Freeing the Form
CRAFT OF MAINE – MARCH 2008
Photography Scott Dorrance
Six artists who give trees a second life
On the Foundation of Skills: I attended the Ècole de Sculpture Sur Bois in St. Jean Port Joli, a unique school in Quebec which was run at the time by sculptor Pierre Bourgault. Before going there, I was an apprentice at a cabinetmaking shop in New York City.
On Getting to Maine: I grew up in Long Island, New York. Like a lot of people, I came to Maine as a child on vacations, and wanted to live here someday. I have now lived here for thirty years.
On Influences: My teacher Pierre Bourgault was a big influence, as was his colleague, Herman Raby. I was introduced to stone-carving by the late Jane Wasey, a great sculptor who lived in Maine. Artists whose work has influenced me include Gaston Lachaise, Francisco Zuniga, Duane Hansen, and the early Renaissance sculptors of Northern Europe.
On How Art Evolves After Three Decades: If anything, it has gotten simpler. I have always been interested in direct carving, in tool marks, and in figurative sculpture.
For More Lindsay: stevelindsay.net; June LaCombe Sculpture; the Gallery at Chase Hill in Kennebunkport
On Having Art in the Blood: I have no formal training or education in art, but my mother was an artist/sculptor so I was allowed to spend time at those pursuits. Growing up around a shipyard [on Camden Harbor] I’ve used tools since I was very young. I began to carve more seriously when my mother died and left me her carving tools.
On the Act of Making: I’ve been influenced by all the people who I’ve hung out with who built things well: boat builders, luthiers, machinists—as well as musicians and fine visual artists like Edward C. Porter and Imero Gobbato.
On Reaching Out: I feel a voracious need to lean more about relief sculpture, but I simply haven’t met other artists who do this kind of work.
On Slowly but Surely: I’ve been a professional musician most of my working life, so I feel my carving has evolved very slowly, moving into more human figures and stories, using more than one kind of wood in a carving to better tell the stories.
For More Bok: gordonbok.com; Harbor Square Gallery in Rockland; Islesford Artists on Little Cranberry Island
On Impulses: At the time I feared it was an indulgent use of my studies, but on a whim I took an elective course in wood sculpture from Fumio Yoshimura while I was at Dartmouth College—it wasn’t until ten years later that I began to fully grasp the fortuity of how Yoshimura’s teaching matched my interests.
On Taking a Chance: The most significant advancement in my art was letting go of where all my training [Art Education and Biological Oceanography] seemed to say I should go and, instead, taking a risk on my gut.
On Unexpected Lessons: Alongside my art, I have been renovating houses and building furniture. This has made me increasingly aware of the space in a house where my work will likely end up: what the background will be, what the shape of the space is, and the possibilities of mounting my work on or carving into preexisting woodwork.
On What Confidence Affords: I now feel a freedom to approach carving more abstractly, combining not only realistic features of the flower, but also accenting features of the wood and elements of space suggested by the subject.
On Maine: I haven’t lived here all my life yet, but I sure hope to! I was born and raised in Old Town, traveled around the world and across the U.S. and wouldn’t live anywhere else…for very long anyway…unless it were for true love.
On Gratitude: In both my life and work I am deeply indebted to nature, family, and sincerity—I can’t understate the simplicity of that, or overstate the complexity of rooting it out from the mayhem.
For More Stearns: lauriestearns.com; Stearns Gallery in Brunswick; Carver Hill Gallery in Rockport; James Patrick Gallery in Wiscasset
On Education: I am a self-taught woodcarver. I gained extensive knowledge in woodworking and furniture design while earning an Art minor at the University of New Hampshire.
On How the Woods Brought Him Here: My grandparents moved to Maine in the 1940s. Their farm became my home away from home very early in my life. During a year off between high school and college I completed a training program with the Great Northern Paper Company and worked in the big woods for nearly a year while discovering what a really lousy paycheck looked like. I’m still very connected to the mystery of the Maine woods and all the tests it can throw at you.
On the Road Less Traveled: I have purposefully avoided the influence of others’ work most of my career. Isn’t a stroll through life more interesting without someone else’s road map?
With That Said…: I admire the body of work created by Kent Ulberg for its integrity, honesty, and expressiveness. He is the real deal top dog and every artist should dream of creating a body of work so astute. Rarely does art demonstrate its sense of purpose as well as his.
On Paying Homage: Every day, I think of the artisan toolmakers in England who made my set of chisels for me 200 years ago.
On What Art Can Unearth: The true evolution of my work parallels my own sometimes painful, sometimes exhilarating self-discovery. It took me until age 50 to learn how and why I came to be who I am. It has been everything but easy.
For more Bryan: bryanart.com; the Bryan Fine Art Studio in North Yarmouth.
On Truly Learning: My last art class was in seventh grade…that was 1972. I state that I am “self-taught” for the lack of a better term—I don’t believe anyone is self-taught, it is more that we pick up ideas and techniques in bits and pieces throughout life versus an educational setting.
On Where He Belongs: My wife and I both grew up in New Jersey. We moved to Maine in 1990. Neither of us belonged in New Jersey: we are very outdoors-minded and hate malls. After living in Portland, we moved to Damariscotta in 1994.
On Seeing the Wood with New Eyes: In the mid-1990s I was doing mostly segmented turning, using the grain and color of materials to enhance the work. I grew frustrated because the materials were driving the forms. I also felt a need to emphasize the work versus the wood. So, in 1998 I stopped looking at wood as the finished product, and started seeing my turned wood forms as a canvas. My old work could have been by anyone, but that change made the work my own: my style, my voice.
On the “Natural”: I am inspired by the forms and textures in our natural surroundings, but it is important to me that inspirations remain just that: I don’t want anyone to think of real feathers from a certain bird when they look at my pieces. Inspiration comes from memories for me…I think that helps create an illusion of reality.
On Getting Beyond: An engaging convergence of color, texture, and proportion in any object forms a unique spirit and soul—material and technique then become irrelevant.
For More Vesery: jacquesvesery.com; Cerulean Fine Arts Gallery in Hallowell
On Maine’s Magnetism: During graduate school I spent time in Maine at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle. I was living in San Diego at the time, so the difference in landscape was startling—I was obsessed with the moss. I moved to York, Maine last summer…and now, no more moving.
On Education: I have an MFA in Woodworking and Furniture Design from San Diego State University and a BA in Art History from SUNY at Buffalo.
On Finding Inspiration Elsewhere: I wanted to be an architect early on, so buildings and structure are a big influence; the Columbian artist Doris Salcedo is amazing. I look at a lot of ceramic work; a couple of my favorites are Hans Coper and Eva Zeisel. I am also a huge fan of the choreographer Mark Morris—I want to make objects the way he makes dances: classical but with a little tweak.
On Choosing the Heart Over the Brain: I started out designing and building furniture, which I still do, but initially it was very conceptual. Now I am interested in creating work that inspires a more visceral response, rather than a cerebral response. To that end, I was looking for a way to work more intuitively, so I started carving and shaping the wood more.
On How It May Seem Cliché, But…: I am trying to pare down and simplify my work.
For More Szymanski: lynnszymanski.com