Carrara, 2

by Quentin McCaffrey, MFA 2011

I decided that it would be best to arrive in Italy prepared to start carving immediately. I have been developing a series of simple beeswax heads that hang off the wall. It seemed fitting to make a plaster cast of one of these pieces that I had already become very familiar with, and then attempt to recreate it in stone. I hypothesized that learning the process of transferring the design in three dimensions would simultaneously allow me to see how a different material might shift the content of the work. It also seemed plain to me that the design would not carry perfectly into the new material but would become its own work distinct from the preliminary piece.

Although I much of my recent work has utilized wax, I really don't see myself as “the wax guy” as much as a materially sensitive artist. I would love to make shows based on the medium of the work. A show in bronze, clay, fabric, glass, resin, stone, wax, wood, etc. I really believe that the material is part of the language of the work, particularly in three dimensions, even though it needs to subject itself to the content and form and not become a novelty or a crutch. This is proved clearly by the Rodin sculptures that are glorious in cast bronze but fail when attempted in marble. The artist's hand is removed; the work is not the same or even good. The sculpture is somewhere else, maybe it stayed in the 20 minute sketch, but it never swelled into life when it met the firm solidity of stone. This was a situation I wanted to avoid. Doing the work myself, opposed to hiring an artisan to do all of it was a step in the right direction, but did not ensure success.

After arriving in Italy and enjoying a week gorging on Caravaggio, Michelangelo, Bernini and other sweet and savory treats in Rome, I rode the train north and slightly west along the intoxicating coast to Carrara-Avenza where Steve Shaheen, one of my sponsors and the sculptor who would be teaching me about stone, graciously picked me up, despite being 3 hours late (perhaps by Italian standards this was par for the course). From the first moment it was clear that Carrara was the optimal location for carving stone. The mountains, peering down on the towns cradled between their foothills and the turquoise sea, are full of marble. The quarries clamor up the mountainsides with zig-zag access roads and even burrow into the depths of the mountains, excavating the rocks in cool darkness. Along the coast area, cranes and hangar-like buildings appoint the numerous workshops where artists and artisans, devoted to the creamy marble and the forms that may emerge from it, toil in powdery dust.

I was to work in one such bottega for the next two weeks. Studio Corsanini, complete with its patriarch Luigi (freely doling out his acquired wisdom both in stone work and general life, and doubling as head-chef who prepared glorious lunches for all), Zen-master/Sculptor/Age-defier Itto Kuetani, and a colorful selection of hard working house artisans, was a brilliant place to see a wide variety of working methods and ideas in action in the realm of marble carving.

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