Sunday, January 8, 2017

17P-1, "Etude, op. 341c, (Drummer Boy's Mussel Shell)" (January 8)

Elemental Considerations

Within a year, fall 1995 through fall of 1996, my sand sculpture capability changed completely. Tools, forms and working technique were all new. Working style, however, stayed the same. Go to the beach, make a pile, start carving. I'd often go in with some kind of idea but it seldom lasted long. When the idea did manage to center the sculpture I often didn't like it.

The result was unpredictability. Some sculptures were special, some weren't, and I couldn't describe to anyone what I did, or didn't, like about a particular piece. The headlong rush to get a sculpture done didn't lead to careful consideration, and the pattern stayed the same through the ensuing years.

It's not a bad way of working. It's enjoyable, and when there's a hit it tends to be spectacular. At the time time there end up being many default shapes in a sculpture, as the design crowds the remaining sand and leaves no other options.

There were pauses for various reasons. In late November of 2016 I began to get a hazy notion of something else. Simplify. I'd been looking at old sculptures as I edited images to use in Second Life. Why does one thing work and another design idea doesn't work? Could it be the relationship between elements? Maybe I need to make a very simple sculpture, just to see how the surfaces relate. It turned into a series of 3 sculptures, and then the weather closed out the rest of the year.
   
Build number: 17P-1 (monolith)
Title: "Etude, op. 341c (Drummer Boy's Mussel Shell)"
Date: January 8
Location: Venice Breakwater, south side littoral
Start: 1030, construction time approx. 1.5 hours
Size: about 24 inches tall, 18 inches wide, 14 inches deep
Digital Images: none, no camera
New Tools: none
New Equipment: none

I'd walked to the Breakwater on Friday, the day the tide window opened, to sample the sand, with a sculpture intended for Saturday. The sky held only high wispy clouds. Saturday morning I awoke to rain and dark clouds. By mid-day it was clearing so I went for a rain-refreshed walk. The window would stay open for a few more days, so I  headed for the Breakwater again to see how the sand had fared through the storm.

Off in the west, rising above the horizon, were layers of cloud. More rain? I ran into Dennis and his wife at the Breakwater, and they confirmed it. "Heavy rain, starting here about midnight. Supposed to end by 6:00 AM, they say."

Well, rats. Another washout. A window opened after Christmas, and the present of rain was nice but made sculpture impossible. I had to hold onto the ideas for a simple piece with intersecting spaces.

I haven't done a free-piled sculpture since 2013. The idea didn't occur to me on last Friday's sampling walk. Today, something brings the idea to the fore. Sand, sun, receding tide, wet beach with good sand. I'm not dressed for it and have no tools. Not far away, though, is a mussel shell nicely sized for basic carving. I dig in and start piling.

No matter how it's done, sand sculpture requires heavy work. Using a form spreads the work out through time. Free-piling must be done quickly and calls for a lot of bending and twisting. I wondered if I could still do it. There were some twinges in my back as I gradually built the pile up. I compensated by taking smaller handfuls of sand, and making a pile that was only about two feet tall.

As I carved with the gift mussel shell, I realized that this pile was better packed than any of the formed sculptures I did in the 1980s. Those, I could carve with fingers. This one really needs the mussel shell, although I do push one space through with fingers. I miss the small carving tools; what's easy and quick with them is nearly impossible with the shell.

Maybe that's not such a bad thing. By limiting the complexity of the sculpture, the mussel shell makes me think about the larger piece. I smoothly round the western part, with a concave area lower down on the north. The west gets a nearly flat panel whose edges are rounded into the top. I like the look of that.

When a space is cut into a flat surface, it appears as a hole in the surface. It can be shaped in ways to fit. A space carved into a curved surface  is different. it's visible from the side as an under cut whose size is dictated by the hole's size. The line between "hole" and "space" is fine. Some of the holes in this sculpture turn into spaces. It's surprisingly difficult to balance the parts.

I'm also interested in how spaces intersect inside the sculpture. I'm frustrated in working on this because, with the mussel shell and my hand in the way, I can't see how the various surfaces intersect inside.

Still, there's enough here to show that there's room for the ideas to grow. More experimentation is needed. I polish the surface, sign it, and leave the mussel shells on the signature pad.

As I walk north the air cools. The clouds to the west are closer but no thicker. I have made sand sculpture pretty much because I can, and have taken little thought on how the carving happens. Art classes start with the basics and work up from there. I had to invent the basics and all the rest. I assumed that when I needed a skill it would be there, or I'd figure it out in the moment, which seemed a more lively way to do it. Excess discipline tends to kill things.

There is, however, the idea of just enough discipline. Everybody who makes things starts somewhere in the learning process. It feels slow and confining to look at a pile of sand and think about shapes, rather than picking up a tool and carving. The big problem with that approach is that the size of the sculpture, dictated by how much sand I can pile in a day, works with the  size of my hands, the length of my arms, and how far I can reach, along with the fact that I'm mainly right-handed, exerts a very strong influence on the shapes I end up making. Once a shape is cut into the sand it is permanent. Slowing down and being more observant might help me stay out of the default-shape traps. Winter also enforces simplicity because the days are short. Carpenters have a saying: "Measure twice, cut once. Measure once, cut twice." This series of etudes is an ongoing experiment in measuring two or three times. Perhaps... meditative sand sculpture. Part of me is disappointed with the simplicity, and that I did fall into one default-shape trap on this one. Other parts of the sculpture show more promise.

The next morning I awaken to steady rain. It continues well beyond the predicted 0600 cut-off. I'm glad I did the year's first sculpture when the chance came along.

Santa Monica
2017 January 8, 9