Carrara: The Impossible Dream

June 18 - July 3, 2012, recent Academy graduate Joseph Brickey (MFA 2012) lived and worked in Carrara, Italy as part of a two-week Artist in Residence Program coordinated by ABC Stone and The Oriano Galloni Foundation.

By way of introduction, I've always felt I could do anything an artist aught to be able to do.  Can I draw? Sure. Give me a pencil, and I can move it in any direction. What about paint? Oh, you mean that soft, creamy stuff that comes in nice little tubes? Sure. I even know where to get special brushes so you can rub it around without getting any on your fingers. Can I sculpt? Well, I grew up playing in the mud. That's a material I understand.

But what about stone carving, you ask? What?? Did you say stone?? You mean that material that shooting stars are made of, that sinks ships, divides the oceans, forms mountains, turns aside rivers, crushes whatever stands between it and the center of the earth?  This is the material upon which all the world stands for support. A wise man might build upon it, but what fool would try to carve it?  Even Mother Nature herself only carves by the minuscule per millennium.

That's right, I know about stone. I've had my own experiences with it. I've climbed it, kicked it, smacked it, and stubbed my toes on it. Throughout my entire life, anytime I've come up against stone, it always wins. It's just instinctive now: when we cross paths, stone always has the right of way. It's simple, really. I'm made from the dust, the stuff smashed between the rocks, the stuff that is washed away by the wind and the rain, while the stone, well, it isn't. 

So if you ask me about stone carving, I'm thinking you must mean the stone doing the carving on me.  What then? Into a stone box I go, unto the dust I return, six feet under a stone marker that warns the world: "This man thought stone carving was a good idea."

So that's where I'm coming from. At least until the opportunity came to go to Carrara.

Hence it shouldn't seem so strange that stone carving--most certainly humanity's first dip into the arts--feels to me more like my final frontier as an artist.  But unwittingly my creative impulse had always been carrying me closer. All along it was a natural fit for my artistic identity, the eventuality of all of my efforts and interests. But aspiration cannot live without expectation, and marble carving was on the same list as cloud surfing and comet riding. 

I had thought that turning to sculpture a couple of years ago completed my ambitions. I had used drawing materials, painting materials, and now sculpting materials. But marble was an entirely different thing. In the court of the great masters, I had tried out every seat in the house, but I had never considered actually taking the throne. Not that I don't think big. I'm a guy who has considered planting a garden on Mount Everest, camping on the dark side of the moon, crab walking to the edge of the earth, and then rappelling down. But carving a marble sculpture?! It seemed so far fetched, so foreign, so unfathomable, that even to man prone to ambition, it remained the impossible dream.

Then came the generosity of Jonathon Tibett of ABC Stone, the groundwork of SteveShaheen (MFA 2005), and the great resource that is the New York Academy of Art. When the news came that I had received the marble carving residency, I was suddenly cloud hugging and comet kissing. Mount Everest could melt, the edge of the earth could go drop off itself---I was going to Carrara!!!

Part of my preparation was to decide on a subject and create a model to work from while there. I felt I should do something that would test me with the technique, something with nuance and detail, subtle shifts in form, demanding precise proportion and surface treatment. In short, something that would be a good test for future carving possibilities, for I felt that if the honeymoon went well, so would the marriage.

Michelangelos Maquette
There was no doubt that I wanted to do something figurative, but with forms conceived for the material of stone. This was new for me and my mind immediately sought answers from the great Michelangelo. I looked not only to his final sculptures but also to those sketches and preliminary works that demonstrated earlier conceptual phases.  Among his surviving works that were preparatory for his marble sculptures is a terra cotta maquette of a male torso done for his Awakening Slave.
Pen & Ink of Male Torso

Toned Drawing of Male Torso
This point of reference seemed to fit my native impulse, and as I began to work out my own interpretation, I felt a sort of dialogue develop, consulting the great master at every turn (and occasionally bickering with his counsel). It became a process where I either had to justify my own path or come to understand the reason for his. In the end, whether my model was a tribute or an insult to his wisdom, I’d made my case and was ready to stand by it.
Model of Male Torso
Now I simply had to go to Italy to make the same argument to some block of marble… and I was unbelievably excited!!!

Check back here for more of Joseph's reflections on his residency and first experience working with stone.

1 comment:

  1. Great little article. I laughed out loud at the line; "This man thought stone carving was a good idea."