As a sculptor and artist the way my current work is manifesting itself is following artistic guidelines that I set for myself early in my life, now approaching two decades. The rules have grown in sophistication but the essence of these rules is very simple, documenting thoughts is more important than documenting reality. As a young child I felt as if I were cheating to look at something to draw it. This notion I have held firmly to, seeded deeply in my ideas of art, and have created work appropriate to such a restriction throughout my life. Whether it was a valuable focus or a needless limit seems like an unanswerable question at this point in my artistic development.
I must admit to having a profound respect for photo realistic renderings, and at times even consider pursuing such an endeavor. However with that said, it would be undoing and possibly corrupting a path I have been walking down that I feel will eventually yield work that is worth every unsure step I have taken. I have spent too much time inventing ways to represent things, to supplant it with the established way to draw, sculpt, and create art that is taught as the correct way to do things. I was turned off early to traditional art school because they felt the need to re-teach me the right way.
There is some leeway in this approach in working purely from memory. I still will seek out visual inspiration, and study how something looks, but in general I am very careful to make sure my work has at the least equal parts ‘concept’ to ‘accurate depictions’. In the end there remains no goal towards making something realistic, while all the judgment on a piece is on its visual novelty and whether the piece successfully captures the feel and essence of the subject. I care about how carefully the line is drawn around my thought, as opposed to the actual contours of reality.
These following rules comprise the working treatise that I currently allow to govern my work, and to help justify the abstractions beyond something just based on a whim.
1. Work from concepts, as opposed to images.
I think one great place for non-study work is by generating visual representations of concepts that have no visual analogue. For example, what does extinction look like? Or to take it a step further, what does extinction look like if it also a man? What does a man, that is also extinction, who uses modern technology to wipe out species look like? By continuing down this line of thought an avatar of this idea is created and then I try to simply accurately depict this idea. I get inspiration for work more often from reading than I do from seeing. (While realism can also express these things it may be more subtle and more open to interpretation. The goal here is to try to perfectly capture/communicate the idea visually)
2. Ask visual questions, and then try to answer them in artwork.
In rule #1 I showed the process of questioning that I often follow, but I feel it should be expanded upon here. The basic premise is to ask oneself, “what would _________ look like if _________”. The options are endless, and can lead to wonderful, and novel visual results. As an example of this in my work, I have asked myself, what does a given animal look like if expressed through the visual language of a wood lathe? By asking what something would look like it forces one to create visual images, as opposed to just documenting them.
3. Experiment with new techniques and technologies.
Adding tools to one’s visual arsenal can add a great deal of depth, as well as inspiration to one’s work. Being able to capture old concepts in new ways is exciting, and can create representations of things that we have not seen before. I think sometimes as an artist it is my goal to expand everyday experience, and this is one way to do that. As I mentioned in rule #2, an animal expressed through a turning, such as the mandrill, or rhino that I have images of in the gallery, expands on our notion of what these things are or can be.
4. Separate subject from studio.
I feel it is important to digest a subject away from the studio, to allow it to be filtered through one’s visual preferences and then be expressed without the fears or strict guidelines of what actually exists.
5. Study your own sense of abstraction.
This can be done by looking at clouds or other places with lots of visual clutter, to allow your brain to recognize patterns and create images of things that are very clearly not what they look like. Seeing a face in some rust can teach you a great deal about what it takes to communicate a notion of “human” and also in a way to literally document humanities ability to perceive abstractly.
6. The less known a subject is the greater need for realism, and conversely, the more common something is, the further it can be abstracted while still communicating the idea.
A human face is so central to our experience that three lines easily communicate it, : ) . The first thing I tried to express through a wood lathe was a human face, as it was the easiest notion to express. If I wanted to express the notion of a saint Bernard however, it would require more careful cue to effectively communicate it to someone else.
These rules are personal to me, and by no means do I suggest them being complete, or even all that applicable to other artists. I do feel some may be helpful. Most of them are simply there to justify art existing in an unrealistic way, and to find the places where creation of images, or internal documentation, is as valuable as external documentation, or in other words, work from study.