Carving Stone is Always a Negotiation / by Mike McCarthy

 “Baboon Mask” - 10”w x 9”d x 14”t -  Contemporary Soapstone Sculpture

“Baboon Mask” - 10”w x 9”d x 14”t -  Contemporary Soapstone Sculpture

I approach a new sculpture in two very different ways depending on the result I am trying to achieve. The first is to go in with no idea in mind. I just start by removing stone and see where the piece wants to take me. This tends to be my approach with my abstract pieces. The second way is how I start in with realistic work. I have a specific piece in mind and to work towards that in a more methodical way. Both methods have their plusses and minuses, and they are very different ways of thinking and negotiating my way to a completed piece. As you will note, I said this is how I approach the start of a new sculpture. Once started, things don't always go as planned!

In my most recent sculpture, I started with the second approach. I had a very specific piece in mind. It was to be a realistic baboon face and was to be part of a show I did two years ago on all animal heads. (Yes, I started this piece over two years ago.) I quickly realized this would not work as the stone and I clearly had different agendas! The stone was a very odd shape that did not allow for as much depth for the eyes as I originally wanted. I stopped working on the piece and set the stone aside.

When I set a stone aside, I typically go back after a few months and look at it to see if I can solve the problems it has presented. Some times they continue to mock me and they go back on the shelf. Other times, we talk a little and a new idea comes up. 

With "Baboon Mask" we agreed that I would drill all the way through the eyes and create an abstract piece that was totally unrelated to the original idea. So essentially, I took the approach that this was a new sculpture and had planned to complete a freeform piece now. I was pretty clear with the stone, that that was the direction I wanted to go and I thought it had agreed. It didn't.

I drilled all the way through the eyes and was surprised to see that I was really happy with the depth it created. It was no longer a realistic baboon, but it did not want to be a freeform piece wither, so we agreed that it would be more of a contemporary "mask" of a baboon. The stone and I were happy, and after over two years, I completed the piece last night. This was quite the journey to get to the completed piece, but carving stone is always a negotiation!