Thursday, 27 February 2014

Lets Talk: Brian Booth Craig

by Poppy Field I

Amongst figurative sculptors Brian BoothCraig is a household name.

Every aspiring sculptor at The Florence Academy of Art knows of Brian’s work yet few have actually met him. And, although his website lists an impressive array of exhibitions, projects, teaching posts and literature, very little is known about him. Until now…

In this blog, Brian unveils: the defining moments of his career and a rare a glimpse of his working method.  He offers advice to aspiring artists and ponders over the question: “If I were not a sculptor, what would I be?”. Want to know the answer?  Then read on to find out more about Brian Booth Craig.

In a January blog post, I wrote about the World Wide Web and the opportunities it has created for artists. Brian is a living, breathing example of online success. How did we in Florence first become aware of his work? Facebook. So here it is, straight from the Horse’s Mouth:

Surprsingly, Brian hasn’t always wanted to be a sculptor: “The decision to be a sculptor came somewhat late for me. Up until my early twenties I primarily studied drawing and painting. However, I found that I had an affinity and facility for sculpting at University, so I entered the sculpture department. The training was mostly conceptual and technical, with no consideration for the figure.”

After this Brian spent one year training in anatomy and modeling clay at the New York Academy of Art. Though that was the extent of his formal training, Brian has never stopped learning. “Intense observation of nature has been my primary teacher, followed by a close study of past masters and contemporary sculptors.”

One such contemporary is the pioneer of photorealism, Audrey Flack. Brian reflects that time spent working as an assistant to Audrey and other artists was exceptionally valuable. “It teaches one how to run a studio, how to deal with clients and the pitfalls of making public art. The experience exposed me to the dilemmas artists face when creating public artwork, and it has helped me define the work I want to make.” 

Today, Brian describes his work as a synthesis of many approaches. Rather, than conform to a singular or linear method, the configurations of these are adapted to each sculpture.

“I work from life, imagination, photographs, casts, anatomical knowledge, historical antecedents and the work of my peers. My working method requires a good memory of form, but I have closely observed human form for many years, so my imagination plays a role at every stage of sculpting. I have a mental catalogue of human forms that is informed by nature, anatomy and sculptural conventions, and which permits me to visualize possibilities and variations as I am working.”

Unlike most sculptors, past and present, Brian also casts his own works.

Brian strives to make every sculpture ‘his’.  Having studied the fundamentals of foundry techniques at University, he is able to apply this knowledge in his own studio.   “I like having control over the process of finishing a bronze, and connecting the creative decisions to the production process. I try to be as engaged as possible through the making of each bronze so that my hand is truly in every piece. I am not sure if this means anything to collectors, but it matters greatly to me.”

However, bronze casting is a lengthy process. In order to create more work, Brian hopes to one day implement his plan of supervising studio assistants during the bronze production.

Brian also dreams of creating a large sculptural fountain in an urban setting. “The marriage of sculpture and architecture has mostly dissolved, and the divorce of the two calls for a reconciliation. Public work that intelligently and creatively merges the two art forms would be very attractive to me.”

Personally, I believe Brian will achieve these goals and much, much more. In growing as an artist he has made innumerable sacrifices, especially with his time. “I have limited my social life and I make great investments of time and money for my work. It is a challenge, but I see no other way to sustain a creative life without a willingness to make sacrifices.”

Brian’s dedication to his work is unquestionable.  So, I was not surprised that his advice to aspiring young artists was to work very hard: “Be prepared to make sacrifices. If you are more interested in partying and playing the role of artist than going into the studio, then you probably are not going to be able to sustain a creative life”.

He also recommends finding employment that is in someway connected to the art world: artist assistant, art handler, gallery assistant, teaching, etc. “Try to be connected to the lives of other creative people. Be willing to help your peers. Don't just be a taker, but assist your colleagues.”  Wise advice indeed and something I, along with many of my contemporaries, am trying to do.

Finally, Brian stresses it is absolutely essential to “ feed the creative urge every day, even if it is just thinking about one's work, discussing it with someone, or preparing your materials for the next free day in the studio.”

For those of us keen to learn, it is indeed fortunate that Brian considers himself a sculptor who teaches:

“Because my identity is artist first, it is necessary for me to be entirely open and giving to my students when discussing my own experiences, otherwise my contribution will be limited to classroom methodologies and techniques”.  He enjoys his interaction with students and believes that it is his responsibility to pass on his knowledge “beyond simply teaching a formula for making objects”.  His goal is to cultivate individual visual thinking: “I love it when a student surprises me with their solutions, and makes something I would never conceive.”

In fact, Brian considers that artist-teacher roles are mutually beneficial: “Teaching forces me to articulate and analyze processes and concepts that become habitual and non-verbal. This recapitulation keeps me from becoming stale or thoughtless, making me question my own routines.”

So, what would Brian like to be if he were not a sculptor?  “Unemployed!”  Well, I can’t see that ever happening … can you?

Brian may be across the Atlantic Ocean teaching those oh so lucky students at the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts in Connecticut BUT his wise words are here to be shared in studios throughout the world. 

Social media is a vital career tool for every contemporary artist, especially emerging artists. The Internet has changed the way artists get exposure, and the gatekeepers have yielded some of their power because of the democratizing effects of social media. Emerging artists who do not employ these outlets are at a big disadvantage. It connects artists to each other and to a larger public. I have found it a wonderful tool for expanding my awareness of the art world, and keeping myself engaged in conversations about contemporary art.”

With this in mind, I look forward to writing about Bridgeman Art Studio - due to be launched next week!

Monday, 17 February 2014

The History of Art is Messy… Let's Talk: Marc Dalessio

by Poppy Field I

As an Art History undergraduate, I spend a substantial amount of time with my eyes fixed upon an image or nose in a book…. in these moments my thoughts revolve around times gone by.

But, I also reflect upon my own life. I love to remember the wonderful year I spent sculpting, drawing, laughing, crying, eating, sleeping and breathing amongst actual real-life artists in Florence.

It is in these moments that I imagine the future and cannot help but chuckle. Trained in academic techniques, these artists are going to cause such problems for future generations of Art Historians. It is with the deepest respect that I judge none more so than the painter Marc Dalessio.

Let me elaborate.The History of Art is messy. Most movements are without manifestos. Styles cannot be neatly labelled. Artists and their Art are enigmas. Indeed, my first essay of term questioned how the scientific examination of paintings brings information to the discussion of authorship. Prior to this, I had no idea that artwork is so regularly subjected to such extensive analysis!For instance, if are under the impression that the Van Eycks invented oil painting then I am afraid Vasari has deceived you.Seeing Through Paintings, a surprisingly accessible read, reveals that oils have actually been utilized by artists from about the 6th Century. Although, admittedly, it was not until the 15th Century that drying agents, necessary for the paint to harden, were added. From the 1700s many more pigments became widely available. The 1840s saw the invention of the zinc tube that gave rise to en plein air painting. Following the Second World War, the production of commercially available Acrylic and PVA paints commencedMaterials available to artists, and accepted as art by the public, have so drastically evolved that we are left wondering “What is Art?” For example, just last week I was volunteering at a children’s workshop with theRoyal British Society of Sculptors when the question “what can sculpture be made from?” was posed. One little boy made his classmates laugh uncontrollably with the suggestion: “Light!” Yet, artists such as James Turrell have shown us even that is possible. Just pop over to Pace, London to see for yourself.So, how could I not think of Marc? With so many modern mediums available why does he practise traditional techniques?Recently, Marc explained to me that commercial oils contain fillers that sometimes weaken a colour’s tinting strength. This becomes apparent in the comparison of hand-ground and shop-bought black oil paint… the latter appears slightly grey. Thus, he considers it essential to make his own media of pigment and high-quality linseed or walnut oil:My second essay of the term considered aristocratic patronage and court artists.Parallels can be drawn between the traditions of gift giving in Renaissance Courts and the relationship Marc enjoys with his patrons. Did you know that Sofonisba Anguissola, the Cremonese female artist at the court of Philip II (1527-1598), was once given a four-faceted diamond upon the completion of a full-length portrait? Today, when Marc spends time at an Italian aristocrat’s estate, their thanks is often demonstrated with gifts of fine wine and olive oil. Image detailing that on a tax return!Such stays involve at least one portrait commission. In his studio, Marc usually works on portraits for two hours each day, but when undertaking such a commission in situ he tends to focus on this image alone. Although, inevitably the time individual clients are willing to pose for a painting greatly affects the speed of production.

Yet, Marc does not deny the convenience of innovation. He recognizes that various manufactured colours are very similar to those he might make. And so, alongside his traditional hand-ground paints, Marc has been known to apply Williamsburg cadmiums and Old Holland blues.

With pigment analysis considered a vital technique in dating artwork, I am certain that Marc’s combination of media and methods will surprise future restorers.

Angel Ramiro Sanchez, the Director of Advanced Painting at the FAA, describes such commissions as “creating a biography of the sitter.”  

A patron may have a vision of themselves or the loved one who is to be painted… perhaps a “romanticized notion” which can create unrealistic expectations as well as pressure. Needless to say, it is vital to maintain a good relationship. I have been lucky enough to interview Ramiro – it was then that he revealed the difference between painting patrons and friends:

Where can we place artists like Marc and Ramiro in the canon of Art History? Can an academic training the grounding in bargue drawings and hours spent before a live model be considered the defining characteristic. Neo-what I wonder? Or are they simply the continuation of a practice that cannot be pigeon holed.

Whilst at The Florence Academy of Art (FAA) I often found myself sitting for friends. To maintain a pose for a quick sketch is one thing. To spend a few hours each day in that same position is another. Of course, with distraction this becomes easier. Ione Hunter Gorden ensured that I was comfortable for the following portrait by playing a stream of chick flicks.

The experience of sitting for the sculptor Johanna Schwaiger so affected me that I wrote an entire article about it!

Yet, ensuring a patron’s comfort is not always a painter’s greatest challenge.

Marc has identified that his patrons tend to have one of two distinctive mindsets. The majority entertain the modern notion that “the artist is a solitary genius who demands complete creative freedom and control” while a fraction still maintain a more ‘historic’ approach. That is, they consider themselves “as the producer of the work and the artist as a means to that end”.

Surprisingly, Marc prefers the latter. He believes that to create something significant an artist must have boundaries to push against.

So, commissions are a tricky business. Especially if a patron has “strong opinions and doubtful taste.” Thankfully, Marc has allowed me to pass on a little of his advice; “be polite to the staff, don't get paint on anything and, at dinner, start from the outside with the silverware!”

For over a decade, Marc has exhibited his personal work at the Grenning Gallery in Long Island. This has exposed  his work to a wealthy community  and enabled him to grow his clientele. It has also allowed Marc to spend his summers there! He has observed that an artist “being inspired by an area acts as a great validation” for the locals.

It is evident that Marc combines his talent with a sound business sense. As Simon Fletcher revealed in digiQualia’s previous blog post, this is how to succeed in today's world.