“The sculpture is already complete within the marble block before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.” ~ Michelangelo
Subtractive art is a process of discovery in which raw materials are carefully removed as the artist unearths the story within. For artists Brian Sykes, Alan Smith, and Gedion Nyanhongo, revealing these stories has become a deep-seated passion and every piece of material brings a new adventure––some planned, some not.
All three have spent decades mastering their craft. Gedion began stone carving at the age of seven, following in his sculptor father’s footsteps. Brian and Alan fell into the craft of woodworking by serendipity. For Brian, it was while he was studying electrical engineering at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He was bored with engineering and knew when he saw a roommate’s woodworking projects that it was meant for him. For Alan, who teams up with wood artist Joseph Deru, his first encounter was during woodshop in junior high. Even after years at work, all three agree they feel happiest when working with stone and wood.
Of course, subtractive art is heavily dependent on the medium and tools used, and each of these artists go to great lengths to not only source unique materials, but also allow the natural beauty of these materials––whether wood or stone––to come through.
“Stone has a lot to offer because every stone comes out naturally with its own originality,” Gedion said. “I like to search and see where it comes from and what it wants to be.”
Gedion’s work reflects the traditional Shona culture of his native country, Zimbabwe, and he has traveled throughout the country to various quarries to source just the right stones that would best depict that.
For Alan, while he’ll never turn down an opportunity to investigate a lead on an interesting piece of wood, Mesquite has become a favorite for crafting his vessels and bowls. He has an intimate knowledge of its nuances citing the differences in growth rings across different regions and how those can impact the outcomes of each piece.
And that knowledge is key in “subtractive art”. These artists have to be able to predict to a certain degree what the outcome will be before they apply a chisel or blade to the piece, because there’s no turning back once they do.
“There’s a lot of pre-planning that goes into subtraction,” Brian said. Even before the carving begins, Brian is carefully treating and preparing his materials––much of his wood is kiln dried for a full year to ensure it integrity.
All of these artists approach their mediums with reverence and care. Their careful techniques coupled with a watchful eye for emerging features and stories guide them to uncover the art that is already art within.
Watch the full recap of this Art Discovery below.