Bradford Graves

Bradford Graves'  Writings

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There are two materials for sculpture. One is the actual physical

matter to be worked upon, and the second is the life experiences

of the sculptor.

Traditionally, the sculptor had to choose stone, wood, clay, or

bronze as his material. Sculpture was expected to survive the

ages and had to be realized in hard durable materials. Today, the

sculptor is able to range over any material that suits the

creation of a particular idea. There are now sculptures that are

soft, pliable, that readily mold themselves to the environment.

The environment itself is a subject for sculpture in which further form change is left to nature's ecology.

The new approach to material was one of the first statements found in modern sculpture. Since the end

of the Renaissance until the beginning of the twentieth century, materials had been abused by the

sculptor. Works were first done in one material, such as clay, on a small scale, and then transferred to

another material such as stone without regard to structure or scale. A sculptor would make an image

ten inches high in clay and then a battery of artisans would enlarge that image into stone through the

use of measuring tools, and the sculpture would be placed on a site without regard for the visual scale

of the final location. Often the sculptor didn't even see the finished piece. Stone sculptures were molded

from wet clay. Stone is carved, hard, durable material, not a plastic material that is modeled such as

clay. In the nineteenth century, the manufacture of sculpture became dominant, executed by artisans,

and the quantity of sculpture produced had an inverse proportion to the quality.

Modern sculpture began with the sculptor re-asserting himself with the object and the material. The

sculptor worked directly on the material, and with stone this was called "direct stone carving." This

meant that the sculptor worked on the stone without having previously made a model in another

material, allowing the individual stone to suggest shapes. This is a process that allows the sculptor to

improvise as the work progresses.

This led the sculptor to the concept "Truth to Materials." This meant that each

material had a look and feeling that demanded the sculpture to be developed

fully in that direction. It became apparent that this placed a limitation on the

inception of a piece, and as a concept it went the traditional route of developing

into a mystique of materials.

Does stone have a stony look, does wood have a woody look? And what does

that even mean? "Truth to materials" is a psychological statement that can

change from sculptor to sculptor dealing with man's world, and is not about the

nature of material. the only truth that doesn't change is that a sculptor must

take into consideration the structural properties of a material.

Material is chosen according to the form of the content. Can the material hold the image? Should the

form be hot or cold? You can have a cold image in a natural material such as dead white marble, or a hot

form in an industrial material such as a cool plastic. Cold and hot forms depend upon the total

configuration of the piece and the relationships of the forms. The crossing of image and material is

another reason "truth to materials" is no longer valid. Must a material be defined as to what is "truth"

and thus be limited?

A sculptor may select a material and fit his idea to it or he may have an idea and fit the material to it. The

first idea is a physical one, and the second, a mental one, but both have the same results. It's important

to maintain an open attitude and to experiment, combining, combining or reversing the above two

processes with material in a single piece. Soon, the experimental stage between sculptor and material

ends, a direction is found, and the experimenting is then, in its turn, left to the viewer. He will then have

to devise ways of relating the new materials of sculpture to his concept of what sculpture should be.

As I said at the beginning of this section, the world of the sculptor is also material for sculpture. Each

age demands its own art. The art of other ages can give us insights, but no answers. Our age is one of

dissolution, and this is the material of our art. The summarizers and reflectors, using dissolution and

disorder, create an art not from, but out of disorder, spreading the process of coming apart. Another

approach is to work from the disorder, attempting to fabricate an order that rises to a whole. To maintain

a sense of wholeness, a principle of order is required of an art work. In an age that is going into a state of

chaos, the artist must work harder, with a more violent effort, in order to effect his synthesis. He must

literally make the plastic form of his vision from the substance of experience without the guide of an

aesthetic tradition.


A Legacy Carved in Stone



Sculpture - A Definition

by David Smith from "David Smith"


The Handling of Materials

To Construct a Sculpture

The Making of a Sculpture

The Mythology of Stone








Brad's Writings 

Selected Essays