contemporary sculpture

"Life Balance", a Sculpture in African Wonderstone - The First Time I have Carved this Stone by Mike McCarthy

This contemporary sculpture titled “Life Balance” is the first time I have carved a piece in African wonderstone. It is a bit of a deceptive stone in that it is easy to shape, but difficult to polish. The other difficulty I had with this piece was basing it. I had the piece completed for over 3 months ago but couldn’t figure out the size and shape of the base. I think I finally got it. I like the way the small base emphasizes the balancing of the piece. It has a very small point of connection that gives it that precarious feel and further emphasizes the balance aspect. I am forever trying to get tiny connection points on my sculptures! Sometimes, I drive myself nuts!!

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My First Video Over 300 Views and My Fastest to 100 Views by Mike McCarthy

On July 29th, I posted that I had hit a milestone on my YouTube site. I had posted 30 videos and one of them was at 221 views. Since then, I have posted a few more videos and have hit another milestone on views.

My most popular video is still the video on splitting limestone with feathers and wedges. It is a time-lapse video that shows me splitting the off-fall from one of my birds for "Cor Liberum". I know many folks who post on YouTube would laugh at being happy about getting a video over the 300 mark in views, but everyone has to start somewhere. This video currently has 328 views.

The other cool thing is that my videos are increasing in views faster now than they previously had. It is partly that I have been sharing them on this blog, but there must be something more to it than that. For example, the splitting limestone video was posted on August 20, 2017. My latest video, "Carving an Indiana Limestone Vessel" was posted August 28, 2018, and has already reached 108 views. While the splitting limestone does far exceed the views of the vessel video has received almost 1/3 the views in 6 days. This one is definitely an anomaly as many of my videos have not even come close to 100 views. But the cool thing is that all of the videos are steady increasing in views. So, if you like to see the way stone is worked and carved, subscribe to my channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLZ4k8l6V2l_otGckDxxQ5A and watch my videos!

“If The Spirit Is Willing” is Installed at Josephine Sculpture Park by Mike McCarthy

Mark Hendren loading my sculpture. 

Mark Hendren loading my sculpture. 

All things happen for a reason. Last year at the outdoor sculpture show at Hidden Hill Nursery and Sculpture Garden two of my three pieces sold. That is a great show, but I was a little disappointed because I thought the one that did not sell was the strongest piece. “If the Spirit is Willing” was the sculpture that did not sell. 

Fast forward a year. I decided to enter “If the Spirit is Willing” into a juried show at Josephine Sculpture Park in Frankfort, KY. There were minimum size requirements for this show so that limited the entries. However, of the 20 entries, my sculpture was one of eight selected. That is always a great feeling to get that notice that your work has been accepted.  

So on Thursday I met Karen Terhune over where my sculpture was, picked her up and brought her home  then my next door neighbor, Mark Hendren loaded it on his trailer and I drove it out to the park.

The steel piece sitting behind my sculpture will be moved. 

The steel piece sitting behind my sculpture will be moved. 

I met the owner of the park, Melanie VanHouten at about 8:45. We set a limestone base and then the real fun began. We got to play with a big crane! I think cranes are an amazing engineering feat. The operator was incredible. He boomed over and dropped the hook right where I needed it. He lifter and set the dry fit with the smoothest touch I have seen. Lifted so I could get the safety out and reset in no time. Even though he set it so fast, nothing seemed rushed. It was great. 

So, if you are in Frankfort, KY, come out and see “If the Spirit is Willing” and the rest of the sculpture at Josephine Sculpture Park.

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!

Finally...The "Born From The Broken" And Some Others Are Finished by Mike McCarthy

Untitled Bordiglio Marble Contemporary Sculpture

Untitled Bordiglio Marble Contemporary Sculpture

Over the last few weeks is I have been unable to work down in the studio on my larger work because of a sick dog. The only good things about this is that I have had time to work on some of the small pieces that I can do in the house.

Stained Indiana Limestone Sculpture - "Born from the Broken"

Stained Indiana Limestone Sculpture - "Born from the Broken"

Since February last year, I spent the vast majority of my time on a large public commission for Norton Hospital. The sculpture was too large and complex to have time to work on anything other than this one piece. I had other commissioned work, but could never feel confident to get to that, much less the myriad of ideas I have in my head just waiting to find their way into a piece of stone. That commission installed in April. Once complete, I immediately began work on the two larger pieces that have been delayed. I started carving a fountain that is a commissions well as an abstract piece for a show later this summer. While it was great to start in on some fresh ideas and pieces, I still had some small work that I had started prior to starting the Norton commission, as well as the many ideas that are just waiting to burst out of my head. I really thought that after the Norton sculpture was completed I would have time for both the larger work and the smaller pieces. It just hasn't happened. 

Tortoise Shell Alabaster Contemporary Sculpture

Tortoise Shell Alabaster Contemporary Sculpture

So, two weeks ago one of our dogs got sick. Because of the nature of the illness, she needed constant supervision. That meant that I couldnt work in the studio. While that has put some stress on finishing the larger work, it has provided the room in the schedule to complete a few of the smaller pieces that I has already started as well as get some ideas out of my head.

The untitled tortoise shell alabaster piece that is pictured here is one of the pieces I started over a year ago. Because of the difficulty of the stone to carve, I had set it aside in favor of other pieces several times. That piece is now complete.

I also had started a soapstone baboon that was not going in the right direction. I set that one aside as well and had not been able to return to it. I have started back into this one as well. (You can also see my dog is up and moving now!!)

Not only did I have the two (and many others) that I started and have been unable to get back to, I also have been looking at so many of the pieces of stone in my studio that I have not been able to start. That has now changed.

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I have started and completed two other small pieces. The first was a piece that actually broke off of the large figure from my Norton commission. When it broke off, I was devastated. Several times I started to throw the piece out because it disgusted me. For some reason I never did. I am glad I did not, as I feel it turned out into a pretty nice piece.  I also started and finished a piece of Bordiglio Marble. This is a piece of marble that has been split off of a 3/4 life-size figure I am in progress on. It was a thin piece and I thought I saw something else in it, but it changed its mind and we ended up with the nice little piece that is on the double poles. 

So, the good news is that my dog is on the mend and next week I will be able to get back into the studio. But what it taught me is that I still need to take a bit of time to work on the small pieces that have provided such a great sense of accomplishment this past two weeks.

More Progress on the Untitled Indiana Limestone Piece I am Carving by Mike McCarthy

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I have made a lot of great progress on the Indiana Limestone piece I am currently working on. It is a pretty complicated piece to carve because of the turns and twists going on throughout the piece. Until it gets narrowed down in some areas, I have to put a lot of pressure on the stone where the gaps are tight. If I try to go too fast in narrowing to lessen the pressure, I can get rid of stone that I might need later on. 

Much of this guess work could be eliminated if I did a moquette first. However, I am not a fan of doing that for these free form pieces. I think the fun in creating this type of sculpture is to just start drilling, carving and grinding until you think you are finished. Now, at times that leads to pieces that get stuck and don't want to cooperate. You get going and realize that area that you just spent a ton of time on looks terrible. I have several pieces that are sitting on the side of the studio that are in that state. I will look at them every once in a while to see if I can figure something out to make them better. Sometimes, you have to get rid of a section before it ever gets where you want it.

With this piece, I thought I might have that problem with the lower section. Fortunately, it is moving in the right direction. I still have a little left to figure out at the bottom of the piece. Specifically, I have to figure out how it will tie into the bottom inch of the piece that I plan to leave a a mounting section. But, it is definitely moving along well and I think I have a pretty good plan. Ultimately, this piece will sit on top of another piece of Limestone that is 18" x 18" x 36". This will give the piece the height I want to get the lower section more viewable.

New Sculpture Completed by Mike McCarthy

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Over the past two months I have been frantically working on getting ideas out of my head and into stone. I have so many ideas that I was not able to get to while working on my Norton Hospital commission. I also had several ideas started before the commission and hadn't been able to get back to them to finish them. So finally, I have completed my first gallery small sculpture in months.

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This piece is untitled as yet, although I have had the suggestion that it looks like a sting ray. That sounds interesting, so that may end up as the title. Even though the title is not complete, the rest of the piece is. This was one of the pieces I started before the Norton commission. It was a very difficult stone to carve. All of the veining created some fragility. I spent a lot of time changing direction and pressure to keep pieces from breaking off. There is also a big difference in the density throughout the stone. I would be carving along on one of the harder areas and all of the sudden the grinder would dig in. It was tough to control the pace of the tools. All that bings said, those difficulties are caused by things that create such a beautiful stone! So, as soon as I finished this piece, I ordered some more pieces!

Starting A New Commission by Mike McCarthy

I recently finished my largest commission and have been working on doing some non-commissioned pieces. That is very freeing, but it is also very fun and amazing that someone is interested enough in my work that they would be willing to trust me to create a piece for them without seeing it completed. So today I started in on a new commission. 

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My new piece will be a fountain that will match a bench that the owners purchased from me a few years ago. I have never done a fountain before so this will be a cool experience. I will be carving this piece out of Indiana Limestone, the same stone as the bench they already have.

Starting on a new piece is fun, but there is a bit of not so fun part to it. One of the pieces I want to use is buried under a ton (probably literally) of other stone. So the not so fun parts of this commission will be to dig out this piece of stone!