By TRICIA GRAME, visual artist and faculty member in the Department of Writing, Consciousness, and Creative Inquiry
This week, I attended a reception and talk for the new exhibition, Finding Balance: Glass Art in the Bay Area at the Village Theatre Gallery in Danville, where some of our Master of Fine Arts students in the Department of Writing, Consciousness, and Creative Inquiry will be showing their work in September. The exhibit will be co-curated by MFA Program Chair, Cindy Shearer and myself, and is titled Telling Stories Through Art.
Randy Strong, a master glass artist, spoke about the meaning of balance in regards to sculpting. Strong has created glass sculptures for more than thirty-five years using this expensive, unpredictable, and fragile medium. It took Strong years to perfect his technical skills, but his addiction to his art and a lasting fortitude kept him yearning for more. He ended his talk by defining balance: "Balance is really about finding your spirituality or god." Sculpting glass offered him the solitude, sanctuary, and self-awareness to define this process for himself, and through it he discovered his voice.
I thought about my own experience as a sculptor. My first exposure to the art of sculpture was as a little girl sitting in front of The Pieta at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Queens, New York. There, on the altar, was a reproduction of Michelangelo’s twenty-foot pure, white marble sculpture of the Virgin Mary with her dead, adult son, Jesus, draped limply on her lap. I was startled by this overpowering sculpture, and had no desire to look closely, or touch it.
Years later, as an art student, I moved beyond this trepidation and began to feel connected to a higher being as my hands attached themselves to a block of earth. Now, as I sculpt, I attempt with apprehension to discover what lies within. There is a special kind of excitation that comes over me. I push my fingers deep into the center, pressing and manipulating this soft earth until it willingly surrenders.
Like other artists, I'm concerned with the interplay of hollows, planes, and contours, as well as the conflict between light, volume, and mass. Beyond that, I also believe in the sacred virtue that all life surges from a center, and expands from within. I search to reveal not only the outward physical realities, but, more importantly, the inward emotional language to enable a direct connection to the form and the process of creation. This experience is like watching my spirit give life to an image, fusing the receptive clay or intractable substance of stone into an organic shape with a vital rhythm. The form that emerges after I chisel, scrape and mold is a magical one, and it permits me the courage to speak through art.
My passion for the sculpted form took me to the islands of Malta in 1997, where hundreds of sculptures were found depicting full-bodied and/or pregnant women. Figures of rounded goddesses were chiseled and carved into limestone. I continued to return to this small Mediterranean island, where red ochre stains the walls of the temples and caves, perhaps symbolizing female energy and the cycle of life. Deeply inspired, I began working on a body of art interpreting the position of the prehistoric female using archetypes.
A sculpture exists in space, just as a human being does; it's a three-dimensional work of art, which involves a special kind of interaction between viewer and object. As one becomes more engaged with the work, the work appeals not only to the senses of sight and touch, but also begins to manifest a divine silence. Sculpted forms are architectures of silence sending vibrations that travel to the center of your body. Spirit becomes reality through the sculpted symbol. Thus, finding your balance as an art-maker happens when you surrender to the work: the medium directs you in releasing your creative energy and you give birth to your being.