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She Has No Head! – Sculpture & Comics

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Rodin’s The Danaid

I spent Sunday at the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia.

Sculpture is perhaps my favorite art form in some ways even more so than comics (gasp!) – in part because I am so absolutely atrocious when it comes to three-dimensional work. I am so incompetent working in three dimensions, that art, which is strength of mine in general, almost becomes like math once you add that third dimension. And I am TERRIBLE at math. So, it is partly a fascination with something that I cannot fathom how one can create such excellence in a medium which I can barely grasp the most rudimentary understanding of.

I also appreciate the intense work that goes into it. Before something is sculpted there are innumerable 2-dimensional studies, and even what most of us 2-dimensional folks would call “finished work” in addition to 3-dimensional studies that prepare for whatever the actual assignment or commission is. Of course these studies, particularly the 3-d ones, have significant value and meaning as well, and in fact take on lives of their own.  Becoming their own art that can stand independent of whatever they were created to “work towards.” I sometimes find I prefer these studies, the same way that I sometimes find I prefer sketches to finished work when it comes to comics as well.

Rodin Unfinished 1

When it comes to sculptors Rodin is easily my favorite (Degas as a close second?) and I never realized why until this weekend while considering his works and learning a bit more about him. There’s an “unfinished” aspect to Rodin’s work that I really appreciate. It retains an energy and movement that not all sculpture manages to do. That looseness (even in cast bronze) gives the work a life that I find absolutely hypnotic. And I feel the same way about comics. Some of my favorite artists have a loose and kinetic style that sometimes feels “unfinished.”

Comics Loose 1

From left: Bill Sienkiewicz, David Mack, Ross Campbell, and Chris Bachalo.

Controlled where it needs to be controlled and loose where it can be loose, where being loose and showing its work (whether that be additional lines on paper or a “tooled” finish) actually makes the piece more interesting than if it was presented as perfectly clean.  There’s a “life” to seeing those supporting lines in both mediums that intrigues me more than the finished whole sometimes.

However, my favorite thing about sculpture is that because it can be viewed in 360 degrees and actually lives in space as an object, it can (and perhaps should) be utterly different from perspective to perspective, angle to angle. What feels one way from the front can feel entirely different from the side or back. And I find that my favorite pieces all heavily subscribe to this idea. I never considered it before but, in this way, comics are not unlike sculpture.

Rodin Same

The same piece, viewed from two different angles gives absolutely different feelings. They do not even look like the same sculpture. one feels aggressive and deliberately awkward, and out of proportion. The other angle makes it appear almost soft and relaxing, the opposite of aggressive.

While comics are clearly a two-dimensional medium in how they are created (although you do handle them in a 3-d way – well, for now) they also have the added dimension of writing. And while that doesn’t always enhance the images the way it should, when it works the way it’s supposed to, it is not unlike viewing a sculpture from all angles. There are so many dimensions and different ways to interpret a comic. And so much that can be learned from going back to it over and over again. I’m sure much art is like this for others, but it struck me this weekend, despite their differences, how true this is for sculpture and me. I view something differently now than I did two years ago. And an important comic I read two years ago might mean something utterly different to me if I read it today. I like that flexibility, I like that ability to project ourselves onto it, and thanks to the layers in comics and in sculpture, though they operate differently, they move me similarly.

Yes, I guess the layers are what I love. And while layers are certainly prevalent in all the best things from paintings to people, in comics and sculpture they seem to speak most profoundly to me.

One medium I hope to create in and be a part of in all ways, and one I’m going to continue to admire from a safe distance. You do not EVEN want to see my projects from my 3-D class. It’s amazing I even passed that class. Yes, when it comes to sculpture it’s best for everyone if I remain a tourist.

8 Comments

Love this post!!! And that comparison… sculpture’s 360 degree nature is like comics’s ability to mean different things at different times despite the static status of the work… BRILLIANT!!!

I agree that “unfinished” art tends to be more exciting and compelling than polished work, especially in comics. I think toeing the line between chaos and order suits comics especially well because it’s a hybrid medium to begin with. By its very nature, I see comics as an active medium that calls heavily upon the audience to make connections and build reality with their subjective perceptions more than passive artistic mediums. So leaving certain aspects abstract or unfinished often provides more wiggle room for the imagination.

My mind said ‘brie’ at the first pic. Yum. But I guess it’s actually supposed to be a man.

@Nick: Thanks so much Nick – I love your enthusiasm for it. Further proof that I never know what will speak to people and what won’t (I need to get better at this).

@Mark: Someday I will be rich and famous and make them carve me Rodin’s The Danaid out of brie. It will be AMAZING.

Also, it’s actually a woman. :)

awesome post!! (and not just because my drawing is in it! thanks Kelly!) really cool stuff to think about, and things i struggle with in my own work, too. like Nick was saying above there’s definitely a great opportunity for blank-filling in comics, like the reader has to fill in the blanks and each reader will fill them in differently and i think slightly abstracted characters in particular leave more room for relateability, too.

Terrific post.

What fascinates me about comics as a medium is how much it exists inside your head. Great comics create an illusion of motion that can stay with you in a way that video doesn’t.

Sculpture can function in a similar way. Stone can appear “alive” in a way that really gets under your skin.

Thank you for writing this post Kelly. Though I’m not a sculptor, I am a cartoonist, and I often find myself referencing 3-D objects (particularly posed action figures) as I set up my scenes. The process of taking a 3-D frame and transferring it to a 2-D frame without losing the feel of dimension (and, as you say, adding the feel of motion) is an interesting and even exhilarating one, so your essay really clicked with me. Especially since, as anyone who’s seen my work can attest, I also have a very loose style.

Love the Rodin Museum. My friends and I ended up there after we found out how much the Philly Art Museum cost (and did our best Rocky impression). Really glad that happened as the museum was really nice, So many interesting pieces.

The Hirsch Effekt

April 1, 2013 at 9:08 am

I won’t ever fully appreciate Rodin, as I can’t get over the Camille Claudel issue. Being able to see HER works in person about five years ago was such a moving experience. I refuse to seperate the artist from the person. And in the case of Rodin, that ruins absolutely everything.

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