Finding Inspiration

Hello!  As I have been considering the functionality of the pieces in my current project, I have been looking for more artists to study that are more specific to this piece and my developing interests.  While I have my own ideas for how I will combine my mixed materials, looking at other work is an excellent way of understanding what the different mediums can do, and how to reconsider my own structural plans.

I mostly wanted to see how other artists combated some of the issues for which I am planning.  While I am sure the actual combination of the opposing materials has some technical elements I will learn as I experiment, some of my biggest concerns as I am still fiddling with the scale of the piece are its center of gravity and the general distribution of the mass in the composition.  I wish I had a better head for numbers (and this may involve some exploration of the math department) but I know I’m a handful of formulas away from being able to better predict how plausible my designs are and how I can push them to their limit (better understanding the density of the potential materials I can work with would help me to design works that look impossible but are technically stable).

I suppose it wasn’t much of a surprise that I have yet to stumble across exactly what I am looking for; though I would bet I am just not looking in the right place or searching for the right thing, rather than my ideas being particularly unique.  Not to put myself down, I just can’t imagine combining fired ceramic pieces and metal is especially novel so while there may not be much classical historical art context for mixed media works, I know I still have about a hundred years or so of contemporary art history to find an artist who made or is making work similar to the aesthetic I’m moving toward.

In my internet travels though, I have been coming across some beautiful portfolios that continue to spark my imagination.  My most recent discovery is the found metal (often kinetic) sculptures of Greg Brotherton.  While I believe it is generally poor form to copy and paste too much of someone’s writing, I found the brief artist description on the main page of Brotherton’s portfolio website poetic and didn’t wish to summarize it-

“Greg Brotherton creates meticulously detailed sculpture, using steel, wood, glass, concrete and unusual found objects. Greatly inspired by the dystopian and political fiction of the early 20th century, his pieces emerge from Kafkaesque imagery around themes of escape and discovery.  Brotherton’s vision is one of lonely isolation in a post-industrial world where one being, tinkering away with silent genius, could become the hope of the future.”

One of the lessons that have stuck with me in my own education at Marywood is that truly thoughtful art contains some element of surprise, something that is only really evident upon a perceptive examination of the piece.  I have interpreted this to mean (if I can articulate myself well enough) that art gains a level of satisfaction when it can be dissected down to its details and if its audience can continue to find bits and pieces that strengthen the narrative of the piece over repeated views.  Not that every bit of art needs to be a cryptogram but art feels somehow more satisfying for the viewer (and me as an artist/creator) when the form is dictated by narrative function and when individual details are unique works of art in and of themselves.  Much like in a film, a talented cinematographer can compose a perfect photo in every moving frame; giving each “tree” the level of detail and respect it deserves means the “forest” will be a more complete, compelling work of art (can you tell I am struggling through some linguistic gymnastics to express what I mean).

In the video below, Brotherton is asked about a pendulum-like piece, that would be a technical achievement in its own right, but which gains a vast and imaginative world when you see that the motion device is being piloted by a tiny metal man.  What would have been a beautiful work of art alone is made even more interesting by the addition of the story of the man and his fruitless adventure in his little perpetual motion spacecraft.  I find found art attractive because I like the romantic notion that there exist materials that seem destined to work together (it contradicts a held belief that nothing in this world is preordained and I like the magical thinking in that).

Brotherton’s other work is fascinating as well.  The piece that initially drew me to his work is a figure called “Tuning Down.”  While not exactly the materials I wish to work in, this is an exquisitely polished piece given the humbleness of its base materials.

Greg Brotherton Tuning Down 1

This figure is less than two feet tall yet its proportions make it feel massive in photos- his brick sound-hole looks like it can be the size of a building but it takes one focusing on the winding of the strings to appreciate both the delicateness of the piece and the fact that there is a very good chance this sculpture is a functional musical instrument.  Viewers will notice that the protrusions down the creature’s back appear to be actual tuning pegs and not only is it distinctly possible that the tuning pegs are functional, they seem to have a canonical function in the creature’s narrative- he is reaching to tune himself!

The figure’s look of consternation takes on new meaning as we are given clues to a deeper story- one where this top-heavy, spindly-legged creature’s bodily function and comfort is dictated by its personal resonance.  While I wanted to focus on this piece, I encourage you to explore the rest of Greg Brotherton’s collection of works.  

What’s Playing – Ok, so I know it’s not music but it was enough of a digression that I didn’t want to include it in the post proper. While I’ve heard the word “Kafkaesque” before, when it came up in Brotherton’s artist’s bio, I wanted to get a better sense of how the term related to his work and, in turn, what it meant to my work, if anything. I found this video. In addition to being enlightening, the illustrations are also very interesting- enjoy!

All Image Citations – Greg Brotherton

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