1 Pots and Pans
For my first attempt at a stacked structure, I was inspired by Gupta’s Line of Control made out of a towering heap of pots and pans. The idea of re-imagining tools I use each and every day appealed. The kitchen was raided for pans but also other stainless steel items which had interesting but different shapes or textures such as a sieve, funnel or grater. There are a limited number of ways one can pile up pans to achieve height but these other utensils allowed me to vary the outline of the tower of pans. I wasn’t really expecting to achieve a terrific sculptural result; I saw this more as a way of working myself into the project.
To my surprise, I found myself really enjoying exploring the combinations of shapes and contrast in textures, especially when I came to draw them.
I like this combination of textures and convex with concave shapes.
This simplification looks like a jumping off point for something rather Picasso-esque.
This exercise was much more interesting than I thought it would be. Pans provided me with large rounded shapes with instant volume and presence. The addition of concave surfaces of different size and radius created negative spaces. The pan handles were used to create a radial dynamic when seen from above, echoed by the measuring cups. I particularly liked the relationship of the two planes of the herb cutter and the side of the pan.
The shapes reminded me of radar dishes or the ‘listening ear’ dishes and reflectors from WWII. I will return to this idea later, as I think it has exciting possibilities.
2 Drinking Straws
I didn’t realise it at the time but in retrospect I can see that my second stacked structure grew out of looking at Batchelor’s Parapillar and Rist’s Massachusetts Chandelier. I wanted to make something colourful using a translucent material and fixed upon plastic drinking straws.
Initially, after playing with a few simple sketches, I was thinking of building a simple tower but varying its shape using the bendy end of the straws. I used rubber bands to hold the straws together so that I could dismantle and reconstruct in various ways.
This didn’t produce anything very interesting or with enough physical presence. I then tried to build an open structure linking the straws by their looped ends. To do this I really needed loops at each end and so the straws were glued together with hot glue, end to end. To achieve this I shortened each straw, slit a small piece down the side creating an insert I could glue in place.
I couldn’t make a convincing structure by linking the straws but quite liked them piled up, so I decided to stack them threaded on a wire.
This was more interesting but a bit chaotic and lacking in rhythm. I decided to separate the double straws by short straw sections left over from fixing. This gave the structure much more volume and rhythm.
The structure was hung in space and lit. The translucent plastic almost glows. The shapes can be changed by twisting the straws differently, and this has an interesting holistic effect as everything moves in response, and the balance changes. At this point the most difference I could make to the structure without destroying it was to completely expand the straws to create the biggest volume possible. This created a rather spiky shape reminiscent of a plasma lamp, but not as interesting as the curled or knotted loops.
I recurled the ends and drew the work as best I could. Making sense of the shapes was difficult and I had no idea how to capture the very subtle tonal changes on the translucent plastic so I have concentrated on capturing the piled up colours and the twisty, curly ends. It was difficult to do much in the way of investigative drawing here since the structure was pretty much the same from any view (except lying looking up) or lit from any direction (being translucent).
My next exploration was therefore to destroy the structure. I wanted to see if melting the shapes added a new dimension. I hung the sculpture outside from a metal bracket and used a paint stripper hot air gun on it. Surprisingly, the plastic was completely resistant to this but spun madly. A blowtorch was used very sparingly to just melt the straws but not set fire to them.
I had hoped for a dripped structure but the plastic was too volatile. The expanded areas created some lovely shapes but only at a micro level. Sadly, a blow torch didn’t improve the work, but did destroy it.
Focusing on a minute detail, I produced my first drawing which I feel is properly ‘investigative’.
This exploration was all about using a readily available material selected for specific properties, colour and translucency, and seeing how far I could push it to create an interesting 3D structure.
I did manage to make a hanging stacked structure which was about 35cm high but it was too homogeneous to be interesting. There was a variation of colour through the piece and the straws are twisted or knotted in different ways but this doesn’t create enough interest. The spiky structure offers none of the satisfaction of the rotund cooking pots.
The only way to overcome the fundamental linear nature of the straws would be to work with them en masse, in much bigger quantities. Indeed, on searching, I could find a sculptor doing just this. Evan Blackwell masses straws and even melts them, as I tried to do, but with much greater success.
3. Paper Sculpture
One of my motivations for studying sculpture is my ambition to push my printmaking outside that tyranny of the rectangle, and, ideally, into a third dimension. I can find very few printmakers doing this, outside the creation of Artists’ Books, Paul Furneaux being a notable exception.
During my online research looking at stacked structures, I saw Damian Ortega’s Tortilla Structure and thought that this form of converting planar material into a 3D form would be one I could exploit for converting print on paper into sculpture. His structure is very regular but it would be possible to vary the form by making joins at other angles.
I selected a pile of old prints on 140lb cartridge paper. I chose colourful prints, many of which were also embossed with texture. Using a circular craft cutter, I cut a number of circles out of stiff paper and created a simple tool to cut slots at 90 or 120 degree angles.
Having established that I could make relatively stable structures provided that I cut small ‘v’s rather than slits, I cut circles from my prints and laminated them together to make stiff, double sided disks.
I experimented with stacks, cutting slots at combinations of angles.
I found that I could only create small structures using 120deg cuts, but much more stable ones if I used Ortega’s rectilinear method. Single layer rectanglar modules were therefore created with non rectangular extensions, and these modules were then added to each other to make a more stable, taller structure.
More disks were added at the extremes being careful to maintain a balance. A few disks of smaller size were created and added. Overall, I managed to get the structure to 37cm with reasonable stability and each time I move and remake it, it comes out satisfyingly different. I could have glued the pieces to create a permanent, more stable stucture, but I enjoy this idea of mutability.
Since my work is largely to be presented photographically, I have experimented with producing a video of this piece. This is my first attempt at videoing and I have clearly much to learn to produce something suitable to submit for assessment. The smoothness of this video varies, annoyingly, depending on which browser software is used to view it.
It was challenging to investigate this structure through drawing. Although it is made up of the same shape repeated, there is the issue of three point perspective combined with different sized disks and the fact that gravity is twisting some of them. I did a quick sketch in pencil first, just to try and find my way around. I then tried, in charcoal, to get a more grounded, sculptural feel, drawing through a lot of the shapes.
These don’t really investigate the colour and texture of the piece so I tried painting it in watercolour. Although I tried to capture the shadows, highlights and change in tone across the piece, I haven’t been particularly successful. I have captured some idea of the colourful complexity.
With plenty of paint left on my palette, I wet the whole of a piece of A3 watercolour paper and tried painting with just my finger, zooming in on just a central portion. I love getting messy! This was great fun, but I don’t know how investigative it is.
I hope that this structure strikes the viewer as colourful and intriguing. It is different from every angle and as one walks around it, colour combinations and textures appear and disappear. Some of the disks have random patterns of colour but some have recognisable portions of image such as a fern leaf. Some of the disks include digital images which were incorporated into the original prints using chine colle.
The structure does twist under its own weight if not very carefully balanced. Cutting by hand, even with a jig, means that small inaccuracies build up through the structure pulling it out of square. I could have glued it together, as it cannot be moved easily without rebuilding it and each time it is different, but I see this flexibility as a positive point.
I think this would work really well made from transparent coloured plastic and scaled up to a size where someone could walk through it, looking up through changing shapes and colours. It would also be good made from thin acetate which had been digitally printed.
Someone has told me that it reminds them of a child’s construction toy and, indeed, it is simple but playful.
4. Bottle caps
Amongst the stash of materials I have been collecting are lots of bottle tops which invite a stacked sculpture. Mary Ellen Croteau’s Endless Columns use bottle tops very effectively and in a way that clearly references Brancusi’s stacked sculptures. I wanted to do something a little different exploring beyond mere vertical stacking.
I liked the idea of creating shapes based on the huge, iconic, American cacti constructed by drilling a hole in each top and threading them on wire. This has the advantage of being reversible so that the shapes can be played with. However, the bottle tops just didn’t sit well on a wire, especially if curved, so this idea was abandoned.
I then tried stacking the tops in different ways, but stability was a problem as was varying the shapes. Cotton reels and other small plastic pieces were added for stability and variety.
I therefore adopted a module approach again, making small stacks in as varied a form as possible and gluing them together with hot glue to make modules which could then be stacked again.
This stucture has, a least, broken out of the vertical and has negative space elements. I felt it needed something linear so added a wire curve.
The base block was painted and the wire curve smoothed and wrapped in floss (Eva Hesse inspired). The red tops in the cup shape were replaced with a candle. The other red and yellow tops were replaced or painted white (where possible) to give more rhythm of colour.
I ended up with something which looked rather whimsical, like a cross between a telephone and a windmill reminicient of Emmet. To disrupt this, I painted the whole structure in a gloopy mix of PVA glue and tile cement.
This altered the feel of the work completely.
I considered painting this, black say, to eliminate any colour showing through and make it look more brutal but decided that a more radical change would be good and took my blow torch to it. It collapsed into two pieces, giving me units to play around with again. The burning produced great textures and new shapes.
Trying out different combinations:
I like the collasped and decayed shapes as an antithesis to the original ‘telly tubbie’ tower. I chose one particular arrangement and did a couple of A2 drawings. In the first I spattered sepia and balck ink into a wash to create ‘burn’ marks before developing the shapes with Artbars. A lot of water was splashed on the make the background run and mimic the melted effect.
The ink was very effective but I struggled to define the shapes and tone with the Artbars. I then turned to charcoal, ink and white acrylic paint for two studies in different light and from different angles. These involved a lot of obliteration and restatement. They capture the tone and burn marks better but not the soft melted edges.
I was attracted to trying to make a structure from everyday, discarded objects but it is very difficult to transcend their hard, uniform shape and familiarity. Coating the structure in gloop helped and modifying it with heat to the brink of distruction at last moved it beyond a mere heap of bottle tops. The melting and rearrangement created a sense of teatering balance and imminent ruin which is far more interesting than smooth, regular, familiar shapes and certainly much more engaging to draw.
Using many small shapes has lead to a complex, rather chaotic structure which I find inherently unsatisfying. A structure with fewer shapes, with more relevance to each other, would be more powerful. I think my failure to produce anything very interesting or satisfying is rooted in process; I have taken a pile of materials and tried to make something of them rather than having a sound idea and seeking suitable materials to execute it.
5. Listening Ear
My first structure with pots and pans had reminded me of radar dishes and the acoustic mirrors of WWI and II nicknamed the listening ears. These occur at various points of the coast but the best preserved are on Romney Marsh.
This last image is labelled as a ruined structure but I do wonder if it was designed as a sculpture to look ruined; the top edges look very crisp. I find it reminiscent of two supplicant hands reach upwards. The mix of curves and angles in these structures gives them a lightness and grace which contrasts with the heavy solidity of concrete.
I thought about using some of my utensils to cast shapes to combine and was thinking perhaps papier mache would be suitable. A little internet research made me think of making my own ‘paper clay’. Recipes combined plaster, paper pulp and pva glue, and I addapted this by combining a pulped loo roll, tile cement (left over from collagraph making) and pva.
The thinnest layers of clay dried quite quickly (a couple of days) and were pretty strong and light. The thickest cracked under its own weight and took several weeks to dry. To speed drying, I released some of the shapes from the moulds before fully dry and some warped a bit.
The paper pulp produced a slightly lumpy, rough texture and uneven edges which I think is pleasing.
Initially, I tried stacking and balancing the shapes to explore how they might works together; I didn’t want to fix them irreversibly straight away. This produced some interesting shapes but with out the size and volume I was looking for. I considered mounting them on some slate which would have made them pleasingly monumental, but I couldn’t work out how to stand the slate vertically, securely. My shapes where taking on a monolithic feel and I could imagine the work scaled up in the landscape.
Here I was considering a polystyrene pillar (using a tape real and bottle of medium as temporary supports) but I didn’t like the combination of textures or the scale of the slab of polystyrene. Instead, I looked at a remanidered piece of pine pallet wood left over from Project 2, and I think the texture and broken shape is much more interesting than the uniformity of the polystyrene. It is a little small, so I experiemented with other pieces of scrap timber. Timber could be mounted vertically on a plinth using screws, unlike the slate.
Throughout this consttruction, I kept playing in my sketchbooks, feeling around combinations of shapes.
Thinking back to the original acoustic dishes and the broken pine, I considered how I might alter the surface to weather it. One piece had been inadvertently marked with charcoal whilst sketching, so I extended this to the whole piece to see the over all effect.
Just rubbing the paper clay with charcoaly hands produced an interesting effect, picking out the texture without overcoming it and highlighting the edges. To increase the weathered effect, I charred the broken pine planking. considered removing a piece of strip wood which I had used to pracice gluing for an earlier sculpture,deciding it was part of the historyy of the wood. The charring brought out the grain well.
Having decided on my final arrangemnet, I screwed the pine to a base board and hot glued my selected elements to the pine.