Carrara Part III: Reduced to the Dust by Marble

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 sponsored by ABC Stone and The Oriano Galloni Foundation, and coordinated by artist Stephen Shaheen (MFA 2005).

Steve Shaheen checking measurements on model
I will forever count myself fortunate for the honor of working alongside a man like Steve Shaheen.  He is simply brilliant, an inspiration both in capacity and in character!  And he seemed perfectly suited to be my mentor, being uniquely qualified in his knowledge of both the stone and the figure.  His artistic expertise, razor-sharp intellect, and physical stamina all seemed limitless in his devotion to my project.  And a good thing too, for the task demanded it.

As every move in stone requires cognizance on many levels, focusing on one thing likely meant I was oblivious to something else just as crucial.  I continually marveled at how aware Steve always was of things that separately would demand single-mindedness, but together hardly seemed manageable for just one brain.  I often felt like a clumsy halfwit by comparison.  Even with the intricacies of the sculpted model, which I myself had created (and not on mere whim, mind you), he always seemed to be thinking two steps ahead of me.  I was in an unforgiving world that employs a multiplicity of tools and skillsmost of which were totally foreign to me.  But I quickly realized, ignoramus not withstanding, I couldnt be in better hands.

Time after time I went from alarmed to amazed as Steve would demonstrate a deep saw cut with absolute precision.  I simply cant fathom how hed repeatedly come within centimeters (I mean like 2 cm) of the target depth while freehand cutting large portions of the stone we hadnt yet measured.  Even if you credit him with lifelong experience with the tools and the methods, Steve pulls off mind-boggling feats that can only be attributed to sheer inspiration and artistic genius.

The front side roughed out
Stone carving demands the head to be not only filled with Olympian-level thoughts, but also dripping with Herculean-like sweat.  It combines intellectual and aesthetic sensibilities with physical rigor in a way I'd never experienced.  This is not the work of a civilized painter, as I'd been accustomed, sitting in a cushioned office chair, dabbling with slender brushes while swaying to classical music in an air-conditioned studio. It felt I had gone from court painter to quarry slave.

Standing with the marble and model

Nothing under the Tuscan sun felt cool except the chips of marble flicking against my sun burnt face.  Whatever pieces were too small to leave a mark, clung defiantly to my sweaty skin.  The resulting white paste will likely never catch on in the cosmetic industry, but there's something poetic about the mixture of sweat and marble dust, the remnants of the artist's material mingling with the remnants of the artist's exertion.

There is also something beautiful in seeing the body covered in the effects of its labor, the white powder and chips indicating a history of effort, of struggle.  The sculptor can then be interpreted as one might a work of art, like the marks on a painting that connote its creative journey.

The torso finally standing upright
The nature of stone is such that it will only conform to the artist's will by forceful coercion.  No matter the tool used, the stone will in turn leave its mark upon the artist. As two colliding forces, the stubbornness of stone and the determination of the artist, they both are changed by this intense, even violent, form of creative destruction.

Using the pneumatic hammer on the front side

Even with modern tools, the artist is not above the stones rebuttals.  I think it may have been the vindictive Gods of Carrara who inspired the advent of the pneumatic hammer, designed to give an equal beating to the hands as it gives to stone.

One of many corridors at Staglieno Cemetery

Guiliano Monteverdes famous Angel of the Resurrection

An extraordinary example of marble defying conventional limits
Close-ups of incredible carving details

On Sunday, my day off, we took a trip to Genova to visit the Staglieno Cemetery, an absolute treasure trove of marble funerary sculpture.  Mostly done in the 19th century, there were countless examples of superb craftsmanship, a collective monument to the stunning possibilities of marble.  I was like a little kid visiting the Louvre on the excitement of his first coloring book, wholly unprepared for the enormity of the world that Id just entered.  Leaving there I felt dizzy, my brain bursting from such a ferocious binge of the eyes.  There I was, sitting awestruck on the floor of an outstanding tradition, staring up at a very high ceiling.

Pen & Ink Skeches from Staglieno Cemetery

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

Did you miss Joseph's other posts on his experience in Carrara? Read Carrara: The Impossible Dream and Carrara Part II: Initiation into an Ancient Tradition.

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