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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Art of Art Deconstruction

We learn a lot from creating a piece of art. Every masterpiece we make teaches us valuable information about our skill level and teaches us new things with every brush stroke. But we rarely consider what we might learn by un-creating art. 

Let me give you an example. About a year ago I decided to create a cemetery sculpture. The plan was to create a replica of a New Orleans above ground cemetery on a six foot by 4 foot canvas. I used a frame from a large canvas given to me by a friend. I stripped the old canvas off and replaced it with fresh canvas, and I was off and running. After about 200 hours of work I'd created about 70% of the cemetery complete with tombs, stones, memorials, angel sculptures and all the other amazing things found in a New Orleans cemetery.
Until that time I'd had the canvas laying flat on a work table. I'd not yet up ended it to get a good look at it from the perspective of a piece of wall art, something I rarely do. I typically would move the piece of art from lateral to vertical over and over again to get perspective of the piece. In this case it was rather unwieldy and had not bothered to do so (stupid on my part). 

When I set the canvas upright I was impressed with myself that I'd managed to make it as appealing to the eye sitting up as it was sitting down. (I impress myself a lot). 

I lit the piece and moved the easel back so that I could observe it for a few days before laying it back down and continuing work on it. The next morning when I returned to the studio everything seemed fine, but for some reason the cant seemed off. I contributed it to the angle of the easel and went about my day. Later again I noticed there seemed to be a slight tilt that seemed umm tiltier(?) than it had earlier. Frowning I nudged at the easel to straighten it out. But it didn't straighten. Grumbling I pulled out the easel and set the canvas flat on the ground and the tilt was still there. Narrowing my eyes I turned the canvas around and examined it from the rear. The canvas had overlapped the back of the frame, so I felt around with my fingers along the edges of the frame, Then I found it. 

Much to my abject horror the frame had a hairline fracture in it that stretched across one of the boards. When the canvas was new, there was not enough weight upon it to show this fracture. Now that their were 40 or so tombs made from various materials and a lot of natural clay, the weight on the upper part of the frame had made the fracture far more noticeable. If left as it was, eventually it would crack and one side would basically cave in. 

I was more than a little miffed. Actually I was horrified. I had 200 freaking hours of work into this thing! There was no way to repair it unless I detached the canvas and replaced the strut, a nearly impossible situation with a piece this complicated. 

With disgust I jockeyed it flat once more and left it on the table so that no more damage would occur. Then I spent a week pacing back and forth trying to come up with a repair solution that wouldn't ruin the work. 

Okay, so there was no suitable solution. I would have to bite the bullet and trash the piece and start from scratch. I began to consider whether any part of it could be salvaged. Rather than just throw it away, I started a careful dissection of the 40+ components that were on it. I cut the canvas beneath and set each tomb aside until I had stripped the canvas and cut it into 40 small holes. Some things were not salvageable but to my surprise almost 90% of the pre-existing components were still in tact. 

Now right away I'd learned a valuable lesson about deconstruction. I'd learned that nothing is a complete loss. I'd also learned a lot about the strength of the materials I was working with. I found which glues were the strongest and which materials were poor to work with. 

But I also learned that all those smaller components could potentially make some pretty cool sculptures on their own.

Keep in mind that until this time I'd been working on some pretty huge pieces of art. I'd never had an interest or a concept that I felt would make for an interesting small scale sculpture.

So I began re-engineering the components. I carefully stripped away glue, canvas shreds, etc. I used a heavy tile base and began considering each individual tomb as its own work of art. 40 sculptures later I learned a hell of a lot from deconstructing my art than I ever had by constructing it. And the end result was that it cast me into a smaller mode of sculpture work which I'd previously been unprepared for.

Now a year later my tomb sculptures have become one of my better selling sculptures and have led to a whole lot of other smaller sculpture pieces that came from that damned frame fracturing. It made me rethink my art in a whole new way.

I like to think that no piece of art is a loss, even if it falls apart on us. It still teaches us a wealth of skills and techniques. 

Since that time I've actually deconstructed a couple of other pieces. One was damaged when a larger piece fell over on it. Another was an early piece I'd created that was encrusted with rocks and gems that I'd collected for it. The piece itself had fallen and cracked, so I methodically removed all the original gem work and have since used them in other pieces.

Nothing is a waste of time if you learn something from it.

So with that in mind, go break a piece of your art. You might learn something useful!

There is another reason why I am writing about this which involves a conscious decision to deconstruct a piece of art that took 400 hours to create. There is nothing wrong with it except the size and room it takes up. I'll write more about that later after I've soul searched a bit more and its future. 


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