at least once a day. But physical resemblance aside, the relationship has a necessarily familial nature. It’s not just the time and close proximity born of working in the studio. It’s the amazing gesture of trust seen in handing over responsibility of your artwork to another. Bill and all the staff consider Steven’s work with such love and reverence that there is never any apprehension.

Bill fights alongside Steven in the frequently bizarre trenches of the art community of Carmel and beyond. Their work often seems more like a series of bizarre adventures than art production. At last year's hearing of Carmel’s strident Design Review Board Bill was there. When we were anxious to improve production quality Bill learned how to pour waxes. At our recent show at the Sunset Center Bill brought no less than eight guests and spent the whole evening sharing detailed stories about each sculpture with everyone who would listen. When we needed help moving Bill was there - with a truck. Moral support, muscle and unquestionable talent - it's all there.

I clearly remember the first New Year’s Eve after Bill came on staff. Steven and I were talking with friends over champagne about the things we were thankful for in the past year. Without pause Steven said simply, “Bill.”