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Guest ford hallam

Is there anything new under the sun?

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Guest ford hallam

Greetings all,

 

I`ve just been having one of those quiet moments, having a cuppa and getting warmed up for some delicate metal ministrations. My mind wandered over the many and various aesthetic influences i`ve found myself drawn to, some i`ve subconciously absorbed, others have perhaps been more actively persued.

 

what i was wondering was how this is experienced by other makers, do you have a clear vision, are you exploring or trying to find your vocabulary, or do you perhaps actively try to avoid any concious external imput, is this even possible?

 

Anyone care to share their thoughts on the process as they experience it?, what are you drawn to, do you know why?

 

Is your approach more philosophical or perhaps based in a direct response to your chosen medium?

 

I`ll refrain from a personal diatibe right now to allow someone else to take the lead, :) , I don`t want to pre-empt any thoughts.

 

we might learn a lot about each other by gaining a little insight into how we induvidually approach the "art of making"

 

I wait in anticipation........

 

as always, Ford :)

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Hmmm....lots of grist for the mill there, Ford.

 

While I was always attracted to nature, it took seeing how the Japanese dealt with it to open me up to the inspiration of the natural world. I never made the connection previously. For one thing, I never studied art in school which I used to lament, but as I find my way now, I think it may have been more of an advantage not to. I'm pretty self motivated and it may have been better not to be too influenced by academia.

 

Early on in my career I studied others' work a tremendous amount. Now I mostly try to delve into my own imagination. Of course there is a wealth of stored visual material knocking around in there.

 

My aim is simple: to convey something of the power and beauty of nature. Not much philosophical layering involved although you could probably wind me up if I'm in the mood. "Universe in a grain of sand" and all that.

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Guest ford hallam
By the way, what's with this fixation on Japanese work? Something I've always wanted to ask; but, didn't want to seem...hmmm...obvious? :o
Kathleen

 

Morning Kathleen,

 

My interest in Japanese work developed initially in response to the amazing technical processes i saw, i was an apprentice goldsmith at the time so the purely technical wizardry blew me away. As I became familiar with a greater range of Japanese, and other art forms i began to recognise very specific aesthetics that I had/have an affinity for. My tastes are by no means as culturally narrow as you may suppose, my influences are quite eclectic. One of the strongest influences I am subject to is the physical enviroment i grew up in, in South Africa. Perhaps i`ll elaborate on that later.

 

Having said that though, i do feel most at home in the distinctly Japanese approach to metalwork. There are very well defined trends that can be discerned in the classical tradition. I could go so far as to suggest that in many instances the so called traditional metalwork ( mainly sword fittings ) pre-empts the developments in western art.

 

For me, as a craftsman trying to find the art in his work, to ignore this history would be perverse. ;) Not all, but a select group of artists over the past few hundred years in Japan have been engaged in a unique dialogue with their medium. I`m trying to understand their vocabulary, some of the things they have expressed touch me profoundly. If i could use words to say what i feel i woulld write, but i think that metal worked in the way i`ve alluded to is the most honest approach for me. I could go on....but this is probably enough for now.

 

regards, Ford

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Guest ford hallam

hiya Jim,

 

I reckon you were saved by not having been subject to the fashions of art education institutions and accadamia, something i think Doug has alluded to before.

 

I`m intigued by your being inspired by the Japanese expression to nature. Do you feel a desire to "tidy up" expressions of nature, or perhaps a better way of putting it would be, to distill the essence of what you percieve to be nature. Is this perhaps in response to living so close to nature? Personally I think I`m inclined to dealing with a very distilled and focused view of aspects of the natural world. I think this way I can get more intimate, do you feel this? Maybe I find the entirety too overwhelming to try to say anything about it other than, WOW! Would the corollary of that be town based artists who produce really "wild" images of nature in reaction to being too closeted or safe. Hmmm....care to probe this with me?

 

always stirring, Ford :o

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Guest ford hallam

Kathleen,

 

I can understand why you were drawn to Hindu art, amazingly exhuberent and vital, delicious. I think I see a link between the Hindu temple carvings, Celtic interlacing and trees, all that intertwined, convoluted and perhaps even deliberately confusing growth.

 

Both Clive and I seem to have been affected in a very similar way by our childhood enviroment, although surprisingly it was only recently that we discovered this. The Cape is home to a unique coastal eco-system known as "fynbos" ( lit: fine bush ), The particular species of plant life, the exteme conditions, the expanse etc, these things i think, have led to a real appreciation of the delicacy of life in really austere conditions. Hmm... perhaps a parallel with the human condition?

 

The veld also figures large in our psyche. Again, the expanse, the severity etc. In the midst of this enviroment we learnt to stop, and take it all in. Quite literally to stop and simply lie down. It was easy to lose yourself in contemplating a rock, a beetle, dried out snake, dried grasses (my favourite ) or just the ground. The light of course was a contrant, it is very bright and the surface of things when observed closely seem to vibrate. The seemingly solid surface of things almost seems to disolve, as though you can see the atoms and into them. This magic, which was a daily experience for us seems to fuel our persuit of the ineffable in our own work.

 

I need to go home...

 

Ford :o

 

as an after thought, i think it`s fair to say that becoming comfortable wandering around these kinds of landscapes has made us very self reliant and confidant in our own abilities. useful qualities for artist/makers.

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hello- I've been away the past 4 days, so I haven't been able to jump into this discussion earlier.

I'm not sure where to start, but like Jim and others here, I have an interest in Japanese art for two different reasons. The first is what I see as an approach, though not distinctly Japanese, which most often manifests itself in the crafts of that culture. I am talking about the qualities of dilligence, attention to detail, humility and hardwork. Secondly, I am attracted to the distillation of natural imagery present in this culture's art forms. That said, I am beginning to become aware of the conventionalized forms this 'distillation' path has taken. Plum blossoms are represented in a manner so that we know they are plum blossoms. There is a shorthand for denoting pine trees. Certain plants are always found depicted together. I'm not expressing that well, but I sense that there is a vocabulary of forms in Japanese art that have become confining. Comfort vs. confinement- now there's an interesting dichotomy.

 

I'm also attracted to art nouveau/deco work. It's probably the synthesis of Japanese interest in nature, with a freer- more naturalistic approach to forms. There is some gorgeously abstract art nouveau jewelry though...

 

Is there anything new under the sun? Not sure. I don't ask myself this question often. Doesn't matter much to me.

 

oh- and Indian/Hindu art- one of my faves too. So much sensuousness, combined with formality. Would all those canted hips and bosoms work on a small scale?

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Guest ford hallam

Hi Doug,

 

you`re absolutely right about various aspects of japanese art being reduced to shorthand forms, although the tendancy is`nt limited to that particular culture.

however, I`d draw attention to that " select group of artists" I mentioned earlier, and there are again parallels in other cultures, their offerings are as a result of their own distillations and explorations, not formalised convention.

 

as for your observation on the dichotomy; comfort vs confinement, is`nt that a possible definition of society? ( anarchic smily )

 

Interestingly, I too was very drawn to art nouveau forms, for probably the same reasons. I would guess Jim is/was too.

 

your last query has me waiting impatiently for your next carving, :o , In my opinion you can never have too much "tits and ass" ( obviously not all on the same figure, that would be a waste ) ;)

 

Ford

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>>>your last query has me waiting impatiently for your next carving, :o , In my opinion you can never have too much "tits and ass" ( obviously not all on the same figure, that would be a waste ) :P <<<

 

They've got a hallway gallery of Hindu sculpture at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, which is tempting to say the least :D . Especially when I was a poor 20-something art student... ;)

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hiya Jim,

 

 

 

I`m intigued by your being inspired by the Japanese expression to nature. Do you feel a desire to "tidy up" expressions of nature, or perhaps a better way of putting it would be, to distill the essence of what you percieve to be nature. Is this perhaps in response to living so close to nature? Personally I think I`m inclined to dealing with a very distilled and focused view of aspects of the natural world. I think this way I can get more intimate, do you feel this? Maybe I find the entirety too overwhelming to try to say anything about it other than, WOW!  Would the corollary of that be town based artists who produce really "wild" images of nature in reaction to being too closeted or safe.  Hmmm....care to probe this with me?

 

always stirring, Ford :o

 

Hey Ford,

 

It's all quite difficult to verbalize, but I'll give it the old Yankee try. (pardon the geocentric conceit) I'm actually more of a westerner having grown up in central Washington state which sounds a lot like fynbos: arid, fragile but rich in natural beauty beyond some of the conventional standards. As kids we roamed freely and with abandon; something I 'm very grateful for today.

 

Japanese art opened me up to what I think is more of a universal point of view that can be found in many cultures living in close harmony to nature. I also feel a close affinity with ancient Celtic

modes of nature relating. Before finding Japanese art I studied Art Nouveau and Celtic art, without really knowing how much Japanese art had influenced the former.

 

I think there are a couple of things about the Japanese work that really knocks me out. One is the "distillation" you mentioned, where the essence of some great thing can be expressed in a

simple, but highly charged art work. As you know they developed a range of artistic vocabulary

having to do with subtle concepts that are rarely addressed in the West. I think they were no better humans than the rest of us, but perhaps under the influence of Zen and the island mentality, these concepts were explored in depth. The second thing that set me back on my heals was the total commitment to craftsmanship. These two things combined to produce work unlike anything else I've seen.

 

Somewhat paradoxically, having said all that, I don't think there is a "Japanese" approach that is somehow unattainable for the rest of us. What they tapped into is just as available to us as anyone else. The miracle of modern life is that we have so much of what has gone before available to us.(except perhaps the cheap, indentured, highly skilled, labor pool

;) ).

 

Whew, thanks for stirring!

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Guest ford hallam

Morning James,

 

I just knew you were a genuine "wild man", that thin veneer of civillisation can`t hide it. :D

 

I must agree with you when you point out that the so called "Japanese approach" is not unique to that island, but as you suggest, many of the aesthetic concerns and the philosophical background which informs that culture of making are not very evident in the western/Christian world.

 

Its hard to look at artifacts from the past that were produced by European cultures ( for instance, and because the modes of production have utterly changed since the industrial revolution ) and not project an idealised view of the artisans approach to his work. This is somewhat off the point but I often feel that a lot of what is percieved by non-makers ( perhaps we could have a code word for them, , it`s early! need more tea. ) is the romantic illusion of the idealised artist / craftsman (woman!). I reckon the Arts & Crafts movement is mainly to blame. not quite sure where I was going there, i`m sure its relevant somehow :P

 

One last thing though, I`m not completely convinced about the apparent Japanese closeness to nature. I`m beginning to think that as a result of the very unpredictability and violence of nature as experienced on that little string of islands the respone has been to attempt to curb, control and make it safe. Just think of all those earthquakes. which cause fires, typhoons, land slides during the monsoon periods, rivers flooding. I`d have a pretty ambivilent relationship with nature under those conditions. Today in fact ,Japanese rivers and mountain-sides are being clad in concrete at an alarming rate, to make them safe. In Kyoto a few years ago an avenue of 2 or 300 year old zelkovia trees were removed at the demand of local shop-keepers because the leaves made the place look untidy! :(;) I was trying to get at this rather strained relationship in my earlier post. Perhaps what is remarkable is the delicate and tender depictions of nature despite its tendency to turn nasty. More mulling called for. More tea and a long chat with Clivey :o

 

Thanks for listening, no one else will :(

Ford

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I am pulling 11 hour carving days, and my brain won't let me wander the thoughtful path at the end of the day. Reading the thoughts of others is much appreciated. Sorry for not contributing. I'll be more with it when I can.

 

Trying...to.. make... the brain ... contemplate.... Lets see....

 

I live in a temperate climate, which is overwhelmingly green by the end of spring. Life bursts forth with warmth and rain, even before the ice is out of the river when rock flies and snow fleas appear while snow is on the ground, until the final killing frosts and the last crickets and katydids are silenced. Climate changes and human intrusion upon the habitat affect the populations of the insects and critters that live here in spite of our presence. I have enjoyed hands and knees research with a flashlight at night, discovering what makes the sounds of the late summer nights, climbing into wild grape vines to see snowy tree crickets chanting. To others I might look a little odd, but I get to explore a wonderful world just outside my door. These things find their way into the work I do. I am so lucky!

 

Though I do have a small collection of books of contemporary netsuke-shi, and antiques, I do not study them very often, rather returning to them with a question which needs answering, or to visit old friends. I am self taught, growing from looking and "seeing" while drawing the lovelies, blooming, fruiting, crawling and hopping around in my world. I have grown through media from clays to wood, amber, mammoth, etc.

 

Early education with clay with Marguerite Wildenhain (Bauhaus) in California, encouraged me to "see" what I was looking at and to take what is characteristic from it. I also learned early to not emulate Marguerite's work, to follow my own path with her early teachings as one point of view. I must have written this here before elsewhere? Just using that as a segue to Ford's introductory query: clear vision: your own vocabulary; avoid conscious external input; what are you drawn to and why; philosophical or direct response to chosen medium...

 

By my remaining isolated from other carvers, it must result in very limited exposure to their work. I try to not take too much influence from viewing the work of others, hoping to keep my choices growing from one piece to the next. Does that encourage clear vision or the use of my own vocabulary? What I see and want to carve, the shape of the wood or materials available and the limitations presented by the tools I have gathered so far all influence each piece.

 

What I do want to learn from others are techniques and use of materials and tools, and continue to grow with what I do.

 

When there is ample time to slow down and think, I might be able to bring words together to express philosophical thought. Doing that is not a strength of mine, or perhaps I just do not recognize that in myself. I also do not draw together elements that illustrate the human condition which might result in philosophical relationships between characters. I see the eat or be eaten world just outside the door, the relationships between years of draught or abundant rains and the populations of frogs, katydids, crickets, mosquitoes, etc., the cycles of life...

 

One hope for my work, perhaps a philosophy, is that a carving might be able to bring a memory of pleasant past experiences to the one who holds the piece. Or, that it might bring a moment of peacefulness or happiness to the holder. Our lives are challenging enough with day to day living, and being blessed with the ability to be filled with joy while watching a tree frog in the morning light on a glistening raspberry leaf while gathering wild red berries, I simply want to share some of it with others.

 

Over the years of denying that my work is "like" Chinese or Japanese celadons or netsuke or defending the work as mid-western American, I try to point out what is truly similar about the work. The artists of the world who appreciate the plants and critters as I do, and who use those images in the work they do are what links us together. Not that I am using celadon and porcelain, or wood and the netsuke-like format. I carve life sized sculptures. It does not have to fit a function or into another culture to be valid.

 

Direct response to chosen medium... sometimes I shop for which piece of wood to carve next, by handling all the pieces of wood in my collections, contemplating and opening up the mind's eye. Those pieces are a direct response to the medium of choice. Other carvings, ones that are considered first by drawing or a desire to use particular subjects, the idea is first and the wood is sought which is then cut and grain-matched to fit the concept. There is no, one, way to begin a piece.

 

Why am I drawn to the world outside my door, the natural world, bugs, critters, plants... Who knows? Mom took us out on nature walks and rock hound hunts. I learned to not fear worms or beetles and be awed by it all. It still fascinates me. Thanks mom! My dad, the doctor, walked us through dissections of the fish we caught, pointing out this and that inside while using his tools of the trade...

 

Why am I drawn to carving? I don't know, but I have been doing it one way or another since I started making pots at the age of 19, ahem 35 years ago. Carving grew through cutting up pots, to cutting into their surfaces, into bas relief and surface/glaze treatments, until it became obviously apparent to me that carving wood was a necessary step. My adult life has been dependant upon creating something from a material of choice. (It has also been my only work for income.) I am happiest or most content when I am being creative. The pull from a piece on the bench beckons to me, to pull me back to it, new wood also beckons. One promise I made to myself when I learned that I was to become a mother, was that I must grow with each piece I carve, to explore and learn. That promise has been kept, met with many challenges, and still I love to carve and am eager to have the hours to do so. I feel so lucky!

 

OK. So I don't write or think like the other great philosophers here in the group, distilling the essence of contemplative thought regarding the habits of creative human-kind, but at least I got some thoughts written. I hope it fits the topic.

 

Janel (droopy eyed smilie with Zzzz's floating over head)

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Guest DFogg

I, too, have been following this thread closely, but haven't had the time or words to respond properly. Janel has motivated me to try this morning.

 

In my work the process is the motivation. Initially I went into the shop to quiet my mind and it is still the main reason I get up and go to work. Prior to working with my hands, my world was verbal and I had not given much thought to aesthetics, but when I began to do the work, I began to see the world differently.

 

I was raised a subsistence hunter and while I spent my entire youth in the woods, it was as a predator harvesting food. To this day I don't see forms as much as movement, patterns, shadow and contrast. I have had to learn to look for beauty.

 

Working with simple forms, as in the blade shapes, I began to realize how powerful a single line can be and how subtle changes can have a dramatic affect on the whole piece. My life as a craftsman has been a process of learning how to see. What I was attracted to five years ago appears different to me today.

 

I am attracted to pleasing lines and when I am working I always allow myself the freedom to adapted and follow the flow. I know that others are able to work out their designs on paper and then execute them, but flat designs are a mystery to me and I rarely draw anything other than to establish proportions and general directions. I accept this as a learning disability, but have learned to work with it.

 

As a viewer, I respond to other's work and I am often inspired by it, but what I take away from it is almost always unique. I could not copy others work, it is beyond my process, but I enjoy seeing what others have done with the materials and what they have discovered.

 

For the past few years I have used photography to help refine my eye. Digital cameras have allowed me to go out when the light is good and just snap whatever attracts my attention. I study these images for composition and try to discover what makes then beautiful and interesting. It is a way of absorbing line and form. I know from experience that it will eventually come out through the work and is part of me.

 

This is exhausting and I need to get on with the day. Thanks Ford for making me think about it and all of you for taking the time to share.

 

post-1-1122554834.jpg

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Guest ford hallam

Morning Don,

 

To be honest, I think that your approach to your work and my own are very much alike. The almost theraputic effect of the actual working process, the refuge into a word where your simple acts of making are the most eloquent statements of being you have. Personally, and speaking for myself, I feel that this is my most honest approach. I`ve also felt somewhat disadvantaged by the seeming separation from drawing and working the metal.

 

The piece I`m working on at the moment is probably the first genuine " ford hallam" piece `i`ve managed. There have been elements that pleased me in many of my previous works but I was always aware that I was looking for my own voice in all the myriad forms I`d been exposed to and explored.

 

You mentioned that your youth was spent hunting, that`s a pretty pure and direct state of physical interaction with the world. I`d suggest that that training has added to your way of working. I mean the need to observe very carefully, to move with absolute pecision, to respond correctly to the slightest sensory input ,not to mention the ability to function without trying to force the outcome. Similar skills but directed to a different end. What do you think?

 

I should also get back to the bench,

 

Ford

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Guest DFogg

Ford, I hadn't thought about the hunter skills at work, but we are formed by all those early impressions. I haven't hunted or picked up a gun in 35 years and only noticed that I had a particular way of looking at the world by studying others work and talking with them about their way of seeing.

 

There are too many assumptions made about the human experience and the tendancy is toward consensus norms. It wasn't too long ago when if you couldn't learn to read you were slow and only after someone thought to ask, were we made aware of dislexia and the way the mind can perceive patterns differently. I had a front row seat for that revelation because my mother was one of the early pioneers in special education. She taught by listening and carefully observing how each mind worked. It was a daily part of our lives, thinking about thinking.

 

Geez, sorry for the ramble.

 

Another bird bath picture for you from last fall.

 

 

post-1-1122647129.jpg

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Guest DFogg

Thanks Kathleen, I was feeling sheepish about my musing. I can also relate to the harsh climate you are from I grew up in northern New Hampshire right on the Quebec border. I remember coming in from playing in the snow and my pants were so frozen they would stand on their own. :)

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