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Artist Spotlight

Artist Spotlight: Senden Blackwood

What is your life history as it relates to being an artist? 'anoia' - carved at the Te Kupenga stone sculpture symposium in New Plymouth, New Zealand, January 2016.'anoia' - carved at the Te Kupenga stone sculpture symposium in New Plymouth, New Zealand, January 2016.

I feel fortunate to have grown up in an artistic and architectural family, though I didn't really show much in the way of artistic aptitude until the end of high school (or grade 12), when I 'Tasmanian devilled' my way into my mum's jewellery studio. It was in a tiny room in our house and was a nook filled with interesting rustic tools and all manner of things like blowtorches and weird shaped hammers. I loved it, in all its chaos. After school, I studied Jewellery and Object design in Sydney and became obsessed with abstract objects. I also broadened my fascination with tools. Really I'm still a kid at heart, playing with his toys.
‘aeon’ - 2013, basalt, 16 x 30.5 x 25.5cm‘aeon’- 2013, basalt, 16 x 30.5 x 25.5cm

How has NWSSA influenced your work as an artist?

My first Camp B symposium in 2006 was a pivotal point in my journey as a sculptor. Anyone who has attended one of these symposiums knows just how powerful they can be, not to mention educational, inspiring and connective. Without NWSSA's influence I wouldn't be making what I am now, I know that for sure. So I have a lot of gratitude and warm fuzzies for the association. I learned more technical skills in my first symposium (2006) than I had in three years of teaching myself. More than anything though, I value the wonderful connections I've made with members and I can't wait to attend again. It's difficult when I live on the other side of the planet, but it will always be somewhere I'll feel drawn back to. ‘duo’ process photo 2015 ‘duo’ process photo 2015

Describe your art in your own terms – focusing on your stone carving.

I make abstract forms and look to find a balance between simplicity and interest. A sphere is a beautiful thing, but to me it's not really all that interesting - yet there are parts of that simplicity that I honour and look to tap into. Simplicity is also really hard to achieve, and it takes dedication to remove all the lumps and bumps, especially in hard stone, which I prefer, although sometimes I wish I didn't. I've been through periods of unhealthy perfectionism, where I've been left stagnant by the fear of "not being able to make it good enough". But thankfully I've made amends with this and now am happy to just do the best I can, which opens up room for play. I don't really feel like an "artist", although I guess I am.

Have you been influenced by any particular artists?

‘milieu’ (2016) basalt, Cor-ten, stainless steel, 120 x 200 x 100cm. Photo taken by Sculpture by the Sea Inc.‘milieu’ (2016) basalt, Cor-ten, stainless steel, 120 x 200 x 100cm. Photo taken by Sculpture by the Sea Inc.Clement Meadmore was an early hero, and you can see that influence in the square elements of my work. I like the way his style is geometric yet it also has some beautiful curves, and even though he made hundreds of similar forms based on a principle, they didn't really ever get boring, at least not to me. Keizo Ushio's work was a big early influence, mostly because I couldn't comprehend how on earth stone could be carved with such honour. Until recently I tried hard to not be influenced by other artists; I wanted to be original and therefore I avoided looking at other work wherever possible. I don't really care about that so much anymore, but I think it helped to form my own style. My subconscious does most of my designing for me now, which might sound strange but it's the truth. I've released a lot of the need to control. Sometimes it feels like I have a library of lines and planes in my head, which I keep adding to with things I see around me - often natural elements (shells, leaves, rocks, pods). Occasionally a form or gesture pops into my conscious mind and I've found this to be the most genuine way of coming up with new work.


What scale or size do you work in, and do you have a favourite scale?

Until now, most of my work has been small to medium in scale, however monumental work has always been my goal and most of the sculpture I've been affected, and inspired by, has been monumental in size. If I'm intimidated by the size of a new boulder or block, then I know I'm on the right track. All the doubts run through my head but I just love the process of problem-solving new ways to carve in bigger and bigger scales. Even after 15 years of carving stone, I really feel like I've only just started in the direction I want to head. A 23 tonne block of black granite is waiting, untouched, in my studio. I'm eager to start working on it, but I'm also savouring this time before it all begins. The sheer volume of stubborn material to remove in 23 tonnes of granite has forced me to re-evaluate my approach, and I've started making a purpose built wire-saw in the hope that I can work "smarter not harder". I'll still be carving it, but I'm looking to make the process of removing the initial gross off-cuts more efficient.

What do you think people will experience from looking at your sculpture? What would you like them to experience?

To be honest, I don't really care, or rather I'm trying to learn not to care. I've realised that if I place importance on what others think of my work, then I lose sovereignty over my creativity. I used to get caught up in what others thought and it really affected me. Early on if someone walked past my work at a show and didn't really look at it, I took it personally, like it wasn't good enough to grab their attention. I've grown past that now and I'm enjoying the purity of making what I feel drawn to make, without wondering how it'll be received, without tying my self-worth up in someone else's opinion, or perceived opinion. Art is so subjective. I know my work doesn't appeal to everyone and I'm happy when it does, but I try hard to weigh positive and negative feedback the same.

I do however enjoy seeing people being drawn to touch my sculptures, and I don't mean just a passing gesture, like someone testing a garment's material in a shop, I mean actually exploring the surface. Touch is a sense I use so much in the carving process, particularly when honing and polishing a surface, so I like to see people exploring a finished surface in the same way that I've addressed it while "ironing out the kinks". I can feel bumps and irregularities much better than I can see them, so I use touch a lot. Maybe this is why some people feel drawn to touch, or maybe it has to do with the presence of stone itself.

What mainly influences your artistic approach to your work?

I follow my gut and my passion. If I don't feel like working, I don't work - I go off and do other things (generally, unless I have a crazy deadline). I've found that if I work when I'm passionate and energised, I make much better progress and I stay psyched on the process. Carving stone can be pretty grueling, so if I force myself to work when I don't feel like it, I get tired easily and start to second guess myself. I start thinking something is "good enough", when it clearly isn't. I'm often amazed at how much pain, discomfort and physical exhaustion I can ignore when I'm "in the groove", so to speak, and how little I tolerate when I'm not. It's taken me a long time to learn that play and light-heartedness is the most important part of the process. It feeds creativity and experimentation, which I guess is at the heart of art.

Music is ever present in my process. It feeds and nourishes me. I listen to lots of stuff that most people would hate, but it sometimes makes me feel invincible. Other times it distracts me from the pain and exhaustion that is sometimes the game of carving stone.

What is your dream sculpture project?

There are many! The dream project is always the next biggest one. Scale is an interesting motivator for me. Constantly I'm looking at small maquettes and wondering what they'd be like in a huge scale. I'm hoping that the ultimate dream project is beyond anything I can even dream up at the moment. Each large piece provides the challenges to learn how to go bigger, and shows me that my limits are self-imposed. Monumental scale has always been my goal. Seeing Keizo Ushio's work at 'Sculpture by the Sea' in Sydney really made me want to work big, like really big.

Anything else you'd like to add...

I feel pretty fortunate and grateful to be able to be doing this for a living, to be supported by a society and country where we can chase our dreams, however left-field they may be.

Remembering Elaine MacKay Artist Spotlight (2000)

Elaine MacKayOn January 28, Elaine MacKay died of emphysema at her home in The Dalles, Oregon. Sculpt Proud, ElaineSculpture Northwest 2000 cover, Elaine MacKay

We hope that taking another look at her May/June, 2000 Artist in the Spotlight will allow us all to recall her quick wit and down-to-earth ways. This past interview by Arliss Newcomb is vintage Elaine.



Artist Spotlight - Elaine MacKay

This is an interview conducted by e-mail and phone with Elaine MacKay. She has been a member of
NWSSA since 1996. Where she lives says a lot about her character and also the type of stone she uses for many of her pieces of sculpture. Twenty-five miles southwest of the Columbia River and in the small town of The Dalles, OR, Elaine and her partner, Pat, live on 40 acres of land on the lower slopes of Mt. Hood, with National Forest land on one side and wheat fields for miles on the other, and lots of beautiful basalt in all sizes and shapes for the taking. They have built their own home, using native stone for much of the structure’s interior. Self-reliance and hard work are very much a part of living in a remote area.

AN: Who are you and what is your history as an artist?"Last Stone Standing" by Elaine MacKay
EM: The question, “Who am I as an artist?” might more correctly be titled, “The Road Not Taken” and begins back in 1968. I had transferred to a small liberal arts college at Mt. Angel, OR. This was my first exposure to art. Coming from a red-necked background in farming in a small Eastern Oregon community, WE DID NOT DO ART! At Mt. Angel I had to pick a major. I really wanted to go into art because I worked with my hands all my life, but the ageold question at the time was “what are you going to do with a degree in art” and having a very fragile ego, I picked English instead. But every free moment I could find I spent out in the Art Dept. I made handbuilt pots, fired in the Raku method, in a kiln we all built in the side of the hill. We spent long hours collecting clay from the river banks and mixing our own glazes, then firing late into the early morning hours, flames soaring over our heads. A very mystical experience and one I’d never forget through the intervening years when I involved myself in homesteading and various pursuits aimed at earning a buck. I did not actively engage in art again until 1996

AN: How did you get back into art?

EM: Just a very lucky chance! Vic Picou came to visit a friend and neighbor of mine here on the Ridge. Although I didn’t meet him at that time, my friend Jim told me he was a stone sculptor. I nearly went bonkers! I have always loved stone, hauled em’ up from hell at times. I stacked ‘em and placed them and ruined many a good one because I didn’t know what I was doing, but I never did any pure art. To make a long story short, I phoned Vic, he mentioned Camp Brotherhood, and it sounded like a wonderful opportunity and Vic assured me that I would be welcomed. I was! I call it the summer of my rebirth. Here I was, surrounded by all these wonderful people, a little intimidating, yes; BFA’s, MFA’s and more A’s than you could shake a stick at, but folks would come over and ask me what I was doing and say “Cool.” Like pouring water on a plant dying in the desert. Wow, what a wow! What a group of people! This event coincided with an article I had just read entitled “The Long Sleep” from a book by David Quammen. It dealt with the extinction of a species, in this case the Dodo bird. Being alone, having no one else of her kind, being rare and through a complicated synergy of links is pushed into extinction by death. It was how I felt before Camp Brotherhood ’96. Then I discovered NWSSA and I knew to the depths of my soul I had found my life link. So I went back the following year and began my pursuit of knowledge of manipulating stone.

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Artist Spotlight: Ben Mefford

Ben Mefford photo by Adam DabrowskiWho are you?
I consider myself an emerging artist. I have apprenticed or assisted three sculptors over seven years on video projects, site-specific mixed media installations, gallery stone sculptures, and large scale granite sculptures for public commissions. I have a bachelor’s degree in studio art and a master’s degree in interdisciplinary studies (research writing). I created my first large sculpture in October of 2016.  I became a father in 2015, and it has been chaos ever since, and yet I finally feel like an adult. I am pushing hard to make art the central focus of my life. I am also interested in arts administration, and have a dream of inventing a new kind of art museum by the time I am forty.  I believe in what we do as artists, that there is an inherent value to it.  I spent too much of my youth sitting around, directionless, waiting for something exciting to happen on its own. I am tired of thinking things are impossible just because I don’t know how to accomplish them, and I am not afraid of failure anymore.  

Discovery 2016, Soapstone by Ben MeffordWhat is your life history as it relates to being an artist?
Little things that I did as a child are core to my art-making, though I didn’t recognize it at the time. Building with Lego’s, making pictures with a typewriter, playing with magnets on opposite sides of a glass table – in a word, experimenting. I used to think that art had to be a certain way, like paintings from the renaissance, and I couldn’t draw like that so I felt discouraged and came to art late. I finally took photography classes in my mid-twenties and it quickly got to the point that I started skipping work to walk around Seattle photographing. By chance I got to carve soapstone on a trip to Alaska in 2008 and was instantly addicted. I moved from Seattle to Portland for a fresh start and eventually found my way to Portland Community College where I started exclusively taking studio art classes. From there, I started to accept this direction of my life, and haven’t looked back.
Why did you become an artist?When I first experienced the process of making art as an adult, it felt right at a time when nothing else did. The more I embraced it, the happier and more productive I became in every aspect of my life.

Ra 2016, granite by Ben MeffordWhat key life experiences affected your direction in art?
I had a great early childhood, and grew up with a big back yard, near a beautiful wooded park, and we went hiking in the mountains a lot through the year.  My parents were both mountain climbers before they had children, so we had lots of experiences together in nature and it is where I feel at home. I like to explore and go off the path, see what I can find that maybe no one has seen before. I am subconsciously always trying to capture that. So, my artwork at its best incorporates elements of exploration and organized chaos, or an asymmetrical balance, and these things remind me of nature. Art is also psychological therapy for me. For example, I can be indecisive at times, and stone carving forces decisions, so I have noticed that I gravitate toward mediums that balance out my weaknesses.

Why is art important to you?
It is how I connect to myself and connect to the world around me. Art making is the only way I have found that offers the freedom to really say what I want to say, without even consciously knowing what I want to say beforehand.  

Stories 2016, by Ben MeffordHow does your art reflect your philosophy?
Making art is the most direct way that I can find of accessing my subconscious. I have come to trust my intuition implicitly. I believe that a cycle exists where persisting in art makes me a better person, and that being a better person will make my artwork more valuable. Uchida sensei has said something like this, that if all people should live as if they are a cell of a single body, the world would be in harmony.  

What is the source of inspiration of your forms, language, or imagery?alabaster maquette
I believe it all comes up from the subconscious grabbing onto various ideas and knotting them together. Usually I don’t have an explanation for something until after it is done. It is a lot like dreaming, getting into a state where experiences are synthesized into a story that rewrites history yet reaches a deeper truth.

What are you trying to express?
Myself! I do want to prove that I am capable of accomplishing technically challenging things, and I also just have an odd sense of humor and think differently than most. I think lots of things are amusing by themselves, just by existing. So, things I don’t express every day because I think they are odd, can find a quiet voice in my artwork.
 

How do you develop them (by direct carving, drawing, modeling, etc.)?basalt column chain early rough stage
Visualizing, sometimes writing, occasionally drawing and modeling.  Mostly I just think about a form or a relationship in my mind until I have to start making it tangible to find out what the rest of it looks like.

basalt column chain, Ben MeffordWhat have been your satisfactions in your life as an artist?
This last year has been very satisfying. Last summer I made my first paid artwork by working on a very small commission for a memorial stone. I then got an opportunity grant from 4culture.org to create my first large sculpture (“Know Time”) which has since been on public display at Marenakos in Fall City, Washington. I was awarded a professional development grant to visit Japan for three weeks in March-April 2017 and work with Kazutaka Uchida at his studio (which was a life-changing opportunity, and has many stories to go with it). I got my first public art commission for my current project for the city of Lake Oswego, OR, due to be finished by August 2017.  I have also been awarded a paper-making residency and show that start in September 2017. Each of these things are rewarding by themselves, but they have also felt like recognition that, yes, I am an artist, and yes, I can do this.  

What scale or size do you work in, and do you have a favorite scale?
I spent so much time working for Brian Goldbloom on massive granite sculptures that I actually have the most experience working at this scale now, even though I do not have a studio or enough tools to be able to easily tackle things like this on my own. Verena Schwippert has helped me a couple of times, first letting me use her studio in October 2016, and currently with my first public commission (which started as about six tons of basalt).  

How do you get your ideas?
Dreams have given me some great ideas. Physics and geometry are areas of particular interest for me. I spend a lot of time trying to visualize the structure of the universe or how mass is composed of energy, so that we are all just a bunch of swirling waves of energy (literally). That ties into my feelings about nature as well. I also think a lot about physical health. Injuries that I have sustained, anxiety, sleep apnea, all have me reflecting a lot about the body and about what it means to live well.

Describe your art in your own terms – focusing on your stone carving.basalt column chain Ben Mefford
I jump around to different mediums, but at this point, I look at all of them through the spatial and reductive lens of stone sculpting. Photography, painting, sculpture, etc., I approach it all the same way mentally. Somehow this allows consistent themes to emerge across mediums, in spite of using different techniques. I am basically always looking to create organized chaos.  In practice, this means experimenting, discovering something, developing a process or pattern, becoming aware that I am getting repetitive, and then I change something – throw off the balance to create a new element of uncertainty and experiment some more. I don’t really know why I do this, but it is always the same and always different, and the more I am able to let go of control in this process, the happier I am with the final result.

Artist Spotlight: Jim Ballard

Background“ThresholdJim Ballard stands beside “Threshold”, installed at the Lakewold Gardens in Lakewood, WA, California black granite, 4'H x 2'W x 6"D at the base, tapering to 3 1/2"D at the top, on sandstone pedestal and sandstone base, 9' tall overall.

When I was ten years old, my father built himself a darkroom in the basement of our home. There he taught me how to develop film and print black and white photographs. This initial interest in photography continued throughout my life and I was fortunate to teach darkroom techniques and camera operation classes at community colleges in the Seattle area for about twenty-five years. I later supplied photos to Getty Images, one of the largest stock photo agencies in the world.

I enjoyed taking and making photographs but I wanted to explore 3D art forms. My cousin made a living carving realistic fish using cedar and other woods. He helped me select wood carving tools and I began carving many different kinds of fish, at first imitating his carving style but later developing my own interpretative method. I carved about sixty wooden fish, some fanciful and some realistic.

While I was carving wood in the late 80s, I read about the Northwest Stone Sculptors Association. The idea of carving stone as well as wood greatly appealed to me, even though I knew nothing about stone sculpting. I joined the NWSSA in early 1991 and attended my first stone-sculpting symposium at Camp Brotherhood in August of that year. It was here that I first met Richard Hestekind, an individual who conveyed his passion for carving stone to all of us attending that symposium and many others. Richard and I eventually shared a carving studio at the Marenakos Rock Center near Preston, WA.

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Giant Lizard Comes to Art City!

"Lizard" Jim Heltsley Oolitic LimestoneMy studio is located at Art City Studios in Ventura, California. It is one of 24 spaces rented to artists by Paul Lindhard – owner/operator/artist. Jim Heltsley & Duane O'Connor at an early stage of carving the Lizard.

A few years ago, Paul came to me asking if I would like sculpt something large with one of his stones. Over the years I have carved quite a few lizards out of pumice, limestone and marble and had always wanted to do a large lizard with a saddle on his back.

I had imagined doing a piece with an invitation to interact with it. It could be a photo opportunity for parents to take a picture of their kids riding it. A possible entrance to a zoo, a large hotel or a park.

I told Paul about this idea of mine and the next day he came back to me and told me, “I found your lizard.” It was 7 ½ feet long X 3 feet wide X 4 feet high and about 2500 pounds of oolitic limestone. I sat on that stone every day for about a week and finally I saw the lizard!

I lost a large portion of my eyesight over four years ago and taking on this project alone was a daunting task. At the time I was working with another artist from Art City named Duane O’Connor. We had been working together for about a year and he agreed to work on the lizard with me. That was the spring of 2014.Kids taking their first ride on what is beginning to look like a lizard.

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Artist Spotlight: Kentaro Kojima

Meet Kentaro Kojima Kentaro Kojima

I was born and raised in Guatemala. My parents, both Japanese, met in Guatemala and had a family and, in fact, they still live there.

In the 60’s, it was very rare and difficult for a young Japanese artist/designer to get out of Japan, but it was rarer still for a single woman, in her early twenties, to go out of Japan. It was pretty much unheard of at the time. Even today, I am constantly surprised at the resistance some young Japanese people seem to feel about going outside of Japan, let alone altogether moving out of it. So, you might say that the two black sheep that were my parents, met in Guatemala and raised a family of black sheep. (Their life story is a lot more interesting than mine.)

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