Sunday, October 21

The New Face of Originality: An Exploration of the Evolution of Origin and Appropriation in Contemporary Art

All art has an origin, an initial spark of inspiration that ignites the conception of a piece. This conceptual seed can spring from a multitude of cultural, historical, environmental, emotional, and intellectual sources as well as vary in its manifestation from a subliminal whisper to overt appropriation. Art does not exist in isolation; it is affected by context and cannot be viewed in a vacuum. Art is informed by history, culture, environment, and the individuality of both the maker and viewer. The innate references that exist in all art raise questions of originality and authenticity. How do we define artistic originality? Is artistic originality a necessary validation of creative merit? Can complete authenticity exist in today’s interconnected and cross-fertilized culture? Has everything already been done? Many contemporary artists confront these questions and explore the intricacies of authenticity in their work. The answers are not definite, but lie in the realm of opinion. However, it is clear that there is an intense desire for fresh, inventive work that permeates the contemporary art world. Particularly, in an image-saturated culture such as ours artists and viewers alike crave new ideas and perspectives. Personally, I believe that contemporary artistic uniqueness is attained through individual perspective and synthesis not through the quite impossible task of pure original creation of concept, technique, or form. It is the filtration of concept and image through the artist that makes the work fresh.

Art began anonymously, but not independently. The concept of individual authorship was irrelevant to prehistoric artists; today they remain nameless and their work is attributed chronologically and stylistically to ancient cultures and geographic locations. However, the modern viewer could argue that the same conceptual dilemmas of originality and authenticity that are prevalent in contemporary art also apply to the most ancient artistic examples. The basis of this contention lies in the nature of humanity; humans are social creatures that function as part of a society or culture. We exist in a communal environment where nothing can be considered totally separate. All things are connected through context and interaction. While we are each individual and unique in our own personal ways, the collective social current still informs who we are and by extension what we create.

The issues of originality and authenticity emerge in contemporary metalwork and jewelry in varying degrees. Some artists distinctly confront these concepts in their work through direct appropriation or visual allusion to past art or mass-produced imagery. Jan Yager’s work (fig.1, 2) demonstrates one method of image appropriation within the world of contemporary metalsmithing and jewelry; her pieces combine culturally significant objects with indigenous historical aesthetics to create poignant political commentaries. “Yager re-invigorates the radicality of [trouvaille, the found object], raising its stakes by melding it with Post-Modern strategies of adaptation (of past forms) and superimposition (of contemporary references over allusions to the past). In keeping with the most adroit of Post-Modern manipulations, Yager’s work selfconsciously creates a critical (and often ironic) awareness of historical distance in order to sharpen political focus on the present.” 1 She devoted ten years to City Flora/City Flotsam, a series of pieces exploring Philadelphia’s urban reality through objects found on the city’s sidewalks. Within her work she fuses object appropriation, endemic stylistic references, and political perceptions to create what she terms “memory devices” and “portraits of a specific place and time”. 2 Yager’s American Collar, composed of 140 crack vials, 223 crack caps, and two syringes, confronts the viewer with the memory of “European intrusion into Africa, the African diaspora, and contemporary racism, inequity, and the slavery of addiction.” 3 The piece is a marriage of urban objects and the aesthetic of African beadwork; the disc form references the Maasai wedding collar and serves as a symbol for African creativity and aesthetic skill. Pieces such as Crack Baby and American Ruff explore Yager’s observation that crack is a form of urban currency, and challenge the public perception of who is afflicted by the addiction. American Ruff (Fig. 1) recreates the form of a lace collar worn by wealthy Northern Europeans during the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries using silver wire, 943 plastic vials and white caps. This historical imagery creates a striking correlation between the previous wearers of the ruff, the owners of ships that transported goods, colonists, and slaves “who would amass enormous wealth, all from the comfort of their offices,” 4 and their contemporary counterparts, drug dealers and heads of corporations aiding the circulation of exploitation, desire, and desperation. Jan Yager’s work “stretch[es] the limits of conventional decorative allusion, taking us to territories of cultural repression, so we come back touched by a collective history spanning over 300 years; her realism re-visions the past, whose meaning is altered, bound to and haunted by apparitions of the present.” 5

Kathy Buszkiewicz (Fig. 3, 4) is another contemporary artist whose work employs appropriated cultural imagery as a visual catalyst for social commentary. Her jewelry examines our contemporary notions of value, and speaks to the issues of “economic status, exorbitance, social waste, misplaced priorities, and the conservation of precious resources.”6 Her pieces typically combine US currency with traditional, organic material such as wood, metal, and gems; she elegantly transforms paper currency into forms imbued with aesthetic beauty and desire then places this literal wealth in juxtaposition to the materials used to make objects of value. Her work conjures questions of value, wealth, desire, and consumption. “She asks us to distinguish what we desire from what we love, and consider origins, price, and sustainability. In a consumer culture manufacturing massive cravings for limited resources, Buszkiewicz focuses on the dangers of value determined independent of cost- particularly the hidden and the long term.”7

The jewelry of Liv Blavarp (fig. 5,6,7) exemplifies a more subtle visual citation. Much of her work is steeped in a rich blend of African, Norwegian, and Scandinavian influence; however, she gracefully transcends these aesthetic and technical references and maintains a unique visual vocabulary. While pieces such as Necklace, 1993 and Hatshepshut, 2000 “exemplify the Scandinavian tradition of fine woodworking, they also allude to a primitive past of elaborately decorated Viking sailing vessels. Beautifully constructed and sophisticated in design, they also demonstrate a love of wooden toys, as well as a knowledge of historical jewelry, especially ancient Egyptian breast plates and more contemporary African neckwear.”8 Blavarp is a master of joining historical and multicultural vocabulary, while sensuously subverting these allusions beneath a powerfully original visual impact. Her work strikes a perfectly harmonious balance between the past and the present.

Lilly Fitzgerald’s (Fig. 8) jewelry further dilutes the concept of appropriation, drawing not on solid historical citation or tangible objects but emerging from subconscious imagery from her own past. Her work dances along the edge of a collective pool of unconscious observed imagery. “Fitzgeralds’s inspiration derives from subliminal impressions made by images or experiences from her daily life- a doorknob, a particular stone, and various natural ephemera.”9 There is a sufficient level of specificity in her work to evoke substance, soul, and resonance, yet the themes and imagery evoked reach viewers on a universal level.

Contemporary art is defined by its reaction and contribution to the issues that have surrounded the art world since it began. As we look back through the lens of the artistic and creative past, it becomes obvious that originality and authenticity are birthed from the perception and culture of each generation of makers, wearers, and viewers. The conceptual and formal issues confronting the art world have remained relatively constant for centuries, and it is only the answers, interpretations, and perspectives surrounding these notions that differ. Today originality and authenticity reside in transforming the ordinary, and infusing existing imagery, aesthetics, conceptual explorations, technology, and material with the distinctively unique perspective of artist and viewer. The new definition of originality is the filtration of past and present artistic investigations through the contemporary individual. Gordon Lawrie captures this essential thought perfectly in reference to his own work:

“Making is for me part of a continuous process in which themes and ideas are constantly worked and re-worked . . . I am fascinated by fragments of the past dislocated and drifting in time, by man-made marks on the landscape, and by symbolism refined and modified by belief. These disparate but related themes have been honed, polished, and refined over thousands of years. I seek to build on them and overlay them with my ideas and feelings, inevitably adding a personal interpretation. I would like my work to have a cultural and historical but contemporary integrity, bridging past and present.” 10

© Jennie Poston 2007

Footnotes:
1 “Intervening in Amnesia: Jan Yager’s Mnemonic Adornment”, Tracey Rosolowski, Metalsmith, Vol. 21, No. 1, Winter 2001, pp. 18.
2 Ibid, pp. 17.
3 Ibid, pp. 19.
4 Ibid, pp. 24.
5 Ibid, pp. 25.
6 “The Value of Wood and Nickels- Jewelry by Kathy Buszkiewicz”, Kate Stassen, Metalsmith, Vol. 21, No. 1, Winter 2001, pp. 35.
7 Ibid, pp. 35.
8 “Liv Blavarp: Jewelry 1984-2001”, Susan Isaacs, Metalsmith, Vol. 22, No. 5, Fall 2002, pp. 48.
9 “Substance and Soul: The Work of Lilly Fitzgerald”, Shelly Wiles, Metalsmith, Vol. 22, No. 2, Spring 2002, pp. 38.
10 Metalsmith, Vol. 18, No. 4, 1998, pp. 25.

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Sunday, August 27

The Search For Balance

Harmony. Proportion. Symmetry. Homeostasis. Median. Compromise. Equality. Neutrality. We are all in pursuance of balance, seeking a core essence from which all things emanate. A midpoint between extremes. A grey card that aligns all values. A certain ebb and flow of adversary forces that permeate our existence. It is this rhythmic beat that allows the possibility of harmonies: layered degrees of extremes interacting, converging, diverging, communicating, and engaging one another. Together creating and culminating in a single vibrance. Life is a constant juxtaposition. It is this dichotomy that creates equilibrium: each force canceling out its opposite.
©Copyright 2006 Jennie R Poston

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Saturday, August 26

Michael Queenland: Photographs, Sculpture, and Shaker Classics

Reflective, quiet, minimalist, mysterious, intriguing, nostalgic, these are just a few of the ways to describe Michael Queenland: Photographs, Sculpture, and Shaker Classics. The exhibit deals largely with Michael's exploration of the dimensions of thought and circulation. In a sense Michael attempts to dissect the human psyche: delving into areas of curiosity, memory, observation, and human connection. He draws viewers into his simplistic forms and compositions by injecting an air of mystique, or as he refers to it, the wonder of the mundane. Once absorbed in a piece, the viewer is confronted with the nostalgia of found objects. In particular, Memorabilia and Standing Brooms until All or None Fall Over implore the viewer to ponder each object's past. Through this exploration we stumble upon another of Queenland's themes: the circulation of thought and knowledge. Found objects become metaphors for all that is passed amongst humanity.

Michael's work is also deeply concerned with process: not only the psychological processes of the viewer, but the physical process of creating each piece. There is a great deal of care placed on craft and aesthetic. Aside from the formal aspect of the process, he often allows for chance to play a role in his creations. He enjoys pushing the viewer's expectations of what art is and what will or did happen.

Queenland's work mimics his own demeanor through subtle aesthetics paired with conceptual poignancy. His pieces are quiet, yet powerfully magnetic. We are captured by awe and continually rewarded as we discover layer upon layer of complexity. His work provides both an opportunity for reflection and a springboard for thought.
©Copyright 2005 Jennie R Poston

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Friday, August 25

The Nature of Artists

I've been reading the writings of a young sculptor, Jenny Read, and they have led me to reflect on the nature of artists. It continues to amaze me how similar our thoughts are. It causes me to wonder if we are all searching for the same unspoken truths. Following different paths, longing to stumble upon the answers to the questions embedded so deep within. Artists walk the line between quiet and bold. We possess reflectivity and sensitivity combined with the courage to face our fears-to question and explore them through our work. We absorb the world around us, become living catalysts, and strive to capture a fragment of the life we so intensely observe. Artists are led by passion and a desire to lay bare the soul. As with all humanity, artists differ widely in our interests, interpretations, and perspectives, but beyond our diversity we are all searching. We are searching for glimpses of truth-nuggets of insight that speak to something within us. Our work is the embodiment of our search. Art is not static, but alive, constantly evolving with emerging cultural context, varying interpretations, and continued dialogues. It is a forum for the artist's search to converge with that of the viewer. The power of artists lies in their ability to impact humanity.
©Copyright 2006 Jennie R Poston

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Sunday, July 2

Commercialism in Art

When I look at the art world today I see a system that has become commercialized and devoid of the passion and purity of art. It is fraught with politics, political correctness, and hidden agendas. Museums claim to be unbiased, but present exhibits that cater to the preferences and tastes of the individuals who fund them. Private collectors, unless financially unburdened, are forced to appreciate art not simply on its own merits but evaluate its monetary worth as an investment. Educational budget cuts lead schools across the country to cut arts education, sending the message that the arts are less important or unessential to our culture. Artists emerge from college into a world lacking the connection to peers and colleagues that they found in school. Today’s art world is clouded by a lens of bureaucracy and detachment, and has lost sight of the art that should be its central focus. As artists we must challenge the standards of the contemporary art scene, and attempt to improve them.

I believe we, as a society, need to revaluate the art world, as it exists today if we expect art to retain its integrity and vitality. The art world desperately needs to be infused with a sense of community, and refocus itself on art. We need to elevate the status of art in our culture by integrating art into everyday life: both public and private. Community art centers can encourage the growth and exploration of art on a local level. Programs that establish public art commissions for local parks, businesses, restaurants, and schools can be developed in an effort to connect artist with their communities. Government funding for the arts should be increased, and organizations that provide artists with benefits such as health insurance should be put in place. Contemporary artists need to have more forums to display their work, and artists should play a more integral role in what and how art is displayed in museums and galleries. Finally, I believe it is vital to create a forum that maintains a connection and encourages a continuing dialogue among artists.

As emerging artists, it is important for us to evaluate the world we are about to enter. We must confront the flaws in today’s art world and implement positive changes. If we agree that art is worth devoting our lives to pursuing, then we must also agree on the importance of improving the art world as a whole.

© Copyright 2005 Jennie R Poston

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Monday, June 26

Andrew Wyeth: Visual Analysis

A painting is the embodiment of the artist and all that surrounds him.
Everyday influences, emotions, environs, and contacts are expressed
through the smooth pigments. Only when the viewer is familiar with these
aspects can the painting be seen in its entirety. Art is profoundly
effected by history, economy, and social issues.

Andrew Wyeth, one of the great painters of the twentieth century, was
born in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, where he was instructed in art by his
father, noted painter and illustrator, Newell Convers Wyeth.
Consequently, many of his father‚s techniques and tendencies can be found
in Wyeth‚s work. His childhood home served as a source for subject
matter, as well as instilling in him a deep appreciation for the innate
beauty found in everyday elements. In response, Wyeth developed an
immense talent for photorealistic detail. However, this was not an
attempt to dazzle, but merely a tool for communicating the subtle moods
and restrained drama of his themes. His work is often symbolic in
feeling, while essentially pictorial and seldom explicit. Wyeth‚s
manipulation of light, perspective, texture, and subdued color harmonies
reflect the sharp focus and unconventional angles of modern photography.
By skillfully rendering minute details, he is able to describe the simple
intensity found in common subjects.

Wyeth‚s 1966 Cranberries depicts a humble table set with two barrels of
cranberries illuminated by rich, warm light filtering in from a large
window. The brilliant window serves as a main focal area and entry point
for the piece. The viewers‚ eye is then carried further into the
composition by the rays of light and the diagonal shadows cast by the
window frame. From the fruit on the window sill and the barrels the eye
travels to the table then into the negative space. The juxtaposition of
the L-shaped subject and the inverted, analogous negative space creates
balance and adds an interesting dimension to the composition. By varying
the value of the large negative space, Wyeth prevents it from overpowering
the positive space. The piece relies heavily on geometric elements:
series of rectangles, cylindrical forms of the cranberry containers,
ellipses of the fruit, and the implied triangles created by the movement
from the window to the edge of the table. There is a beautiful rhythmic
quality created by the repetition of form in the window, ellipses, and cast shadows unifying
the work. Wyeth masterfully translates the delicate features: the slight
fluctuations in value in the shadows and negative space, the wood grain in
the table and window, and the skin of the fruit. He further describes the
forms and surfaces with sensitive, expressive mark making; slight
variations in line quality and brush strokes creates subtle, yet
definitive forms. There are several admirable color relationships
apparent throughout the composition, including the complementary blue
basket and orange fruit, contrast between value and temperature, and well
defined light source. Despite using a limited palette, Wyeth is able to
get a respectable value range and produce elegant tonal harmonies. There
is a subtle tension created by unifying contrasting hues with similar
accents, as well as the differing temperatures. Also, the pairing of
objects, such as the cranberry containers and the fruit, hints at the
presence of an underlying metaphor. Through a combination of innate talent, acquired skill, and a
trained eye Andrew Wyeth is able to render nearly flawless photorealistic
images. However, he maintains the vitality and honesty of the subject.
His acutely realistic technique was impacted significantly by his family
and childhood. Wyeth strives to express the essence and beauty in
everything he paints, whether it be a brilliant, ripe fruit resting on an
aging window sill or a dark shadow striking a corner.

The sixties were a time of conflict and foreign tensions. America was
on the brink of the Vietnamese War, facing an uncertain future. A nation
once united was now divided by controversy. It was also the height of the
civil rights movement; long-standing prejudices were finally being
challenged. Despite the nation‚s turmoil, advancements in mechanics and
space exploration persisted. The strain of the time is greatly reflected
in Cranberries. The barrels of cranberries create a metaphor for the
Vietnamese conflict: two related forms filled with the same fruit, handles
on opposing sides(as if standing with arms crossed in defiance,) the
larger partially blocking the smaller from the light. Similar meaning can
be seen in the fruit on the window sill. The stress created between the
negative and positive, value changes, and dramatic color relationships
also suggests an uneasy atmosphere. However, the brilliant light
streaming down from the window reflects the scientific, technical, and
artistic growth of the sixties.

True art is born when the human spirit and external stimuli converge.
The best metaphors are formed in the artist‚s subconscious; spilled onto
the canvas without thought. It is not the metaphor itself, but the truth
it expresses that is powerful and profound. It is impossible to find a
piece of art that does not mirror the time in which it was composed. Art
is an expression, an extension of the artist; therefore, art can not be
separated from the world in which it was created.

© Copyright 2006 Jennie R Poston

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Morandi and Chardin: White Paper

Although, Morandi‚s and Chardin‚s work have similar subject matter, their
approaches are significantly different. Each has a distinct style;
however, their work shares many analogous characteristics. Both Chardin
and Morandi place importance on fundamental formal elements such as
composition, balance, rhythm, contrast, unity, and object relationships.
They also share a willingness to assay with the boundaries presented by
these elements. Each have a tendency to take everyday objects, place them
in apparently basic compositions, and add subtle layers of significance.
While both are unique, they share common ties.

Chardin‚s textured and descriptive brush strokes create a nearly
photo-realistic painting. The crisp, distinct forms are depicted with a
beautiful subtlety. He is able to combine masterful technique, strong
composition, and an understanding of formal elements into a single,
breathtaking panel.

Morandi uses a limited palette and simplified objects in order to focus
on composition, tonal harmony, and structural order. By experimenting
with placement, value, and hue he tests the boundaries of negative space
and object relationships, while maintaining unity and rhythm.

The soft, muted palette used in Still Life (The Blue Vase) brings an
alluring simplicity to a complicated painting. Instead of overwhelming
the viewer with a more vivid palette, Morandi allows the strength of the
composition to show through. However; his value range is not limited by
this decision. His deliberate placement of each object creates an elegant
implied diagonal line that leads the viewers eye to the focal area of the
blue vase. This focal area is also aided by contrast in value and
temperature: the warmer, higher value of the other objects and the
background verses the cooler, lower value of the blue vase. Morandi
balances the strong concentration of forms using a well informed knowledge
of negative space. He also offsets the strong vertical elements of the
objects with the horizontal table, and implied rectangles in the negative
space. Also, their is a gorgeous balance between the largest bottle and
the shadow that falls off the table. A less significant focal area is
created in the organic form in the lower left corner of the table by setting it against
strong geometric elements. There is an attractive unity in the repeated
spheres and ellipses, and a beautiful rhythm throughout the work.
However; one could argue one possible drawback of Morandi‚s work is that
the images appear slightly flattened in places.

Unlike Morandi, Chardin‚s work is remarkably realistic, dexterously
manipulating the paint to describe form and surface. For Still Life with
Tea Pot, Grapes, and a Pear he uses a vivid palette that includes
complements. The vibrancy of the hues adds even more vitality to the
objects. Each item is carefully and skillfully chosen and placed in order
to create the most dynamic, but balanced composition. Chardin creates and
intriguing contrast by using organic forms to create implied geometric
shapes: the fruit and walnuts can be simplified into triangles and the
teapot into a square. This can also be seen in the negative space, and
serves as a place of tension in the implied triangle formed by the two
stems and the spout. Another intriguing tensions is created by the
overhanging grapes. Despite this tension, there is also a strong sense of
balance, which is aided by the choice of color, placement, and lighting.
One of the key elements in the piece is the variety of contrasts: the
vertical tea pot and pear verses the horizontal walnuts, grapes, and table, the complimentary
reds and greens, the white tea pot on the low value background, organic
verses geometric, and manmade verses natural. Chardin also seems to hint
at a subtle, ironic comparison by having the manmade tea pot mimic the
form of the grapes and pear. He is able to intertwine all these elements
and unify them with the rhythmic repetition of spheres and ellipses. The
piece comes together magnificently, with each piece resonating off another
to produce a single product.

While I am personally drawn to the more realistic work of Chardin in some
cases, I have deep respect and admiration for both artists. I am in awe
of each artists' talents and attention to minute detail. I especially
enjoy the multiple levels in each painting; the beautiful layers
underneath such seemingly simple compositions. Also, the adventurous
experimentation that is a vital characteristic of all artists strongly
appeals to me. They seem to be driven to test the boundaries of art in
every way possible. I revere their skill, imagination, curiosity, and
bravery.

© 2002 Jennie R Poston

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Sunday, June 25

Artist Statement: Jennie R Poston

My work is about a search for tangible beauty through a direct, physical process. I enjoy the innate beauty found in natural materials, which I strive to isolate and refine. I connect to a subtractive view of life, where the distractions and superficiality of today‚s society are removed. Once all excessive details are striped away pure, undiluted form remains. Mass relationships, gesture, and line merge, expressing and defining the subject more eloquently than any written or spoken language.

A large part of my art is influenced by my passion for art history. It
provides a foundation and point of departure. Delving into thought
already established and incorporating the art historical into my work
enables me to synthesize my creation and view of art. Artists today are
dealing with many of the same concepts and questions as those of the past. There is a similar search for balance between embracing and challenging the accepted; a desire to acknowledge and contribute to what has been established. In this search an artist finds a unique voice; it is this response that distinguishes them.

The subtractive process is a reflection of my personality and perception of life. I attempt to push past peoples‚ personal facades and observe their deeper individuality. It is this removal of the excessive or false to reveal an essence of truth and purity that is conveyed by the subtractive method; it is an effort to expose the honesty of a subject. The importance of process also speaks to my interaction with both the world and subject. The analytical and physical aspects of the subtractive approach mimic my tendency to step back and observe my surroundings before actively investigating them. There is a tension between this method becoming a formal shorthand or a purification of form.

I am drawn to the boldness and humanity of both subject and artist in
German Expressionism. The movement, emotion, and honesty of expressionistic art are traits I hope to incorporate in my own work. German expressionists such as Ernst Barlach, Wilhelm Lehmbruck, Max Beckmann, Kathe Kollwitz, and Erich Heckel shared my interest in medium as an integral element and the dynamic between artist and viewer. Their work became more than just an object; it was a response to the world and events around them. They were prolific in their experimentation, intense passion, and desire to break from artistic conventions. I feel that expressionistic art as well as my own three-dimensional work relies heavily on the conversation between the piece and the surrounding space. There is also the link of figurative subject matter, which they used to convey inner experience. Unlike the expressionists, I struggle with translating my emotions into my work. I have been unable to get beyond the creation of art for pure aestheti
c value to a point of deeper substance. I want desperately to stretch
myself beyond my current limits, and discover whom I am as both a person and an artist; to reach a point where I will have an inner confidence and self-awareness that will be reflected in my art.

I see a similar honesty and purity in the Modernist sculpture of Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, and Jacques Lipchitz to that of the expressionists. There is a clear search for the essence of a subject through abstraction and simplification evident in their work. I enjoy the dynamics found in the human form such as the juxtaposition and tension of body masses, gestural movement, and balance, as well as the simplification of the complex figurative relationships. So much of my work can be read as figurative, something I feel branches from a human instinct to understand the world through its relation to ourselves.

I feel my work is a synthesis of the classical past and modernism.
Through my art I attempt to create a fusion of classical and modern
aesthetics. I exist within a tension between a classical reserve and
expressionistic content. I enjoy an abstract modern aesthetic and bold, expressive line coupled with a classical approach.

I am attracted to the intense physicality of sculpting, as well as the
meditation found in the purity of the process. For me sculpture is not so much about the end result as it is the artist‚s journey towards a goal. There is something beautiful about the silent reflection and
self-exploration of a sculptor intent on a project. I am drawn to the
complex union of the mental and physical that is innate to working
three-dimensionally; the translation of a conceptual thought into a
tangible piece. Sculpture allows for an intimate response from the
viewer, where their reaction to the work becomes an integral aspect of art making.

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