When I have time to create my own sculpture works, I usually create small sculpture maquettes and small bas-relief sculpture panels. Most of my small works are a product of spontaneous play and improvisation. At times I don’t have a clear precise idea how my personal sketches will turn out. Sometimes these small clay works become workable models for larger and more expansive sculpture projects.
When my son, Adam, was 3 ½ years old, his pre-k teacher asked him what his parents did for a living. He thought carefully and then replied, “My mommy and daddy play with play-dough all day long.” What an appropriate answer! His reply had a directness, simplicity, and honesty that one would expect from a preschooler and is certainly what my husband and I do with clay. Clay feels like it has a life of its own when I have it in my hands. When I work on sculpture, I’m reminded of what St. Benedict said, “Work is prayer and prayer is work.” For me, creating sculpture is an act of prayer.
When I create a bas-relief sculpture, I feel like I’m telling a story. That’s what, for me, makes bas-relief a very unique sculptural expression. It encompasses so many different artistic elements: form, space, volume, texture, depth, foreshortening, and perspective. For example, a bas-relief sculpture can have a three-dimensional figure incorporated with low-relief drawing elements that can give the illusion of perspective in the background (this is why drawing ability is crucial in bas-relief sculpture).
Many contemporary artists believe that there is no need to study the great works of the past and that an artist needs only to stress concepts and to simply trust his or her inner vision. Skill is regarded as a secondary concern at best. I believe that learning skills and techniques expands artistic development. Just having a good concept is not enough. A good concept, reinforced with knowledge and skill, makes a work of art so much stronger.
Many Artists, not familiar with bas-relief techniques, think that all one has to do is cut a center cross-section of a figure and simply stick it on top of a flat clay surface. What they fail to realize is that the flat clay background surface is just as important as the projecting image. A good bas-relief gives the illusion that the images are emerging from the surface of the panel and not simply stuck on top of the panel. To unify the background with the dimensional sculptural forms of a bas-relief requires depth manipulation and drawing skill. A sublime example of bas-relief sculpture taken to the highest level is the “Gates of Paradise” by Lorenzo Ghiberti. This masterpiece has been a great inspiration to me.
In my own sculpture work, I’ve used the subjects of Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary several times in bas-relief and in-the-round sculpture. They represent, for me, a perfect harmony of beauty, strength, and spirituality. Before I became a mother, Mary Magdalene was my favorite subject. I was drawn to her passion and faith in Christ. When I became a mother, I understood the Virgin Mary as an example of love, joy, pain and strength in faith. As visual artists, Jeff and I express our emotions, experiences, and thoughts through our own medium. For me, it is sculpture.