As discussed in the following chapter on my sculpting techniques, a frequent goal of my carving or modeling is to open up the material. The aim may be partially to supply views into the heart of the mass—revealing swirling grains in heartwood, for instance. It may also offer a view of the internal structure, such as supports in clay or plaster pieces. Furthermore, it adds considerable complexity, asymmetry and formation to the sculpture. Thereby, it suggests and invites more ways to observe the piece visually and tactually.
Slab Sculpture 1. Ceramic sculpture. Fired and glazed in 2018.
However, the primary effect of opening up a mass is on the space of the piece: the space around the piece and the spaces within the piece:
Space is the place
in which sculpture opens up.
In sculpture, the term “negative space” is often used to specify how a hole in a sculptural mass can be viewed as itself having a form—the negation of the form of the mass. Wittgenstein illustrated the phenomenon of “seeing as” either positive or negative spaces in simple drawings:
Faces/vase drawing. The white positive space of the vase creates a black negative space of two faces looking at each other. By shifting visual focus, you can see it in either one way or the other.
In a sculpture, one can simply poke a hole, opening the mass with a negative space, or one can fashion the opening as an interesting interior form. The inner negative space can be integrated with the surrounding exterior negative space, so that the positive space of the sculpture’s surface flows from its outside into its interior.
Holes. Red clay and paint. 2017. Based on a stone sculpture by Barbara Heppenworth, a contemporary of Henry Moore. This was a simple attempt by me at creating several holes in a cylindrical form and letting their spaces merge inside.
Moore, Heppenworth and others started by poking holes and then enlarging them into negative forms. I sometimes try to take this further, so that the positive and negative forms become equally important aspects of the sculpture. One can then view the sculpture as consisting primarily of open spaces defined by positive forms. The forms of the spaces then become paramount. For instance, there can by multiple open forms, flowing into each other, partially contained by positive forms.
The concern with opening up sculpture has evolved during my years sculpting. My first wood sculpture, Gelassenheit, did not open the original log at all, but let it be, and followed the lines of the log, simply defining interesting flowing contours that brought out the colorful grain of the black walnut. The next one, Twisted Sister, defined a negative space between its spiraling legs. Two natural holes from knots in the wood provided negative spaces like eyes.
Then I did a plaster sculpture that was quite open, structured by chicken wire framing holding the plaster, which was soaked on rags. This piece not only had two short legs with space between them, but many openings that flowed from the exterior into the interior. The inside was structured with ropes to add interest to the inside, like nerves within a body or brain. The openings from the outside merged into this complex internal space.
Some 15 years later, I carved the Owl of Minerva. Again, it had two shapely legs defining a 3-D negative space that twisted between them. It also had an open form that defined the owl’s wooden beak and poked through the back of the head to suggest an eye.
Below, where I discuss how I carve the Open Cherry Trunk and Upright Cherry Figure, one can see the process of gradually opening up a log to create a unity of positive and negative spaces.
My most open wood sculpture is Mrs. Mayo. I discuss in the following chapter that I purchased new tools and developed a new approach to carve this sculpture. The Hickory Bivalve, which preceded this carving, was also opened up extensively. In particular, the openings in Mrs. Mayo interweave and permeate the piece. The positive forms that remain can be “seen as” largely containment structures that define the boundary between interior and exterior spaces.
Mrs. Mayo. Pear tree wood, sculpted 2018.
Hickory Bivalve. Hickory wood, sculpted 2018.
After opening up these wood sculptures, I decided to try creating ceramic sculptures that also open spaces. I thought it might be easier to create internal spaces using clay.
Ceramic pieces with negative forms: Skeletal Sculpture and Nyarit Seated Man.
In modeling with clay, one can build up structures, as opposed to carving out openings in solid material. This can provide more flexibility and access to explore the formation of negative spaces. My first attempts at this were Slab Sculpture 1, Slab Sculpture 2, Slab Structure 3, Sculpture with Grog and Negative Structure.
These abstract ceramic explorations influenced my subsequent wood sculptures. I first modeled quick clay maquettes to try out approaches in 3-D to opening up the logs. Following are some of these studies:
These resulted in large wood sculptures that opened up logs:
A special approach to opening up space used the Klein Bottle from topological mathematics. It is a 4-D closed manifold that has no differentiation of interior and exterior. I created a 3-D representation using clay coils.
There are some auxiliary windows to allow one to look inside, but they do not belong to the Klein Bottle. The large round hole in the front is the opening of the tube that comes out the top, circles around, enters the main bottle at the back and then opens out the front. (The way the tube enters at the back is topologically illegal in 3-D, but takes artist’s license to account for only being able to create 3-D forms in this world.) If you start from a point “inside” the bottle, you can proceed up the tube, around and out the front into the “outside” without crossing any surface, so that inside and outside are the same continuous space.
The trick in opening up the inside this way is that the tube actually does penetrate the surface of the bottle in the back. In 4-D it could enter without breaking the surface, in analogy with the Mobius Strip, which is a 2-D manifold that only has one surface in 3-D space. (See my ceramic Mobius Strip.)