Wed, 25 Jan 2017 00:09:18 +0000
To Swing A Mallet
Visiting the A&B Fine Art Foundry in the 90s I saw a pair of 9ft statues of bishops carved probably in Germany around 1630. The late Barry Flanagan had bought them to work with in his bronze projects. They were especially interesting because they were carved limewood and only three quarters finished so you could see the huge confident tool marks that went up to make the forms of the figures and, especially, the drapery. Clearly the carver had, with all his might, wrought the shapes with big blades and tremendous force, no hesitation - that's what a lifetime of swinging mallets at chisels leads to. Link to Barry Flanagan's Homage to Carving 2002
Seeing them started me on the path of carving, first at a carving school in Elbigenalp, Austria, then under my own steam, then with help from British expert Chris Pye, then back to Austria...a bitty, but enthusiastic apprenticeship. Now I'm in the middle of carving a large Medieval cadaver tomb, and paused to take this picture where my drapery, and the tool marks, are visible. I'm right in the middle of the job.
Comparing my work with the Baroque carvings, I see echoes but not equal craftsmanship or confidence. I guess the old carvers would have taken half as long to reach this stage. But the tools are the same, the will to form is the same, and I'm beginning to see how drapery is pure form in motion; neither liquid nor solid, neither anchored nor floating, but all these things. Next time I see some Baroque drapery in some Bavarian church or other, I'll remember finding these peaks and troughs with my chisel, and appreciate the flow. And I really WILL get round to reading Deleuze's book The Fold.
Mon, 07 Nov 2016 12:20:37 +0000
An Art Student's First Experience Of An Anatomy Dissection Room Part 1
When I was a student at Central St Martin’s in London in the early 1990s the study of anatomy was a forgotten footnote in art education rather than the hot and sought after topic it is currently amongst a new generation of artists and students. Figurative art was considered then deeply reactionary, aesthetically and even politically suspect due to its history among the 20th century’s totalitarian regimes. Convinced the human body was a universal language and still could be used as an expressive medium in art, I made contact with the last art school in London to have access to a dissecting room, the Slade at University College London, and they generously allowed me to join their students on the late Professor Pegington’s Anatomy for Artists course.
His lecturing format was to explain an area of the body by slideshow , including plenty of old master paintings and drawings , of which he was often surprisingly critical as an anatomist. I remember Rubens especially came in for some irreverent ribbing, accused of showing imaginary anatomy. Then we were all led down underneath Gower St to the subterranean ( of course) dissection room, me feeling rather alone as I was moonlighting at the wrong art school. I remember feeling like Aeneas following the Cumaean sibyl down into the underworld, aware that I was entering a place of death for the first time and was about to discover “how the dead live”. All the art students were unusually sober and quiet, anxious not to appear moved but secretly afraid of losing their cool.
(Image: historical dissection room with drawings, Wellcome Collection)
Mon, 07 Nov 2016 11:57:37 +0000
An art student's first experience of an anatomy dissection room part 2
We were deprived of our Bohemian individuality by being asked to wear lab coats, colour coded according to one’s girth , which was deeply humiliating for the wider amongst us. As the DR door opened and we entered, I held my face still and expected nothing, but was very shocked by the sight that greeted us. The room is vastly bigger and less intimate than one might expect, like a factory floor, harshly lit by striplights and with a colour world of blue plastic floors and walls, and, lined up like workbenches, dissecting tables of stainless steel, many large vats and baths on wheels, sinks and soap dispensers, steel trays of tools, charts, plastic skeletons for reference, and ( I know you’re wondering) a strong odour of chemicals which no one could enjoy. The air in there enters your body straight away; there is no stench of corruption, but it’s an uncomfortable lungful. The real shock was that our little number of 20 students and a professor were pathetically outnumbered by the dead, who lay lined up on trolley after trolley, covered in blue plastic bags like giant whole-body shower caps. The door closed behind us and I hoped at the back of my mind that those prone forms would not take it upon themselves to sit up. We were so few, they so many; we would have stood no chance.
(Image: a typical modern dissection room looks rather like this one at St Andrews University. The steel trolleys are double-decked and rotate to bring up the lower specimen.)
Mon, 07 Nov 2016 11:51:16 +0000
An Art Student's First Experience Of An Anatomy Dissection Room Part 3
I gave myself a stern talking-to to dispel these horror movie dreads. These dead were only recently alive, they were, of course, helpful, practical positive characters who wanted to help medical knowledge; perhaps they had been medics, or were grateful for medical treatments, or wanted to save their relatives from funeral costs, or wanted to carry on being useful. Their motivations were admirable, their offering of their last and most intimate possession a touching act of faith in the future. I felt unworthy of seeing them really, as I was not training to be a doctor and was there to train for a profession which is less vital, more luxurious, merely cultural compared to medicine. My feelings were very mixed as the first blue covering was removed and the body inside unwound from some damp layers of polythene.
The body one saw in such a DR is far from the neat colour-coded and graphically explained illustration of medical textbooks and far even from the wax anatomies of historical medical museums. It has been preserved with chemicals which fix and stiffen the tissues and remove the colours, and so is harder to interpret that I had expected. But the professor’s purple rubber gloves opened the spaces of the body and roved “Before, behind, between, above, below” finding muscles and tendons to identify, blood vessels and landmarks we had seen in his paintings and illustrations, a nerve here, a pacemaker there, organs detached and offered to us to hold , to hold and turn over and wonder at. How much I actually learned at that first encounter I am not sure; the experience was more a welter of physical reaction , anxiety, wonder and , in the end, exhilaration, to be in the intimate presence of a dead teacher, to be allowed to know myself , my own body, properly for the very first time.
(Image: University of Wisconsin video library, Shoulder and arm dissection.)
Mon, 07 Nov 2016 11:39:51 +0000
An Art Student's First Experience Of An Anatomy Dissection Room Part 4
The donors’ bodies were open to see, but made anonymous by a stockingette covering on the face. For the medical students this allows a sense of professional detachment perhaps, and retains the dignity of the dissectee. It has the simultaneous effect of increasing the horror and unknowability of death. One of the Slade students hardly dared to ask, but humbly did, whether we were allowed to see the face of our body, and the professor tenderly peeled the covering away and we met her. We met her, and felt sad and afraid and amazed. I could see that there was nobody home, no ghost hovering around this machine, but there is an aura around a body like that, some aura of personality, which one imagines perhaps. I had the impression that she had completely finished with her body and lived her life to the last full drop. The hands tell you a lot, especially when you think of all the things they did and made, the gestures they added to conversations, the things they touched and held, pianos, vegetables, handrails on the Tube, spoons, knitting needles, pets, whatever. I have in my work seen, drawn, sculpted and dissected many such donors in the intervening years and they are as distinct to me in memory as people I have known personally.
(Image of upper limb dissection by Govard Bodloo)
Mon, 07 Nov 2016 11:32:48 +0000
An Art Student's First Experience Of An Anatomy Dissection Room Part 5
Equally moving and more surprising were the teaching preparations to be found in the DR. I mentioned baths on wheels. On opening a lid I discovered prosections, which are body parts – an arm, a leg, a head and neck , a back – separated from the whole, preserved and expertly dissected to reveal their structures . One studies them with textbook and sketchbook in hand, practicing finding vessels, nerves, compartments, details, personal singularities that vary from individual to individual. They were in the baths covered by a blue liquid which, on enquiring, I was breezily informed was Comfort Fabric Softener. This product I have never seen again in a supermarket without an odd emotion. The strangeness of it all is quite normalized by the professional context of teaching and learning, I should say, and these initial responses become easier to work with. However sometimes I am now responsible for initiating students into the work of the DR and I am aware of what an assault the first visit makes on the entire being.
Tue, 19 Jul 2016 16:25:30 +0000
Booklist Re Forensic Facial Reconstruction
Just writing a fairly up to date Facial Forensic Reconstruction / Identification booklist for my students and thought I'd share it with everyone here , feel free to send suggestions of ones I am missing. Not listed according to academic protocol but enough info for you to find the books I hope.
Making Faces: Using Forensic and Archaeological Evidence
by John Prag, Richard Neave
by Professor Caroline Wilkinson, Christopher Rynn
The Human Bone Manual
by Tim D. White, Pieter A. Folkens
Forensic Anthropology: 2000 to 2010
by Sue Black, Eilidh Ferguson
Forensic Identification: Putting a Name and Face on Death
by Elizabeth A Murray Scd Otr/L Faota
Forensic Facial Reconstruction
by Caroline Wilkinson
Craniofacial Identification in Forensic Science 2014
by Devesh Kumar Dexit
Forensic Art and Illustration 2000
by Karen T. Taylor
Advances in Forensic Human Identification [Print Replica] Kindle Edition
by Xanthe Mallett (Editor), Teri Blythe (Editor), Rachel Berry (Editor)
Facial Geometry: Graphic Facial Analysis for Forensic Artists 2007
by Robert M. George
Tue, 12 Apr 2016 08:50:51 +0000
The Earliest Of Prosthetics
"The skull with the seashell ear: A female Neolithic skull and its prosthetic seashell ear dating to approx. 300BC, found in a megalithic chamber tomb in Roque dAille in the Var.
The skull shows evidence the woman had survived trephination and gone on to live for many years. The artificial ear also shows signs of wear and tear, possibly from the woman playing with it."
-so says the editorial from the publication whence the photo was drawn. I woould question whether the shell is a prosthetic for the living or a post-mortem decoration, but find very poetic the use of a shell - so often people put a shell to their ear to listen to sea sounds. Then there is the homomorphic resemblance. Antiquity has hidden the true purpose of the appendage, leaving all these meanings echoing.
Photo by Gustaf Sobin, published in "Luminous Debris: Reflecting on Vestige in Provence and Languedoc" (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).
Mon, 08 Feb 2016 12:54:51 +0000
Morbid Wax And Carving Booklist By Request #1
I was teaching a class at the Hunterian Museum this week and was asked to make a booklist of things people with our set of interests would like, so will be offering a list here in the Blog as they occur to me. Here is the illustrated biography of a great wax modelling pioneer.
The Lady Anatomist: The Life and Work of Anna Morandi Manzolini
Published 30 Nov 2010
by Rebecca Messbarger
Anna Morandi Manzolini (1714-74), an artist and scientist, surmounted meager origins and limited formal education to become one of the most acclaimed anatomical sculptors of the Enlightenment. "The Lady Anatomist" tells the story of her arresting life and times, in light of the intertwined histories of science, gender, and art that complicated her rise to fame in the eighteenth century. Examining the details of Morandi's remarkable life, Rebecca Messbarger traces her intellectual trajectory from provincial artist to internationally renowned anatomical wax modeler for the University of Bologna's famous medical school. Placing Morandi's work within its cultural and historical context, as well as in line with the Italian tradition of anatomical studies and design, Messbarger uncovers the messages contained within Morandi's wax inscriptions, part complex theories of the body and part poetry. Widely appealing to those with an interest in the tangled histories of art and the body, and including lavish, full-color reproductions of Morandi's work, "The Lady Anatomist" is a sophisticated biography of a true visionary.
Thu, 16 Jul 2015 12:50:13 +0000
The Wax Modelling Techniques Of Clemente Susini - Chapter
I have now put online the full chapter I wrote on techniques for "Le cere vive di Clemente Susini" (Italian) Paperback – 2014 by Aurelio. Pastorino, Ugo. Amendola (Author) FMR (Publisher), reflections on my experiences whilst conserving some of the Susini models in Cagliari, Sardinia at the invitation of Professor Sandro Riva in 2014. Read the full chapter click here
"The exceptional technical mastery of Clemente Susini’s wax anatomical models in Cagliari present a challenge to one who would attempt to explain the methods of their production, especially as they deliberately employ the highest artifice to conceal their manufacture. Their mimetic perfection obscures the detection of the very hands, tools and materials that gave them being."
Fri, 10 Jul 2015 12:35:18 +0000
Oil Paintings Of Mummies From The Catacombs In Progress
The mummies of the catacombs in Palermo in Sicily , clothed, dessicated, yet uncannily animate, continue to fascinate and sober the morbid tourist. I am making a series of intimately small oil painted portraits of real and imaginary individuals from this macabre crowd which will be sold through the Morbid Anatomy Museum Shop in Brooklyn, New York. Click here for the Morbid Anatomy shop
The mummies have bothered my subconscious since childhood due to a family story: my parents visited Palermo before I was born on an early package tour and were led, all unsuspecting, with a tour group of mainly elderly Britons, out of the blazing Mediterranean sun down into the dry, cool crypt , quite unprepared for an encounter with the cadaverous gapes , empty eye sockets, leathery pelts and claw-like digits that awaited them. My father, all incredulous, asked the guide why they had not been warned or prepared; he shrugged and opined that the lack of warning headed off the problem of indecisiveness and squeamishness amongst the group.
Although most of my output is sculpted and carved, I have a great romance with oil paint, not least because it is the final surface on most waxworks and can be mixed and blended seamlessly to give an oily, fleshlike surface. I have a tiny antique painter’s box which can carry a couple of small canvases, together with fine brushes and miniature tubes of paint, and have taken to painting with it guerilla fashion, setting up where there is time and space. Passers by might assume I am painting a lovely landscape then have an unpleasant surprise when they peek over my shoulder and see …..a face from the crypt. Little do they know that my attempts at landscape painting would be an even worse horror.
The paintings will take a month or two to dry, will be framed in antique and funereal fancy frames and shipped to Brooklyn to take their place in Morbid Anatomy’s irresistible emporium of doleful, unnerving and anatomical Mementoes Mori. I’ll let it be known when they are ready for you to see.
Tue, 30 Jun 2015 08:22:52 +0000
A Most Useful Book On Modelling
Modelling and Sculpture by Albert ToftRead the book - click here
Toft was a prolific Birmingham - born sculptor whose public monuments, executed in an Edwardian style, can be seen all over Birmingham, Staffordshire and London. I found his book in a secondhand shop on Charing Cross Road while I was at Central St Martin's in the 90s, and found in it all the technical advice on figure sculpting that was barely available any longer in the London art schools. I grew up in Birmingham surrounded by his works which were so familiar one barely stopped to study them; notably the figures on the four corners of the Hall of Memory, a white mausoleum in the centre of the city anchored by black bronze figure groups. His skill was the dignified and melancholy memorial, either of the war dead of WW1 or of the Boer war; he also executed a memorial for the nurses of the Great War. He was a pupil of the French sculptor and teacher Edouard Lanteri in Kensington whose books on sculpture modelling are well known and used to be widely used.
Toft's own book is an opinionated but helpful companion on the workbench; its earlier chapters contain advice to the student on approach and commitment, and Modernism is given a scornful drubbing. It never won him over. The book is most useful for its photographed examples of armature building, portrait modelling and mould making. It's fair to say that I learned most of my technique from his pages, testing and copying the procedures to the puzzlement and frustration of my art school tutors who felt that I was consantly facing the wrong way in time and style. Truth is, I have a great love for the history of my own "calling" and felt cheated that the long-practiced and esoteric practice of figure building - of convincing rendering of personality into permanent form - was being denied me by concentration on pure shape, material qualities and attention to placing and context of objects and non-objects. Not to reject the latter, but not wanting to lose the hard-won techniques of the former times. The book is available at archive.org to be read for free, and I recommend it for anyone planning to take one of my courses or generally make clay persons.
Albert TOFT 1862–1949
Sculptor of figures and portrait busts. Born 3 June 1862 in Birmingham, of an old family of Staffordshire artists in pottery and silverwork. Apprenticed as a modeller to Wedgwood's and attended evening classes at Hanley and Newcastle under Lyme. Won a scholarship to the R.C.A. 1880, where he studied under Lantéri. Exhibited at the R.A. from 1885. Designed South African War Memorials for Cardiff and Birmingham and many other monuments. Author of Modelling and Sculpture 1911. F.R.B.S. 1938. Died at Worthing 18 December 1949.
Mon, 26 Jan 2015 07:57:33 +0000
Gothic Woodcarving Demonstration In Exeter 27 January 2015
Tomorrow I will be giving a demo of woodcarving at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum Exeter, pretty much all day: come and see me carving St Margaret escaping from the dragon's belly.....a repro medieval devotional carving , in limewood - chance to chat and talk techniques and tools. Q & A session with my friend Dr Corinna Wagner, one of the curators of the RAMM's Victorian Gothic show.Museum website click here
Fri, 03 Oct 2014 09:41:18 +0000
Carving Guy Of Gaunt, A Modernday Transi , Part 1
A Modernday Medieval Cadaver Tomb and a Transi for EveryoneClick here to help fund Guy
The most morbid and anatomical tomb statues ever made were the Transi tombs of late Medieval Europe. (“Transi” in Latin means “I have passed over.”) Wealthy aristocrats and high-ranking churchmen arranged for their grave monuments to show them in death as an emaciated, naked corpse in a funeral shroud, with a skeletal grimace leering in the face of mortality.
The exact meaning of so graphic an image of death on the monuments of the powerful has been shrouded (sorry) in mystery for five centuries, but is now the subject of a scholarly study by Dr Christina Welch of Winchester University in England. She has visited, photographed and catalogued the Transis and compared them with what is known about late Medieval Catholic beliefs about the Afterlife, and will shortly be publishing her fascinating findings. She has invited me, an anatomical and morbid sculptor to join in the research by carving a new Transi in wood, a Transi for today and for us all.
Fri, 03 Oct 2014 09:39:48 +0000
Carving Guy Of Gaunt, A Modernday Transi , Part 2
The physical presence of the Transis is amazing; they are neither altogether alive nor altogether dead, and their anatomy is surprisingly accurate and lovingly carved, given a society where nakedness was shameful and clothing far from revealing. Their racked ribs heave upwards as though for a last breath; the veins stand out on their harrowed limbs, necks and temples. Their hollow eyes are often partly open, their mouths agape in a final agony. Although they depict specific historical figures, they stand in for any of us with our mortal body, our fear of what comes after, our vulnerable and failing flesh. Speaking as one who has worked in medical museums and dissection rooms, I truly believe they were carved from first hand observation of deceased persons by the sculptors as nothing else explains the astonishing realism – at a time when the sculptures of the living were still rather formalised and generalised. More lifelike than the living ? I would say so. Click here to help fund Guy