Tuesday, 21 December 2010

This collection of sculpture was created November to December 2010 in a garden in Spain. They are listed in the blog according to how they were constructed, although there is always an overlap between pieces as ideas are fleshed out. There was a total of fifteen sculptures, twelve remain in the garden, three went as gifts, hence there is no number five in this list. For the blog diary that was kept concurrently while making the sculptures please visit: http://tylerfenncatalonia.blogspot.com


1. Practice, 6 x 8 x 23"

This was the first piece of steel that I put torch to. I last worked industrial shapes in this manner in 2007 and so I felt most comfortable starting here, carving the beam with no particular care as to where it took me. In this respect 'practice' was sacrificial. I was not concerned whether it ended up as a plant stand, an object of art, or thrown into the bushes. There is one 'successful' cut that I achieved late in working with this piece of metal that made me feel I at last had control of the torch again and once this point was reached the piece, to me, was 'done'. The second exercise, and the one that took much longer, was studying the piece in the environment that I was working in. I knew from previous experiments with the medium that working the steel in this manner achieved, to an extent, goals that I was working toward. Namely, adding an organic nature to an otherwise cold, industrial object, and an exposure of the liquid nature of steel. However, when I started 'placing' the piece, on top of rocks, in the grass on the ground, right side up or upside down, at the base of trees, etc., all I could see was a mauled piece of I-beam. I was therefore quite frustrated and unhappy, and so left it, taking two lessons from it initially. First, I wanted more of the integrity of the steel to remain (more of its 'architecture') and second, none of the pieces were to be 'mixed media', meaning that each piece was to stand alone, non-dependent on stone or wood for pedestals or props. It was a week later, after carrying it for miles, that 'practice' was placed and worked successfully in the setting that it now sits, completing the circle of stumps, the last cog in the wheel. If I had placed it there initially however, I think my mind would have concentrated too much on looking for things that were missing in the environment instead of what was there.

2. The solitary life of snails, 5 x 7 x 28"

I reminded myself early on to make what I see. Winter is a quiet time of year for wildlife but, if one looks closely, there are plenty of dormant snails. A clear drawing of this piece was completed before the sculpture itself. I have been playing with the theme of combining literal representations of animals with industrial steel for some time. For me, it is commentary on the position that animals are faced with. From the world of art,  Bernini's Baldachino, where a multitude of diminutive bees adorn his bronze columns, was my model, and this piece was a warm-up for the 8th piece. In this sculpture the controlled texture from the torch carving (that I gained from 'practice') is applied to one side of the 'outside' of the 'column' and the solitary snail adorns the other side. the interior is left generally untouched except for a slight 'snailtrail' rendered with a quick drag of the arc welder stick and the stippled molten steel that attached itself while working the piece. Architecturally, the angled top of the sculpture is a visual indicator that a staircase rises behind the barbecue next to where it sits. In many ways this was to me the most important piece in the series as it was the sculpture that I contemplated the most, and the one that encapsulated many of the ideas of all the others. Light, texture, form, surface, social commentary, orthogonal vs. non-orthogonal, scale; even issues regarding the security of the pieces were contemplated here. Does it work? Do people want to touch it? Is it independent of its environment? Is the little snail lonely, or resting peacefully? This sculpture aided me to consider these things throughout the entire project. The following picture is one of the last that I took before leaving Spain. It is a snail trail, left on the ground many days after, but near my sculpture. I was awestruck to see that that little snail followed my directions perfectly. (3rd photo from left above)

3. Newel Post - the palms

This sculpture began with what to me was the most beautiful piece of steel that I had to work with, a 3" x 3" x 67" solid, mild steel square section. The difficulty with this piece was starting at all. I didn't know if it would work with this piece, but my previous experience with carving heavy steel revealed to me the natural tendency it has to bend as a result of the action of heating and cooling, specifically when worked on only one side. I had the aesthetic of the small palms that were everywhere in mind and I started this piece with one long, strong, continual cut along the length of one of the faces to represent the textured surface of the palm trunk and left it to cool, hours or a day I don't remember. This created the almost imperceptible bend in the piece, something that would have been impossible to do with my own two hands. Subconsciously the 'explosions' of the palm leaves were added and the piece was welded to its base after it had balanced itself with some toying. I located this piece right away, near the staircase where it now lies, but not in it's exact location. I felt this area of the garden could use, or more precisely, warranted, a strong vertical in the environment. The problem with the first location was that against the textured stone wall the eye couldn't pick up the bend, but when moved into the position of a newel post, in front of the heavy horizontals of the stair treads, closer to the palm trees that inspired it, the subtle bend became apparent, particularly when viewed from above, a few steps up the stair. For me, this piece cleanly encapsulates three to four clear ideas about sculpture and succeeds on many levels. Also, it is the sculpture that one sees when standing at the barbecue, very important.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

4. Goat I, 34" tall

Simply put, sculpture is a nice shape propped upright, propped up right. Balance, light and form. The vases were made from single pieces of angle steel, just light enough to carry by myself, just heavy enough to break my back should I slip while carrying it. The initial sketches for the vases included horns to more literally identify them as goats, but I couldn't bring myself to bastardize the purity of the form quite this much, and so it was the otherworldly eye of the goat that I used to manipulate the scale of these pieces. From afar, they are balanced vases in a field. When face to face, the viewer is invited to stare into the eyes of a goat. This first sculpture was worked heavier with the torch because at this point in the collection I am still thinking of the textural treatment of 'bernini'.

6. Hummingbird, 70"

This sculpture is about scale, texture, form, disappearance and emergence; and again, a commentary on the position that animals are faced with based upon human intervention and occupation. The hummingbird is feeding from industrial steel, cut off from the implied vegetation on the opposite side of the plate. And, it works for me artistically because visually the smooth surface of the steel gives a background to the intricacies of the carved figure of the hummingbird. The surrounding verticality of the pine trees was the first consideration of this piece, and my desire to introduce a steel sculptural element into this setting drove me to choose this particular shape. Previously this length of steel had been designated for many other sculptures and ideas. I knew that the torchwork on the plate would provide a slight bend to the steel, and this bend was left to materialize before the sculpture was brought upright. The torchwork, although still practice for 'bernini', was a way to mirror the surrounding vegetation so that, depending upon the position of the viewer, the sculpture occasionally disappears into the background, and almost completely disappears from the side view. The choice of the hummingbird was a long consideration. I've done many previously in their environment when living in the West Indies. I noticed one day while waiting for a bus that when a hummingbird is in flight the wings disappear, and the form of the body was perfect for a static sculpture with implied movement. However, there are no hummingbirds in Spain. I had decided that this was all the more reason to BRING one to Spain and then, upon further research found this, perfect for the house of a doctor:

"When Spanish explorers first encountered hummingbirds, they called them joyas voladoras: "flying jewels." The hummingbird was revered as a sacred healer, a guardian of plants, the spirit, and those who needed healing or were training as healers themselves."

Friday, 17 December 2010

7. Digam, 9'

In a way the process leading to 'digam' was a bit more subconscious than the other sculptures. The cross-hatched length of steel that sits atop the sculpture was carved a couple of days before it was used to guide this sculpture. This treatment of the steel became my way of adding brushstrokes to the environment, as well as my way of, again, 'amplifying the organic by exposing the liquid nature of steel'. The site was contemplated for days, as it is of primary importance to the garden; the trees that were planted generations before forming a perspective from a viewer both on the ground and from the main terrace of the house at elevation. The issue for me was that the perspective had no focal point, save for a neighboring house. The entire sculpture was simply a result of my desire to elevate the sculptured, textured length of steel, with vertical proportions similar to the trees, into the position of the focal point, particularly when viewed from the terrace. However, it was, as it was throughout the exercise, important for me that the sculpture remained aesthetically 'quiet'. When this decision on the placement of the length of steel was reached (by holding it balanced on end up to the sky in my outstretched arm), I went back and built the structure. Days before, my artist friend Marute had dropped off two poles with a clank in the grass and they lay there for a week or more, tantalizing me. I wasn't sure if I was going to use them, they were 'found, recycled' steel versus the virgin steel I was using for this collection, and of a different nature. But inside I also knew I would, and that it was up to them to find their use, which they did in Digam. Including the hole already built into the pole in the sculpture was not, for me, to imply a mouth, but a way to mirror the numerous other circles that populate the garden. When the sculpture was complete, before locating it, I leaned it over and impulsively welded 'D I G A M' into the length of plate steel atop. I signed and dated this piece 'tyler, 2010, 'to the trees' up the length of recycled pole which was enough to give the pole itself a slight bend (and with time, some varied coloration).
Days later I was asked if 'digam' were the title of the piece and I said yes. I was then asked why and what it meant. I responded that it was an expression that must have embedded in me while overhearing it in Catalonia as it is the only Catalonian one I chose to use throughout the collection, and that I thought it were appropriate for this sculpture as the piece is 'to the trees' and so saying 'speak' was my way of 'coercing' them.
The response was, "Tyler, it doesn't mean 'speak', it means 'Tell Me'".
After collecting myself and the phone that I had dropped, I said, "even better".

Thursday, 16 December 2010

8. Bernini, 14 x 14 x 25"

In many ways this collection of work is about this sculpture.  In many ways my experimentation with steel over the last fifteen years has been building toward this piece.  And in some small way, this piece has been germinating in my mind since Syracuse. After this sculpture was completed, I began looking at the entire collection of these pieces as a symphony, the bernini, the crescendo. The four pieces that followed bernini were a relief, a calming down, cooling.  I must have had the bernini in mind when choosing the pieces of steel from the yard but I don't remember consciously doing so. I was, basically, just feverishly grabbing sections that A. I could carry alone B. were architecturally beautiful in their own right C. I believed to be excess/expendable to Isidro based upon what type of work he was doing at his forge and D. excited me so much that I had to keep reminding myself not to piss my pants.
By the time I built myself up enough to attack this I-beam, I felt I was in full control of the torch. Though I was still very nervous about blowing through the (somewhat thin) section of steel, as I had done in 'hummingbird' (if you look closely at hummingbird, there are two places on the backside where my torch, which is quite powerful, penetrated the plate steel. I wasn't concerned about it with regards to hummingbird, it lends aggression to the piece and I would have interrupted that face of the hummingbird sculpture somehow anyway, but took note of it in relation to the future bernini). If I blew through bernini I would have considered it a failure, as the integrity of the I-beam would have been breached.
This sculpture is a model, a 'mock-up'. It is a Detail of a column of a Potential baldachino, after Bernini.  It is my response to myself when toying with the question, "if you were to build a baldachino, what would You do?"
My response is this sculpture. As a starting point. I would pay my respect to Bernini by reinterpreting his wonderful work in the material of our time (the steel I-beam vs. the bronze, baroque style column he used), but I would strip it of all symbolism, embellishment, and literal allusion. This decision of stripping the embellishment, the vines, the bees, etc. and Implying them through my treatment of the steel ('kisses' from my torch as my friend Albert describe them) was a long, internally hard fought decision to reach, though the end result might appear simplistic. (remember 'the solitary life of snails', as a warm up for bernini, I was toying with the idea of alluding to his bees, a symbol of the pope, with numerous diminutive snails peppering the sculpture). It took all my strength to discard them.
9. Salvador's wood, 42"

After the Bernini I knew I was essentially done, and could now play. The first step to being 'done' is to begin to clean up, and the best way to clean a shop is to start by clearing the workbench. The one I made for myself, two pieces of plate steel and a beam section, was intended to be stored in the garage until I had use of it again. But there was another field to this property (in addition to the upper field where the 'goat vases' are). This field contained a tree back left, and a big, round rock, stone, front right (from the point of view of the house terrace). There is no way I would place a sculpture in the center of this field, it's too obvious, too typical. However, some days before a family friend chopped up a brushpile that was located front left in the field with his chainsaw and made a nice heap of logs. That, for me, began a nice aesthetic. Big round stone front right, fags front left (I yelled at Salvador a day later when he started to clear the pile of wood he had created 'nooo!' and when he understood my intentions, walked away with a smile) This assemblage is also an ode to Andy Goldsworthy, an environmental artist whose work I admire.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

10. Goat II, 47"

The second goat mask vase I waited on. The first was number four, and six or so pieces removed from the second. With this piece I felt free to let the form be the sculpture, not the treatment or the texture. Bernini had freed me up, a bit. The primary concern however is always about the work at hand and beauty. I had intended to leave the second goat, the larger of the two, until my niece and nephew arrived, we could build it together. On contemplating this idea however, I realized that I was taking too lightly the amount of effort that even a seemingly simple sculpture requires and, more importantly, the amount of isolation an artist quite often needs in order to create. My intention with this goat was to leave most of the surface untouched, untreated, untextured. Form, light, and of course whatever Nature decides to do with it in the future.
In addition, I want the children to interact with this piece by drawing on it with chalk; I want them to continually complete 'the goat' in their own way. In contemplating this potential use of the sculpture, I decided to boil down the goat to just eye, something which I have often studied, stared at, dealt with in my art and talked/written about. I carved the first eye similar to a sun and, not wanting to repeat myself, finished the sculpture by simply puncturing with my torch a horizontal iris to represent the second eye.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

11and12. Horizontals, various lengths

These last two pieces are brushstrokes. They are small yet substantial, horizontal additions to the environment. They are my way of painting ON the environment. Both lengths of steel I had earmarked for many other things along the way, mostly bases for other sculptures, though in the end I felt wanted to stay essentially what they were. The twelfth piece, in particular, came with a beautiful rust that I didn't want to destroy. I call it The sun - stepping stone and I carved it, again, like the Bernini, on the ground, but this time with no gloves or protection from the torch or bouncing bullets of molten steel. I was in full control now. I carved the circle of the sun into its girth, and the rays on its face. They are 'unsigned'.

tyler fenn, december 14, 2010