OUR ART HERITAGE
History is rich with records of past civilizations…. rulers, wars, loves, disasters… life captured in various forms for us to bear witness. These written and graphic images represent, in part, extensions of an idea of ourselves. The desire to convey the importance of these ideas caused man to develop the ability to pass feelings and moods from generation to generation through various means of expression we refer to as art.
The first recorded efforts to communicate were through symbols inscribed on cave walls. And over time, our curiosity unearthed three-dimensional forms that give further evidence of early man’s concerns. From a point very early in recorded history, sculpture began carrying forward part of that responsibility.
Because of the evocative, even magical, qualities to be found in sculpture, it has endured as an important medium of expression. It should not be considered as an adjunct to architecture or a relative of painting, but rather as an independent, dynamic, and powerful form with which to present a theme worthy of consideration. Sculpture then, in the real sense, is more than mere decoration. It has purpose: it speaks the mind, wisdom and time of peoples related to us.
We do not know what caused early man to leave records of his life and times behind, but we do know that it is through the arts our most precious values are conveyed past our own generation. This preservation is no accident. Whether inadvertently compelled or consciously commissioned, down through the hallowed halls of history artists have strived to tell us tales of their times. Consequently today, as always, the patron of the arts has as vital a role to play as the artist himself in keeping recorded history intact.
Although stone was the first material used by the sculptor, bronze became the most prestigious and significant of all mediums. It still is. Because of its qualifications, many of man’s most compelling messages have been put into bronze. It will survive through most types of aging and even much determined destruction to carry its message, often another link of timeless importance, in the continuing chain of human events.
The ability to render a message in any three-dimensional medium is difficult, costly and time consuming. First the sculptor must come up with a concept, often suggested by commission through a public source or inspired by a need in the private sector. Perhaps the theme arises from the thoughts, feelings and personal convictions of the artist. Regardless of the initial impetus, it is my belief that the most significant art expressions have come from what we refer to as the ‘collective unconscious’.
THE PROCESS OF BRONZE CASTING
The physical work now begins, progressing through a series of research, notes, sketches, and “roughs” in clay. This gleaning activity can take a tremendous amount of time, encountering many changes along its course, until a final model (or maquette) of the idea takes shape. Indeed, often many models result from this process leading to the final one. If necessary, the chosen maquette is sized up to the final scale.
When complete, the finished model is delivered to a competent foundry and the proper method for reproducing the specific art piece in bronze is determined. Details vary greatly according to individual demands but basically, following an exacting procedure, a polyurethane mold is created to ensure the original model is duplicated precisely. This mold is then covered in a hardened material, such as plaster, for support.
A wax copy is then taken from the finished mold, subjected to careful inspection, then cleaned and prepared for investment by the addition of a complex arrangement of wax gates, or vents. A ready wax is a sculpture with a complex series of airways attached. These vents allow the hot bronze to flow freely during the delicate pouring procedure.
Each individual wax is then invested (sprayed with a material that will give proper support during the pouring procedure), and put into a high temperature kiln until the wax is melted out and the investment heated enough to harden it sufficiently to withstand the shock of molten bronze without cracking. The investment is now ready for pouring.
Pouring molten bronze is not simply upending a container of liquid metal into a crude container. Every niche, every subtle hollow, outline, indentation and mark of the original must be reached and reproduced by the dangerously hot metal. If the gates were attached properly, the resulting casting will be a faithful rendering of the original maquette, right down to the fingerprints of the artist himself. This success will only be evident when the investment material is chipped away and the rough cast revealed.
A successful casting is only another beginning, for then comes the arduous task of cutting off the gates, filing, grinding, polishing and smoothing the new casting.
The final step is the application of a patina, a surface finish which is an artificial means of coloring the raw bronze by application of certain oxides. The natural aging of bronze occurs over many years, whereas patina chemicals achieve the desired finish quickly and with control.
As you can see, fine art casting is not a matter of “mass production”. Throughout the foundry process the artist of integrity is in constant touch, often choosing to get his hand into the work to insure accurate reproduction of his vision. This insures the end result will conform to standards of the highest value. The rapport between the artist and the foundry personnel is very important to the quality of reproduction. From finished model to final casting the sculptor’s business requires not only artistry but also craftsmanship of the highest order. Good sculpture is no accident.
A BASIS FOR EVALUATION
The prospective patron of the arts today enters a confusion of media hype. Art is sold as a sure investment but a master’s signature on a reproduction has often directed turned the dilettante from an outstanding piece of original art by an unknown name. A clever advertising claim might distract from the fact that the workmanship is poor. Trust in quality workmanship. Ultimately the greatest satisfaction comes from living with good art one has a hand in preserving for the long run.
Good art will evoke a range of responses, each sculpture being is part of an art form of history. Historically significant art succeeds in inspiring the viewer, not deluding him. There are good and bad in all of these and a future historian will select the ‘classics’ of the time. Content is important. What does the piece ‘say’ to you?
Figurative… abstract? Figurative art can impressively rendered but without depth, abstract can have simplicity of design without becoming non-objective. Good art will always stand alone as easily as it harmonizes with a wide variety of backgrounds. For example, the powerful figurative works of Rodin and the classic forms of Greece are as beautiful in the stark environment of today as in the positions for which they were originally commissioned. Confidence in one’s basic instincts is the best suit.
Integrity in the arts is maintained through proper motivation. If you enjoy looking at it, it is awakening responses within worth feeling. General disappointment is being voiced with today’s public art, which is created to meet percentage allocations without considering general society’s needs for representative expression. Work created with the primary concern to meet minimal budget allowances seldom has the lasting fulfillment of artistic merit. It is wisest to do nothing rather than invest in something of immediate satisfaction that won’t have long-term staying quality. Art in any form is so subjective that one’s own feelings are often as important as the expert opinion. When the initial intellectual exercise is over, trust your heart. As it is in many areas of life, you are the Ultimate Authority for your own personal artistic viewpoint… exercise it!
The creation of art that will endure requires as much dedication today as always. The truly talented artist is a historian, the servant to his/her talent, patron and the era. The serious artist must commit himself to his work though the education, discipline, skill and costs encountered does not encourage many to continue in this calling. The imaginative patron can be a major contributor to achievement in the arts, with the encouragement and support of reputable artists an essential key in this process.
It has been wisely said: “Society is not a society without the arts.” We must recognize this important fact and strive not only to preserve our natural resources but our arts as well… by improving our level of understanding, by thoughtful patronage and by the support of dedicated, professional workmanship.
All art communicates… this we must never forget. But good art fulfills its promise to be a healthy influence in our daily life and a light to those in need of inspiration.
If this writing has moved you to thought, or you are interested publication rights, please feel free to write or call with any inquiries to:
P.O. Box 623
Mendocino, California 95460