Friday, August 24, 2012

Inspiration: Duchamp's Readymades to Contemporary Sculpture

"Art is never finished, only abandoned," wrote Leonardo Da Vinci.

Well, that is where creativity truly begins for me: with the abandoned. Perhaps I shouldn't find it surprising that digging in the dirt or scouring old markets and salvage yards provides the most consistent source of inspiration. My earliest interest was in archaeology. At age 20 I used my British rail pass on an almost daily basis, and as the trains drew near the station there was inevitably scrapped metal and broken parts littering the path to the platform. I found myself in a continuous daydream between stations as I stacked, rearranged and constructed them into sculptures in my mind. While conducting my own recent playground clean-up at my son's elementary school, I came upon a steel watch clasp lying in the mulch. As he lighted over the array of equipment, images went aflutter! I combined the steel component with turquoise into a minimalist necklace. I've resurrected an old oxidized brass miniature scale, a French brass mailbox plate, vintage chandelier crystals, electrical findings, old medals, antique keys, list goes on... The more unusual or archaic the find, the more keen my enthusiasm is to use it in a new way. It's no wonder that the impetus for DeLuka Jewelry Design tends to spawn from aged, ordinary, found objects.

Found Object Necklace by DeLuka. Photography c/o Virginia Hobbs.

I find this to be the most electrifying aspect of any creative process: that glimpse of an idea like a shape in a cloud that materializes into something tangible. My high school creative writing assignment to write a paper explaining a step-by-step process ended up exploring how one could discern animals within clouds in the sky as if it were the Serengeti. Not very scientific, I suppose. Members of the Cloud Appreciation Society might be the only ones to appreciate my analysis, if one could call it that. But it wasn't clouds alone that piqued my interest: it was their mutations. The subjective act of capturing those mutations of form is a purely individual experience involving one's own perception of their surrounding environment.

In the center of a ruined Roman Amphitheater in Caerleon, Wales dating back to 80 B.C. I peered up into the sky above. The clearly distinct form of a dragon stood out amidst the clouds as if it had been drawn in chalk on a blue board. At that moment I turned to my friend and asked what he saw, "A dragon," he replied. The dragon happens to be the symbol of Wales; it adorns their flag. We both shared a glimpse of the same potential within an ever changing physical environment. A cloud is always moving and changing. But that cloud as I saw it in that moment still exists in my mind today.
One can feel the solidarity of a functional object. Its reality is not in question. Its purpose is defined. By changing an object's position and use, and recreating it into a wearable piece of adornment, the human relationship to that object is altered. French artist, Marcel Duchamp, first challenged our minds in this way in 1913 with his Readymades. The first of these was an upturned bicycle wheel fastened to a stool titled Bicycle Wheel.

Marcel Duchamp with Bicycle Wheel

The ironworks of sculptor Andrew T. Crawford, who attended the Rhode Island School of Design, might be based on a similar impetus. I had the pleasure of residing in Athens, Georgia for a couple of years. While working at a gallery downtown I visited the UGA campus often. It was there that I was first captivated by his marvelous and innovative art. He creates life size sculptures of familiar functional objects with an altered position, shape, and purpose. The items within a tool chest typically appear clunky, blunt, crude and incongruent with art. Though art is usually a result of an array of tools in action behind the scenes. Under Crawford's guidance a shotgun becomes a curvilinear modernist style bronze sculpture in, "Bang!"

Image c/o

Forged bronze bolts arch like a scorpion's tail in, "All Thread." I feel confronted by a screw split in two, arching with the tension of ballerina. Crawford's rooted, heavy work imbues iron and steel with movement whilst holding it all in balance with refined restraint. A hammer becomes a rocket ship in, "Launch," or a raging beast in, "Bull" leaving me stunned and yet wanton.

Image c/o

It is this mingling of functionality, of redefining our concept of shape and its possibilities. His ability to create a stoic object that the mind views as immovable by human force and propel it into action, almost serendipituosly, with composure and finesse beckons me to make way for what might take place. Though his sculptures are not "found object" art per say, they represent functional objects in a new way. By giving them a large scale presence the viewer re-examines its contours. By forging curves, he creates suspended movement. Only living things move, right? Yet his sculptures appear to dance and charge with grace and power. No one says it better than Crawford himself: “You don’t need a Ph.D. in art history to look at my work."

Contemporary American Artist/ Neo-Dadaist: Jasper Johns

When I first began to examine modern art my personal friend and art collector, Manfred Zöhr, quoted Jasper Johns -

"Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it. Do something else to it."

Those simple words churned in my mind for years. They still inspire me to push my perceptions beyond common rationale, to look, to explore, and to play. This psychological dalliance with industrial or discarded objects feeds my imagination with excitement! The wealth of skill and consciousness contributed to this genre continues to burgeon and transform. Every movement must be redefined by new artists. Pray, what might come next?

1 comment:

  1. Love, love, love this post! Thank you for such an inspiring read this morning, I found myself nodding my head in understanding throughout, your writing is just beautiful.