Monday, May 11, 2009


The central idea for the Osprey carving was created in response to the client’s comments while he was looking at the Stalled Raven. The suspension and the activity level of the carving intrigued him. I wanted to continue the idea of giving the carving a very similar look as well as keeping the piece unique and fresh as a creative force. It was not difficult to link the idea of the two carvings, they were very similar in their time frames and presentation. The time frame is important in both pieces because it is an extremely momentary event happening in a fragmented environment that will disappear in a split second.
The viewer of the piece is there to catch the moment that the bird is caught up in.
This allows a narrative in the carving that has many different options. In the raven the bird is caught in a gust of wind represented by the cluster of leaves that the bird is suspended in. The osprey is caught in the frantic fight of the fish that is struggling to stay out of harms way, this tenacious fighter skips and hops in a chaotic fashion all over the surface of the water. This action creates a pool of puddles and spray from it’s body that is linked to give the piece a unique lift and an airborne dimension to it’s base. This is enhanced by the action of the bird that is floating over the surface of the water with the airborne fish barely within reach. The wings are on the recovery beat and as a result are in an extremely awkward position. The bird floats over the event almost waiting for it to continue certain of it’s outcome. This enhances the narrative giving rise to speculation as to what will be, is the fish caught or not.
The osprey is hunting, it is involved in a struggle, the raven is playing, and it is not threatened in any way. The two birds are involved in what appears to be similar situations but in reality the contrast is as different as the worlds they are portrayed in. In many ways the osprey and the fish could switch places. The fish is a bird of the water and the osprey a fish of the air. Neither could survive for very long in each others environment. The raven is being supported or pushed along by the wind, a force of nature it lives in but has no control over. The osprey’s purpose for being there is to catch the fish. The fish is trying to stay alive and a force the osprey can harness if it catches it. If it misses the fish survives and the bird goes hungry, it will try again, the raven will catch another breeze but it will not go hungry if it does not.

Stalled Raven

November 11, 2006

I had not made a wood carving of a bird in quite a while, and when the commissions returned to birds I decided to make some serious changes. A client wanted an ebony raven and I revived a project idea from the mid nineties which I had developed for the same collector. This meant a return to the classical format that appealed to me, but I was determined to create something very different.
While I am working on a carving that does not have any radical changes in its basic design the ideas about making changes occur to me regularly. To take advantage of this, I began a second carving, which allowed me to develop these new ideas. I was facing the usual problems of technique and design, but I was prepared to let anything happen.
One carving developed in ebony and the other, The Stalled Raven, in a piece of red oak that I inherited from my father’s garage. About half way through the Stalled Raven I ran out of wood. It was not a surprise, but it did create a problem with colouration. Having a nicely finished carving in a single variety of wood was one thing but two-toning it was not in the plans. Obviously I could have gone out and bought more red oak but I never quite got around to it. I decided to continue with a piece of curly maple that was on hand. It took me a while to decide to proceed this way, and eventually the carving continued.
At about this time, it occurred to me that the carving could be painted. I haven’t used paint on any piece since the late sixties and early seventies. It was a huge commitment to make: if it did not work, there was no going back. However, it could be very successful and an exciting adventure that would lead to other changes. I ran painting experiments and decided go ahead. I painted it in sections and then glued it together. I used a couple of cans of garden-variety matte spray paint to apply about ten coats, and I did a final coat after the carving was assembled. I had a lot of technical and design problems. My early notes on this piece, for example, express disappointment in the way the wings were developing. In an active carving, the wings are crucial in helping to define activity and narrative. I was also concerned with the base.
By now, The Stalled Raven was hanging on a line over my workbench. It had no base and my plans for one were vague at best. I had recently used a series of airborne leaves to help hold a structure together, and I was playing with the idea of using this type of structure as a base. I added armatures in the partially-finished wings and body to allow for blowing leaves to be added in the future. This gave the piece a second life because the combination of the built-in changes to the original design and the creativity involved in the blowing leaves opened up a whole new opportunity
I adjusted the position of the body over the bench and found the piece was becoming very radical in its design. I roughed in the head to stabilize it and waited for the piece to show me how it would develop.
I am not much on making plans for these carvings. There are practical considerations that I always have to keep in mind. This is fairly straightforward for me, and mostly just time-consuming.
However, my pieces are first and foremost works of art. I have to face the practicalities of the work in progress and be open to solving problems as they are created. Making a plan would destroy the spontaneity involved in the carving. If there is another direction to turn toward, then having the ability to problem solve on the spot is a necessity.
The bird itself was challenging but nowhere near the complication of the blowing leaves. It took four or five attempts to get them right. The carving of the bird remained hanging from the ceiling as I wrapped the leaves around it. Once the leaves were set up it helped to stabilize the hanging piece. I decided the carving’s height by placing it over piece of glass and adjusting the distance between the carving and an imaginary base line, everything was set up from those datum points. As the leaves progressed, I wired them together into strings or long lines. That worked structurally, but the strings of leaves were obvious so I had to develop an aesthetic to cover this problem off. The armature that was installed in the raven itself had its short falls, and the carving went for months without being touched while I figured out what to do next. It all came together in a sort of cathartic event late in October 06 and it slid together after that. During this period the carving rolled over in my mind.
It became far less of a wooden bird carving and far more of an ethereal event. It is an event for the raven; it’s not a problem. Ravens are very intelligent birds and it could be that this bird is playing on the wind or the bird is simply caught in a gust of wind and will regain its composure. It could have been picked up off the ground or interrupted in its flight path the bird could also be playing in the wind.
It is flinching in surprise at the approach of the leaves that are rolling over its shoulder. The leaves wrapped around the bird are just blowing by, a measurement of the time frame for this happening. The power of the gust is apparent, picking up both bird and leaves, and depositing the leaves somewhere as the bird moves back onto its own way.
This became two carvings: the bird and the leaves. I know how to carve a bird, but using the leaves as a base was new. I am pleased that the blowing leaves do live up to the original idea, even surpass it. Both the base and the bird combine to give the effect that I was looking for. I started the whole piece as an experiment on many different levels and the innovations I devised allowed me to achieve a bold new look with my art. My bases will never be the same because I have developed new ideas and techniques. This is what I hope for as I continually try to push the envelope.