Like so many artists, I have a variety of influences. There are a few I go back to for inspiration over and over again. Luca Della Robbia (1399-1482) is not an artist that my peers would probably think of as one of my creative stimulators. On a student trip to Washington, DC , during my tenure in graduate school at the University of Tulsa, I gasped when I saw Della Robbia’s terra-cotta round Pieta at the National Gallery of Art. It was the same thick pasty turquoise and grass-green glaze that caught my eye and the serenity that held it.
No matter how many reproduced images you see of art, nothing prepares you for the real thing. You never know what your reaction may be. The true meaning is what you glean from it, not necessarily the artist’s intention.
When I started working on “Sarah”, I was not thinking of Della Robbia, serenity or divine light. Her terra-cotta body was fueled and inspired by the real Sarah Jean Clark’s untimely death. I felt she and everyone who loved her had been robbed. After many years of thought, sketches, photos, starts and restarts, I knew how I wanted to represent the day she died. However, the terra-cotta “Sarah” had her own agenda.
Creating a life-size figure in clay is something of a miracle. I find, that the figure becomes so real that I am talking to her and in some ways she talks back. Using my own body as a model, she became alive when I had my entire arm stretched inside the neck to adjust for the attachment of her arms and head. We, “Sarah” and I, had a dialogue each day about how she was exactly like I envisioned. She told her story perfectly in gesture, no words were needed.
Similar to the Latin term used by the Dutch painters, “momento mori”, terra-cotta “Sarah” was to remind us of our own mortality and how short life is. As always, I employ some humor in my work and adore the philosophy of horror films. The oversized knife behind her back serves as a reminder, you should never expect things to be what they seem .
Like I said before, terra-cotta “Sarah” had her own agenda. I rushed her in the kiln to dry and she returned the sentiment by blowing off the back of her head and knife. In contrast to waiting with anticipation, she is now in quiet contemplation. I feel the real Sarah may have assisted in the process. She was teaching me a lesson.
It seems, once again the artist’s process wins over intent. Clay controls the artist, not the other way around. Terra cotta “Sarah” took on a life of her own, which is what I wanted. Much like Della Robbia’s serenity, she is peacefully watching over my garden and will soon grow a mass of succulents for hair.
Pastel drawing of me for sculpture
Starting the life size “Sarah” out of terra cotta clay
Starting to take Shape
Nearly ready to attach the arms and head
- The arms and head are made simultaneously as the body to dry at the same rate
Body parts are spread all over the studio
Her head needed some support for those stressful points that may crack while drying or firing
Waiting for “Sarah” to dry
In the kiln to dry
Her final home