Bradford Graves

Bradford Graves'  Writings

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To Construct a Sculpture

Where and how does a sculpture begin? How is it formulated in the

mind and realized in matter?

Images that motivate the desire for making sculpture may arise from

non-visual as well as three dimensional forms. I believe that these

images are developing in the mind even if they remain on the sub-

conscious level and only begin to emerge after the shaping of the

material has started. I may approach materials free of associations, or

at least make an attempt to do so, but as soon as the shaping starts,

past images will enter into the form.

As stated above, these images may have their source in origins other

than visual. The may arise from the sound and silence in music, as in

Coltrane's complex variations in "Saturn." It may be the smoke rising

from the battlefield in Stephen Crane's novel "Red Badge of Courage" or in the sensation of the

two sides of an avocado leaf--one side smooth, the other rough. Although one is dealing with

sculpture, a visual art, we must develop fully and integrate all our sensibilities. You may couple

this with the visual arts not directly related to sculpture. It can be the party as seen reflected and

enlarged through glass in the film "Citizen Kane," the Open Theatre's "Terminal," Merce

Cunningham's dance or Mark Rothko's colors loaded with mystery.

It's important to base a visual memory on all thing recorded by the mind. An interesting

experiment is to fill a paper with images based on memory to see how combinations are arrived

at and what will be rejected. It can be thought of as learning the English language. As a child, one

says "See Spot run." As we use the language our vocabulary grows in order to express all

shades of meaning.

Sculpture begins with the self, and all its likes, dislikes, and limitations. A vast interior is within

each of us, a universe in completion with some of the stars shining bright, while others are

obsured in darkness. If one wants to get to the source, get into your soul, turn on the lights and

see everything.

So far, this is still the preparation and not the acutal making of sculpture. Ultimately, the sculpture

must have its own reason for existing so that references outside of its own formulation ceases.

The subject will then become the sculpture itself.

What is required in both perceiving and creating sculpture is a balance. To experience sculpture ,

discovering a little about the artist and a great deal on expanding your vision through the

perception of three dimensional qualities, is the synthesis you will want to achieve. The freer the

form is from associations, the more it will gain in universality. When the treatment of form is too

intellectual, meaning is given to its literary value, and a form is made to mean a specific thing

rather than allowing the unconscious to ruse up and take form. The beginning of art is not in

mental association but rather in the unconscious that has implications for all of us. Most people

are only able to project emotion into a figurative statement. However, that is not to imply that non-

figurative sculpture is without emotional content.

I have discussed the image. Now I'll proceed to its realization. The idea may be first tested out on

a small scale called a maquette, or model, a warming up exercise to discover if the idea is useful

to pursue further. It is best done in any material that is inexpensive and in which you can work

quickly such as paper, clay, plaster, or cardboard.

If the maquette has the feeling of looking right, which also implies that it may look clumsy or awkward, you can

move on to realizing that image on a larger, physical scale. The first decision you have to make, is deciding what

material you will use for the enlargement, and the second decsion concerns the scale you will do the larger piece

on. What is the right material for the image, and how large or small should the sculpture be? Dimension is the inner

measuring of the forms, and scale is the measuring of the sculpture to the world surrounding it.

We usually tend to give sculpture a scale based on our own physical scale in the world. This personal scale may

be both physical and psychologica. At what level do our eyes look out upon the world and perceive it? We may live

in the city surrounded by tall building, working in a dark roo,, lit by unnatural light, or we may be in the county

measuring ourselves against mountains, seen through swift moving clouds that are illuminated by the sharp rays

of the sun. OUr environment questions us constantly on how we fee about ourselves. Are we large enough to give

battle to the elements on equal footing, or are we growing smaller in the darkness of closets? It takes conscious

effort to make the sculpture relative to itself. By this I mean seeing the sculpture as an entity, seeking its own


How man perceives himself has changed drastically in the last seventy years. For centuries man has looked out

upon the world astride a horse, giving him an elevation of eleven feet. How different the world looked to him than it

does to us. He was closer to the animal world as together they devoured space. Now we ride through space, sitting

capsulized within a machine. Perceiving the world through glass, we are separated from space. From five feet we

view the world, which has grown smaller as the horizon becomes closer.

Our eyes are narrowed to the grey line of concrete that now acts as our

guide. We move through space unaware of it, without ceremony.

If we can establish the material and scale, the relationship between

gravity and sculpture must next be worked upon. Gravity is a force we

contend with every day of our lives. We either succumb to gravity, lying

down, or we stand upon the earth. The sculpture must do the same in a

dialogue with gravity, as manifestd in the ground plan. Will the piece roll

with gravity, or defy it? This dialogue is the core of the sculpture, the

unseen internal goings-on behind the surface, and is called the axis.

Should the axis move horizontally, hugging the ground in a close

relationship, or pull away in a vertical position? New England church

spires are a good example of the vertical axis, a needle, point jabbing into space, as if it were fighting to stay clear

of the earth.

A sculpture may have more than one axis, combining vertical and horizontal. If it does, then a balance should be

maintained so that an internal conflict isn't set up. A relationship can have contrast, but the sculpture shouldn't

have to fight itself. It has enough fighting to do just to maintain a place in the world. It is also possible to push the

axis off the piece, or to the outer limits.

Once the internal ordering is established, the process of external ordering of form is begun. Will the forms be

simple or complex? As the viewers eyes perceive the forms they should be drawn into the piece. If the eye is

faced with chaos, it won't be able to differentiate the sculpture from the every day jumble of surrounding images. If

the eye moves too easily through a sculpture, one will not be challenged, and loss of interest will occur. A balance

must be maintained so that the eye moves into a piece through a rhythm of forms punctuated by a disruption of

unresolved form while maintaining a unity.

Once the forms are ordered, the surfaces must be prepared. How will the forms meet the surrounding space? Will

they slide together smoothly, or clash? It is at this stage of development that our tactile, or touch sense, is brought

into the sculpture. Should the sculpture encourage people to touch it. or try to maintain a distance? Touching

reinforces the visual memory of a sculpture. How well I remember seeing and toughing Michelangelo's "Night," a

reclining figure of a man representing night, which is in the Medici Chapel in Florence, Italy. The toe of this

sculpture glows from centuries of having been touched.

Finally, the color of the form must be established. Color is now applied to both natural or manufactured material.

The artificial coloring of form was questioned until recently. For example, Rodin could never accept the fact that

the Greeks painted their marble statues. Today, color on any material is accepted as an integral part of the


There are three categories of color: the natural coloring of the material itself/ the addition of color; and light falling

on the sculpture. The first two categories can be controlled by the sculptor, but the last is usually outside his area

of control. Materials usually look better in their natural state, but they can be strengthened at times through the

application of color. The color must be integrated with the form and not give a two-dimensional surface to the

sculpture, as if it were a skin on the form. Smooth surfaces tend to fuse color into the form more easily than

textured surfaces in whch the color can act as a concealment to the form.

Color can also help to clarify a combination of forms and to sharpen the imagery. Light, natural or artificial, falling

on a piece, can give weight to certain forms, brightening one form and allowing others to recede into shadow. The

dangers are that the light can become a theatrical device, allowing a two dimensional silhouette to dominate the

forms rather than their three dimensional qualities.

The sculpture is now completed, ready to leave the studio and meet the world. Is this sculpture an indoor or an

outdoor piece? Will it exist on the ground level, eye level, or above? Our eye level states the scale, and we move

up or down off of it. If the sculpture is based and artificially placed at eye level with a pedestal, it acts as a barrier

to the environment, isolating the piece the same way a frame isolates a painting. The base-pedestal may be

integrated into the sculpture, still maintaining it function as

support, but may become the focal point of the sculpture.

Tradition has passed down to us this process for the making of

sculpture. To take as fact the traditional process is to defeat

sculpture. Each sculpture must create its own rules while in the

process of being made, and its own theories for existing, not

packaged into a set of pre-existing limitations.

Theories, rules, laws, and ideals do not make art. Art comes out

of one's inner fire that may drive a person into making mistakes,

but we may learn more about ourselves from our mistakes than

from our successes.

Sculpture should be a process of crystalization. First there is an

idea, the basis of an internal ordering of a structure, expanded or split into different shapes, constantly changing in

direction, attracted and repulsed by various forces. The form of the work is the consequence of this inter-action.

Thus, every new work should be a new crystal, a new being, not reproducing each other, but rather a new set of

crystals. Like stars in the night skies, each defined by its own space, but interacting together, making up the fabric

of a universe.


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