Gruhn's Sculpture

Pile of Rust #1
Pile of Rust #2
Tour of Campus Sculpture at Scottsdale Community College

Sculpture 1 class work

Seems like the sculptures are out of order because they are.

Buddhist Guy
And then I set about trying to decide what to carve. Again, many sheets of paper were filled with ideas. I finally found an idea that I liked. When I got my block freed from the box and sat down ready to carve, I found that I'd left the proper notebook at home. So I started drawing again.

Eventually the kneeling person came out. I sketched the two primary profiles on my block and set to with heavy chisels to rough it out. As soon as I had got the first bout of roughing out completed, I noticed that I had already made a mistake. That mistake shows in the final piece by the lower torso cutting back in and leaving a bit of a lap on the crossed legs. The original concept had more of a full belly.

The final piece came out looking a bit top heavy I'm afraid - shoulders too large and legs to small.

The nose was an afterthought during carving. As I was reducing the head to near to complete shape I took it on a whim to leave a bit to make a nose out of. Heck, if I didn't like it I could always pare it off. In the end, I found the nose to add a nice touch of humanity. Recent sophisticated computer manipulation suggests that the nose is actually a great benefit. One simple reason could be that the piece doesn't look quite human enough without it for people to recognize it. Eye depressions or a brow ridge may have worked just as well. Also, without the nose, the head looks just a bit big and empty for the rest of the piece. The nose breaks up some of the monotony of the head.

The sculpture has always been a representation of a Buddhist monk at rest or even in meditation. The finely smoothed surface gives the piece a sense of austerity suited to the still monk. It also makes the work one of abstract minimalist reference. This is the idea of monk, not some specific monk.

The piece looks good and does so from most any angle. Personally I would refine some of the shapes in a second attempt. There are balances curves and symmetries that don't quite please me. The plaster and the curves pick up the light nicely, giving a variety of different tonal areas and gradations. The deep score lines and crevasses create shadow lines which separate the shapes with a pleasant crispness, preventing the sculpture from becoming a lump of lost putty. Overall, the piece has a fair bit of life and action on its surface. More than the initially simple shapes would imply.

Fourteen (accompanying illustration is in error) separate pieces of wire, each bent to form on spine section and one leg of an insect. One extra piece is bent in the form of antennae and another as a tail. The wires are placed on the plane so that they form an array of legs with a central spinal ridge or sail. The resultant image is reminiscent of some manner of bug or dinosaur.

This one was the result of a few pages of sketching. The repeated ribs/legs/spines theme surfaces again this semester. This time, a bit of a play is made with the linear nature of the wire being set at right angles to the main disjoint linear organization of the piece. That is, the sculpture relies on a straight line for its structure and order, yet each linear piece of wire that comprises the sculpture works at cross angles to that primary line. There is no line in the main body of the bug. The line is established only by the tail and the placement of the remaining pieces.

Careful attention was given to the tail and antennae pieces. Any minor problems in the central pieces are hidden by their neighbours. The overall sense of wiggly legs and rigid spinal sail is maintained. The two terminal pieces on the other hand have different images to make and are required to do so on their own. As such, they have to be more articulate.

An interesting point of note is that of the many times this piece has been assembled, it may have never been assembled the same way twice. Yet still, it is the same piece.

Time and a lack of familiarity with the medium caused me to make the constituent pieces by whimsy as I went. Bend this way and that on the anvil, looking for what might be pleasant to the eye. Some individual pieces are more attractive than others. I did try to make them somewhat different from each other as I went along. Some are more inclined to tip over than others. A second attempt would involve more careful planning of the shapes so that the array of legs were not formed quite so randomly. There is a form there and I should try to shape it to my will, not my accident. Even with its foibles, this piece rocks.

Purple Thing
A crescent spine supports a number of outwardly pointing crescent shaped ribs.

It took n pages of doodling and exploring, but then when I saw the two intersecting crescents fall out of the stupid globe thing suddenly I knew the right thing to do. I suppose that somewhere in the back of my head a stegosaur skeleton model I once owned was involved in showing me the basic structure.

There's a lot to see in this piece. The supporting crescent strongly evokes the classic children's book Moon. The one rib with the extra shaping on the inner edge adds just enough to suggest the man in the Moon's nose. There's also something distinctly crunchy bug threatening about it. Too many legs, too many pointy bits for comfort. If it were a skeleton, it would be nice if it were to lie down and die like a decent fossil. The basic rules of vertebrates are violated in that the spine curves far back on itself with the body cavity full and round spread along the extended belly line. This contortionist act is visibly painful to watch in skinny adolescent gymnasts and here, can only mean extreme pain. And then, in the next eye-blink you see this contorted unnatural creature moving forward with nothing but malice.

The purple colouring works well to shroud the details of the form in a little bit of mystery. The body fills out in the mind's eye.

This is a darned fine piece.

Chained Pyramids
Two tetrahedrons, differing in size, their edges traced in wire. A chain hangs between their apexes.

Triangles are good ;-).

Simple geometric shapes traced on their edges by the wire. The wire doesn't even trace all edges, only a subset. The resulting form has a bilateral symmetry, mouths opening in opposite directions. As they sit on the plane, the forms have an "open" side and a "closed" side. These two present their open sides towards each other. As if in conversation. Their tops lean towards each other in communion rather than pull away from each other. The tie between them is emphasized by the chain which links their peaks. The chain is a third party token. It belongs to neither and both. It hangs limp, draped on each form. There is no tug of war going on here. Only the space between the forms indicates separation rather than union.

The placement of the forms and chain is critical. Turning a shape from the center would indicate rejection. Tension on the chain would be the result of tension between the two. Depending on which way the forms face the meaning of the tension would change. There could be attempted escape; demanding possession; revulsion. With care, even play could be denoted.

These two shapes are in agreement and like each other. The size difference indicates a subordinate/superior relationship, but not one that is rooted in force.

A simple yet elegant and eloquent piece.

Wish Bone
One piece of wood cut with various long curves to generate a free standing form not unlike a wishbone.

The result of some paper sketching. I was looking for something 3d. Not a cookie cutter thick 2d shape. Not an assemblage of arbitrary bits. Some one single 3d gesture. An elegant form. Some single pretty thing. Slowly this took shape.

It has a nice front/side counter in that the side view shows a single '(' shape leaning just a bit precariously and probably stable only due to being bottom heavy while the front view shows two bow legs in essentially a stable A-frame configuration.

Yet the A-frame is confounded by having bow legs with the feet placed too close together for comfort. The form gets lighter as it rises to the point where the legs join in almost a thin plane which tapers off to nothing. While the shape seems unsteady on its feet (and it is) it is reaching for the sky. The reach isn't a yearning reach, but more the directional indicator left behind by something which has just leapt up and flown away. The last tenuous heavy moments of contact with earth give way to the air and the body is freed into flight away.

While in its own way, this piece is fairly content free, the narrative and complexity of the form please my eye and soul.

Viewed from above, the piece is not all that much to look at. A small smudge with a gap. I don't know that this is actually important.

Telephone Pole Tree
Arms of various lengths attached to a central trunk. All arms are white and run perpendicular to the trunk. Except one arm, the shortest of the lot runs at a slope to the trunk and is coloured red.

I like good old telephone poles. The ones with lots of cross bars and wires. This started there.

In geometry class, they teach you about different ways lines can be in relation to each other. There's parallel and perpendicular and non-perpendicular intersecting. These three states can exist in the plane. But when you move into three dimensions, only then, you get a new option. By far my favourite of the lot - skew. Two lines that are not parallel and do not intersect. They pass each other. There is some point on each that is the point closest to the other line. The angle of their passing may be dramatic or shallow and gentle. They may be near or far. If two planes travel nearly crossing paths in the sky, they may miss each other by tens of minutes, never catching a glimpse of the other. But if you consider the full existence of the line, long solid and straight, outside of time, the two lines always pass. You always get that quick look in the window to wave at unknown travelers on unknown journeys. This started there.

Viewed from the front, all of the white arms cross the trunk at right angles. If the trunk were a square, then when viewed from off the end of the trunk, the arms would cross each other at right angles. The whole thing would die right there. Too static. By making the trunk three sided, I cause the end view to be of arms crossing at sixty degree angles. By shifting its view, the viewer changes the view from rectangles to triangles. Triangles are good. I forget how to articulate why, but I learned this in graphic arts and I learned this in photography and I learned this in structures. Triangles are good. I made triangles.

The smallest arm is coloured red and is not perpendicular to the trunk. Its being the smallest suits its being strongly coloured. The colour has strength of its own. Were a longer arm coloured, it would form a different dominant axis and fight with the central trunk in ways that I don't think would please me. Short, the red arm draws attention to itself and its off axis behaviour. Just enough to punctuate, anchor even, without dominating.

The off axis behaviour of the red arm is a hint that there are other directions, planes, frames of reference that exist in three space that are not within the strict bounds of this constructions.

The red arm also completes an inherent reference of the overall structure to the Crucifixion and the Russian Cross. The white arms alone suggest the classic Russian Cross and red arm, by skewing beyond the structural rules of the white elements declares itself to be other than the Cross. Of course, that which is on the cross but is not of the cross must be the crucified - wounded, listing, bloody.

A wire bent to form its own base and two straight arms pointing into the air crossing to form an X. Chain mail hangs suspended at the intersection.

I just now had a look for a paper trail on this piece. I can't find even a remote ancestor for it. It would appear to have sprung full formed into my head. Perhaps I was just futzing about with wire and made something that brought the X form to mind and the chain mail was lurking in the back of my mind during the whole wire project, looking for a place to stretch or drape itself.

I had a fairly large number of small links formed up into mail and knew that it would take far too long to make a large enough piece of small ring mail to complete this piece, so I resorted to larger rings. The copper on the rings does add some colour and texture to the mail, but it really came about as a way to seal the rings, as they had been unlinking at all the wrong times.

Obviously I still had the Crucifix in my mind from the paper project. Also, somewhere on my artist's statement it says "All of my art is about Man's Inhumanity To Man". And taken out of the context of the Crucifixion being a necessary element of God's big plan, it's a pretty inhuman way to die.

My goal was to make the chain mail (element of protection and strength) hang limp like the dead body of Christ, or the empty cloth he is classically depicted wearing in Crucifixion paintings. The corner at the top doubled over the front of the sheet as a head gone limp in despair or death.

I think I should have stuck with the small ring chain.

That, and I can't help but seeing the upper reaches of the X as Richard M. Nixon's arms thrust straight up in the air declaring "I am not a crook". While this does have relevance to the siting of the Crucifixion as a savage little pun, I just find the idea of Nixon as Christ disturbing.

Two Faces
One piece of wire traces out two simple stylized geometric silhouettes. Each silhouette is planar yet they are set at an angle to each other.

A sketch that only saw the light of day because I had an extra twenty minutes one day before it was time to leave.

Again a subordinate/superior relationship is illustrated. One face is larger and has enough "rank" to warrant an eye. The faces are close, they face the same way, they don't face each other. This may be the same couple as shown in Chained Pyramids, but focusing on a different aspect of the relationship. Not the internal ties between the two entities but rather the united face they present to the world. Not "I/you", but "we".

Without the eye, the shapes would have more ambiguity. They could be claws reaching into space. The eye says "this is a face. It faces this way." The second face doesn't need an eye. It is a face by association.

While, due to a memory error, this piece is not exactly as the original sketch, it is still a very strong piece. A second attempt should try to make the faces more up right. When viewed from front on, each face cants to the outside somewhat.

Four heavy uprights holding up a central piece.

This started life as an elegant form that seemed to really want to be a lamp. The construction of the legs did not go as well as hoped. This was mostly due to my inexperience with materials and methods. My goal was for a more refined piece. Maybe if I had worked larger, I could have done better.

Furthermore, the simple cookie cutter shapes that make up the piece bothered me. I was still thinking of the more developed multidimensionality exhibited by the Wish Bone piece.

Then when it came to making the thin shelled pyramid for the top, I found that I just might not be able to make it easily with the material at hand. Already unhappy with how the piece was progressing, I abandoned it.

A second attempt would need better drawings to determine size. Also, this sculptor would need better wood working skills.

Square and Circle
White square toroid of square section. Built massively, the square is an object at rest. Given its druthers, the square would sit on edge or (especially when disturbed) fall to it lie low on its large face. In this sculpture, the square is caught at just such a moment. A bright orange cylinder shoots up from the plane and pierces the torus through its central hole. As the tube reaches for the sky, the torus falls. The cylinder though arrests its fall.

There is a degree of ambiguity - is the cylinder propping up the square or preventing it from resting; is the square embracing the cylinder or desperately trying to snap it. This is one of the many pieces I have done this semester that really feels like a maquette for a much larger piece.

A number of variants were made on the computer, mostly different colour combinations but including stuff as different as a bark covered log and a rough hewn granite square. Only two of these images survive. These are attached. In the end, the colours separate on the different pieces is probably best for the effect of physical differentiation and also for the subtle colour bleed from the cylinder onto the square.

Circles In Squares
Two half cubes, oriented vertically, stacked. Each is cut by thin slices from the outer edges of the square towards the center. The cuts stop at locations defining a circle. The bottom square is complete and the cuts are made radially. The top square has lost some mass and appears as a cross shape. The cuts are made perpendicular to the edges through which they are made.

As I was making cuts for other pieces, I found I needed to make cuts that weren't quite within the radius bounds of the band saw. I solved this problem by making cuts straight into the curve that I wanted to cut. By making a number of these close together, I could then follow the desired curve with pieces of wood falling away from the blade very frequently thus preventing the blade from binding.

This awakened in me pleasant visions of calculus so I spent a bit of time dwelling on the theme. Even playing with it when I didn't really need to. The idea of defining a shape by implication is always appealing and the circle in a square is a classic. So I cut these two pieces.

In the illustration here, they look like they succeed. The external square is strong; the internal circle is fairly strong; the lines show up. But in real life, they just don't make the cut. The circles are harder to see and the cuts aren't prominent enough.

The idea also holds some promise for good moiré effects as the front and back planes interfere with each other. But sadly, that effect is very limited in these pieces.

And, in the end, they are fairly 2d.

Making the cuts wider might help by strengthening the sacrifice of the square to define the circle and also by adding some depth interest. Wider cuts should also help increase the play of moiré. A caution is required though, as even with the fairly thin cuts that I made, on the radial piece in particular, the individual fins are very delicately attached. In fact, I did have to glue a number of fins back into the piece after they broke off in a handling error.

The perpendicular cut piece may never really work out. Having to lose the corners creates the new cross shape. This overpowers the square and the circle becomes faint. Perhaps by making the circle larger, the cuts more shallow, the idea could be saved.

A shrimp or penguin shape lies open on the ground. Its ribs exposed to the open air and the bleaching sun.

The shrimp was an act of accident. After being frustrated by the penguin shape, I spent a few moments playing with related generating curves. The normal penguin was made from three flat shapes, each bounded by two curves; one in the shape of an 'S' and the other the shape of a '('. This form was made from two shapes, one bounded both sides by '('s, the other by 'S's. The '{' shape was cut small and any hope for a graceful enclosed form was immediately abandoned. But the form lay there. On the table. Staring up at me. My inner architect started wandering around inside the space under the wall. I dug it. Yet, it wasn't "done". This one came to me in a vision, no need for sketch paper. Arches, ribs, tunnel, colonnade. So I cut them out and glued them on.

It'd be a good place to walk around in. Make it out of brick and glue lam nice and big. Spread canvas across the ribs in the rain or summer sun. Maybe make it smaller for kids to play around. Surround it with grass. Or leave it the size it is, stick a light bulb in it and slap it on the wall. It is a great shape, a great space, but I think it comes up short if looked at in its current guise as a tabletop curio.

Touchy Feely
A vaguely wedge shaped piece of wood cut at the grain into a terraced contour surface.

This started as a piece of scrap from some other work. The grain looked kind of nice so I started cutting into it to show off the curves and give it some tactile dimension.

Every now and then I get to thinking on the subject of how to make art for blind people. While the easy answer is "Sculpture. Duh, I mean, they can go touch it to find out what it looks like." That answer has a fatal flaw - "looks like". What's really going on in that explanation is allowing blind people to experience art for sighted people. That's not quite what I asked for. A better answer might be "music". But that seems a bit of a cop out to me.

I used to walk buy a bunch of dorm rooms on campus. I'd look in the windows and see beer can collections and posters and parachute ceilings… the whole gamut of dorm room decoration. And then I'd get to Mike's room. It was bare yellow walls. The bareness was Mike's choice, the yellow the school's. Mike couldn't see. How would his room be different if he had art in it? What would he put on his book shelf to give him aesthetic pleasure?

So this piece isn't really meant to be seen, it is meant to be touched. Sure, it has a visual aspect and I do work to make that pleasant, but I really hope for this to be something that people will want to hold and touch and stroke and trace and explore.

It's "OK". Around the one end it gets almost teeth, around the other end the shallow side on grain becomes close deep ridges. But the visual pattern and rhythm doesn't quite pick up on the fingers. I don't seem to have disassociated my mind from my eyes quite enough.

Triangles Ascending
A number of identical triangular flats of wood assembled in a mostly symmetrical composition. Painted in a gradient black to white, top to bottom.

I had a bunch of things being spray painted. The spraying didn't take long but the waiting did. So I poked around in my box and found these triangles that weren't destined to become part of the lamp-like thing for which Legs was made. So I started seeing how I could fit them together. I became bored with repeated patterns of flowers and flocks of birds. In time I hit upon a nice juxtaposition of four of them. Then added a base and wings and reaching finial and finally some asymmetric filler pieces to flesh it out.

I read in the text for the 3d class that dark colours are heavy and light colours are light. This was accompanied by a sculpture coloured so that the dark parts were a stable heavy base and the light bits were lifting light pieces. I believe the point may have been that one would be wise to be cautious about messing with the nature of things. I immediately sketched the photo with colours swapped. I rather liked the end result.

So I gave this a top heavy paint job. Just to see what would happen. I think it is a rousing success. The base has a fairly broad reach and is visually opaque. Further up, the sculpture opens up a little until finally just the one triangle reaches for the utmost height. If the piece were painted neutrally, the base might over power the whole piece and it would become leaden. This would only be further emphasized by the presence of the shadow on the ground plane. The top most points would be lost to the sky. But here, the base is dissolved away and the top most reaches of the piece punch themselves out from the background. If the top were to be equal or greater to the base in mass, then a whole different precarious situation would result, but here since the top becomes more delicate, it can stand further definition in the colour dimension without setting up unpleasant weight or balance situations.

I like the end composition.

One single slab of wood. Cut on three paths to form a curved section through a wave. The piece is painted in a blue-turquoise-white gradient.

The gentle arc in plan serves to support the piece and to express the width of the sea through which this section is cut. If the section were cut as a simple rectangular slab front to back through the wave, it would be seen only as a simple slice detached from the sea. The curve shows by physical example that the wave is wider than the simple thickness of the slab. It shows by gesture that the sea continues beyond the bounds of the sculpture.

I've been out trying to surf a couple of times. Watching the waves from shore, you only see the front face. The delicate curve and the churning foam. There is a sense of curling and closing.

But out in the water, sitting way out on a board, watching for a good wave you see the water not later in its life as a collapsing circle but rather as an advancing wall. The wave comes up on you solid and massive; no mere elaboration of foam, but a massive entity.

When jockeying into position or letting a wave pass you by, you get to see the back of the wave. It is not a thin curl echoing the shape of the front. The wave is not a shell. It is a mass. Behind the wave it is flat with a slowly increasing drop off. Up on the back of the wave is a place. A plane where bubbles from the first bits of foam pop through the surface like a swarm of live thing.

I just wanted to capture this shape on the back of the wave. The elevated plateau where the bubbles live and the hulking mass that dwells beneath.

It's a simple gesture and painted a little kitsch/tourist, but it's also right. I've been on top of that wave watching it move in without me because I knew there were two more to come. I've been on the front of that wave. I've not paddled fast enough and been brought inside and churned around and spat out.

Line to Arc
A vertical "loaf" of wood sliced by horizontal cuts. The individual slices closer to the top of the loaf gain a pronounced curvature. The slices are separated vertically.

The sketch was better. It suffers from being a 3d piece for what was essentially a 2d idea. Some people have expressed interest in the shapes that were formed by the various cuts, but I really see it only as a failed idea.

Some of the higher layers might make nice shapes if they could be executed with the curved cut both side to side and front to back. But then, I've always liked groin vaults.

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