Every Thursday I will feature an interview with an artist. I welcome submissions from artists working in all genres: fine artists, illustrators, designers, etc. Everyone from students, to emerging artists, to mid-career, and established artists are encouraged to submit their work for consideration. Please know that due to the volume of submissions that I will not be able to respond unless you are selected to be interviewed.
To submit, please email me at clara[at]claralieu.com with the subject line “Submission” with a link to your website OR two jpeg images attached to your email. Thanks and I look forward to hearing from you!
Today I worked on foamcore models of the two galleries to figure out the order and arrangement of the pieces in advance. There will likely be a few tweaks here and there once I’m physically in the galleries, but this process allows me to get a more overall view of the entire body of work. There are so many pieces that it just wouldn’t be practical to be making these kinds of decisions with the actual pieces themselves.
The most important decision I had to make was whether I would mix up the pieces or keep them in their sequence. There are essentially three stages in this project: the calm before the storm, the eruption of extreme emotion, and the aftermath. In the end I decided to mix up the pieces, the rationale being that I would have more control over the way the compositions interacted on the walls in terms of how they look. In many of the pieces the eyes and/or face are pointed in a really specific connection and I wanted to be able to control how that would flow on the wall.
The exhibitions are opening very soon! I’ve been doing a lot of publicity for the show, this week with postcards, emails, and social networking. You can also RSVP to the opening of the Brown/RISD Hillel exhibition here.
(above) Brown/RISD Hillel Gallery model
(above) Herter Gallery model
I sculpted six more head maquettes today, making for a total of fifteen maquettes so far. The more I think about, the more I am certain that I need to have fifty maquettes before I get started on the actual pieces themselves. I’m going to have to come up with many new expressions for the sculptures: in many of the drawings its the same facial expression, but seen from a different point of view, so it’s not going to work to simply sculpt directly from each of the fifty drawings.
I’m a little worried today about what I’m getting myself into. It was one thing to conceive of and make fifty drawings, but it’s another to make fifty sculptures. Sculpture is much higher maintenance, storage is a major issue, and then there is the mold making and casting. If I go through with this project the way I’m envisioning it right now, that makes for fifty over life sized plaster heads. Just the thought is exhilarating and really scary, which is exactly what tells me it’s a good idea, regardless of the intimidating logistics of making the work.
I was feeling discouraged and frustrated the other day with the paper mache technique, and then the thought of having to build intricate armatures for these clay heads was making my head hurt, so I decided that I had to take a completely different approach. It then occurred to me that it was premature to even think about armatures, as I haven’t even planned out what I want to do yet with the clay heads. This was a huge relief, so I got out some plastilene and started sculpting some small maquettes of heads. Sketching in clay is one of my favorite things to do in sculpture, so it was wonderful to just experiment and play around, especially after feeling so handicapped by the limitations of the paper mache.
I’m thinking today that it might be a good idea to sketch out all fifty heads in advance, so that I get an overall sense of the entire scope of the project. In the drawings I went piece by piece, and in the end a number of pieces ending up sticking out like sore thumbs, and perhaps that can be avoided this time.
One aspect that I hope to play up a lot more in the sculptures than I did in the drawings is the neck. In the photo above, there’s one head on the lower right corner that is dramatically leaning back, exposing and stretching the neck. If I can maneuver the neck in all different ways, there will be endless possibilities in terms of how the neck can affect the head.
The catalog for my upcoming exhibitions is moving along nicely: My husband is designing the book, I’m doing the photography, and RISD Printmaking Professor Andrew Raftery is writing the catalog essay. In about a week or so I’ll start my massive PR campaign for these exhibitions. It’s exciting to see everything coming together at this point.
As I think about ways to approach these portrait sculptures, I’ve been looking a lot at the works of Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, a late 18th century Austrian sculptor. He created a number of pieces called “Character Heads” which represented anguished, distorted expressions. They’re unlike anything I’ve ever seen before, and there are so many similarities to the portrait drawings I’ve been doing.
I got my paper clay shipment today, so I was excited to work with it. Unfortunately it didn’t go as well as I would have liked, and today I’m thinking about pitching the paper mache all together and going back to plastilene/plaster as a medium. It’s disappointing to me to even think about this, as I’ve really enjoyed using all of these new materials and trying to figure out how to make the process work. I do, however, have to face the hard reality that I’m just not getting the kinds of results that I’m looking for. I see the portrait heads as being incredibly detailed with all kinds of tiny forms and wrinkles, and I just can’t see how that would be possible with these materials. The forms I was getting today were so mushy and generalized, I found it nearly impossible to get more specific and to achieve undercuts. There are so many subtleties and slight nuances of the form that I wanted to get, but just couldn’t with this material.
The paper clay is really quite amazing as a material, it’s super soft, smooth, and malleable and yet is made of paper pulp. The major drawback though is that I can’t work reductively at all, the paper clay is too soft and fragile. When I tried to use a sculpture tool on it, the paper clay just peeled off the surface. I really, really wanted to avoid plaster and casting for these sculptures, but it’s highly likely at this point that I will be able to keep going with the paper mache.
I worked on more of the heads, this time trying to focus on defining the medium forms since the larger forms were already blocked in. One thing that was an enormous difference this time around is I had the plastilene head that I sculpted last week as a reference, and it was incredibly helpful in terms of figuring out how to organize the forms. The plastilene head is essentially a “3D photograph” that I will continue to use. I’m still trying to get used to only being able to add form, it’s making me a little crazy since I’m so used to being able to work reductively. This new approach is forcing me to completely re-configure my sculpting approach.
I had some pieces that just needed huge slabs of form cut off, so I took one head that was just way too wide, and took a saw and cut off the sides. Sawing through the cardboard and paper mache was awkward though, and I don’t forsee that as being a process that I want to use in the future-better to have a more accurate structure from the get go. In general almost all of the experiments I’ve done so far are way to wide and overbuilt in the lower section of the head, so today I tried building one that was much skinnier and more elliptical than what I have done up until this point.
I spent the rest of the afternoon photographing details from all fifty portraits. Extremely tedious, but absolutely necessary for the catalog that I will be publishing for both exhibitions.
I had a photography and modeling session with Marianna today, to accomplish two different kinds of reference materials: 1) photographs and 2) a traditional portrait bust, to serve as a “3D photo reference”. I built the traditional portrait bust on an armature in plastilene and it will be a reference and guide for the paper mache pieces that I will be making later. What I’m most interested in is the large forms and the planes they create; detail is unimportant with this reference. I’m trying to get myself into a more three-dimensional mind set, and sculpting on this traditional portrait bust will be part of that process. Its been years since I’ve done a straightforward portrait bust study, so it was fun to get back into the technique.
The other challenge that I’m discovering is that I have to change my sculpting approach to be entirely additive with the paper mache process. The wonderful thing about plastilene is that you can work both additively and reductively, which is the process that I’m more accustomed to. With the paper mache, I can only add the material so I have to adjust the way I think about creating form. I ordered some “paper clay” the other day and will be receiving that soon, (recommended by Tony Janello) so I’m hoping that the paper clay will perhaps introduce the opportunity to work reductively, even if it’s on a small scale.
I got a quick tutorial from the sculpture technician here at Wellesley on how to use the bandsaw to cut up the cardboard tubes into strips. Experience in the woodshop is something that I really don’t have, (and wish I did) so it was great to have help from someone who knew what they were doing to figure out the best way to do this. I was a little intimidated by the bandsaw at first just because of the potential danger, but after doing it a few times I got the hang of it and was able to cut up the entire cardboard tube. After a while, it really was quite satisfying!
I experimented today with constructing a much more minimal frame using the sliced up pieces of the cardboard tube. The slices are much thicker and stronger than the chipboard, so structurally it’s terrific for this process. I tried to use as few pieces of the cardboard slices as possible, and then placed one layer of shop towels over it. I’ll let it dry and then see where it can go.
The test piece that I made yesterday dried overnight, and it was unbelievable how strong and hard the paper mache was. I even threw the piece on the floor just to see if that would damage it, and it came back totally fine! My three gallons of Elmer’s Glue arrived this morning, and yesterday I went to Home depot to get white shop towels and a sonotube. A sonotube is a very thick cardboard tube that they use to pour concrete columns. The ultimate plan is to slice up the sonotubes into strips so that they can be used as the support structure, as opposed to using chip board.
So today I was able to work with the exact materials that Tony Janello suggested, which was great. I also tried to be more efficient with the chipboard structure, using fewer pieces and not building up the form so specifically and as heavily.
Just from working on these three test pieces, it’s clear to me that there’s going to be a really big learning curve in terms of learning how to sculpt with the chip board. It’s probably going to be a long while before I even think about the logistics of a 4′ tall head,
The paper mache process is incredibly sticky, wet, and fun. With all of the strips of white paper towel, I feel like I’m mummifying someone.