John Fisher on Direct Carving
My great teacher, Tom Blodgett, said: "The creative act is one of desperation." The logic behind this is that if you are doing something you know how to do, you may be very good at it, but you are just repeating something you have learned before. Whereas when you really go out on a limb, when you have no solutions, when you are about to fail, that is when adrenaline kicks in and you pull out the creative act. I attempt to put myself in the most critical and dangerous situations to ensure that this principle keeps me on my toes scrambling for solutions. Putting the whole project in jeopardy is the best way to make it a success. I'll take a stone I have spent months to obtain and thousands of dollars to purchase, then blast into it with heavy machines, with no idea what I am doing. Or paint a scene in the last light of day, knowing that the light is changing every minute. That is the way it feels to create. There is a time towards the end when you can slow down and carefully carve or paint in the finishing touches, when the experience is calmer. But the bulk of the time it is a near mortal battle. Creativity = Desperation.
In the quarry I select blocks of quality but also what they call “Informe,” or stone without cuts, if possible. They are just raw hunks of stone off the mountain. This insures that they are unique pieces that can never be found again, much the way every snow-flake is unique. All the outside surfaces are natural and already have a patina of eons. But for the purpose of this exercise we can also pretend it is a cut cube of the purest stone. Once I get the block off the mountain and it is standing in my studio I remove 30% of the weight of the block. Starting with a 9 ton block, I must remove 3 tons. I can remove a ton a day easy, so within the first few days I will have the block down to 6 tons. This stone would be removed using a drill and splitting wedges with feathers and a diamond saw, point and hammer. Feather and Wedges are a quarrying technique that splits off massive pieces. I have learned to be fairly controlled and can take off 100-to-200-pound hunks at a time with a single hole. The first and largest pieces can be up to 800 pounds. While doing this I am thinking,
John Fisher self-Portrait 2013
"Composition is King." I am putting movement into the block and counter movements, accents, big strokes, medium strokes, and small strokes. It is like music; you have to have a variety of notes. So for about 3 days, no images, only abstract concepts of design and layout should influence the stone. Make it the best abstract sculpture ever carved. Do honor to Brancussi and Moore and others who fought to free us from what had become stale Neoclassicism. I tell my students: you can’t make a mistake if you don’t know what you are doing. When that block is singing it will start to happen. I come back from lunch or arrive early one morning and suddenly I see the first image. I try to get about seven to play with and to have multiple choices. The brain only utilizes the available material; all the stone I took off is gone. The image usually does not present itself to me unless the material is there to carve. Often I will see between 50-80 percent of my image. I then start where I see things the clearest and begin to carve only profiles. Profiles are lines learned in drawing. That is why drawing is so tied to sculpture. A line is either right or wrong. If it needs changing, I decide on the new line and cut it until I see sky. I move 5 degrees and cut another profile. With every stroke the image becomes more evident; it becomes obvious what stone to remove. Any questions, I stop and check a resource: a human model or an old drawing that will help me through the problem. I keep moving. Turn, cut; turn, cut; turn cut. Like peeling an onion the layers come off and I approach the surface. All the fun stuff happens at the last in the last 1/2 an inch. The last modeling is pure heaven. I know I have a great sculpture by that time and before long I can be carving details.
They say in marble carving that one needs courage, passion and patience. I am terrified at the beginning of each new project. It is not only the fear of failure but also the realization of all the work that is going to have to be done in order to arrive at an acceptable outcome. There are so many ways it can go wrong. It takes courage to begin despite the odds. One can hope that some of our past experiences will come in handy. I come to each project armed with my skills. Still, in order for the creativity to come, I must push myself into new territory, to stretch those skills, put them to the test. This is why we need to be passionate about the work. If not, it is too easy to give up. That passion drives us out to the studio when others are resting. The patience gives us endurance for the long haul.