Observing and Constructing
15 October 2020
Many years ago, while I was working in the foundry at the Johnson Atelier, I observed renowned sculptor and resident artist, Isaac Witkin pulling scraps out of the bin and laying them out on the floor. The scraps were free-form spills from the pouring of bronze and cut off sprue bars from previous castings. Scrap. Junk. It was metal to be re-purposed and melted into new work. Isaac was the sculptor’s sculptor and he saw their potential.
We were standing around the furnace in our protective gear waiting for a #60 crucible of metal to melt. For Isaac, this hour of downtime between pouring metal was a time to imagine and create. He took scraps out of the bin and carefully observed them. He had this wonderful smile on his face as he was constructing different ideas with the scraps.
Thirty five years later, I am finding I am doing the same thing in my studio. Every day I am confronted by pile of scrap metal behind my studio and plastic bins with pieces of wood which I arrange, construct, weld, glue, paint, re-purpose, and sometimes destroy to make another work. Placing these odd pieces together reminds me of that moment when Isaac was arranging scraps on the floor of the foundry. There is so much free-play involved. However, I never saw Isaac draw or take notes. For me, I sometimes get out my sketchbook and quickly draw what I have laid out in order to remember what I did. . . . just in case I change my mind. It is also very easy to pull out the iPhone and take a photograph. Isaac was simply using his visual memory. We didn’t have the convenience of iPhone cameras back then nor enough time to make a sketch while pouring bronze. I think I have to do the same- use my visual memory. Most of the time, I do. I stand at the workbench and configure the pieces in many different ways then I come in the next day and do it again- trying to remember what I did earlier.
I think this constant free-play always ends up with some sort of resolution- at least for me. I have seen other sculptors do concise drawings or stay within strict parameters in order to attain something in their work. At this time, it is a simple act of working physically that pushes the work forward. Most of the time it is trial and error. What I learned from Isaac and other sculptors I knew when I “cutting my teeth“ in that sometimes hardscrabble environment of the sculpture studio- keep on working.