Kuan Yin of The Magic Box

The last two months has seen a flurry of studio activity as we close in on the date to install the Magic Box show in the Moss-Thorns Gallery at Fort Hays State University.  The last major piece to be built for the show is a large-scale copy of the Kuan Yin that is featured in the fourth video, The Black Church. This piece will accompany the entire edited video in the last space in the installation and in many ways is the anchor for the show. I see it as an opportunity to flip the scale of the viewer in the gallery and reinforce the image of the viewer themselves within the context of the space, especially as it relates to the cell phone interaction that will be integral to the experience of the show. for this reason as well as my real and abiding love of the work it is based on we have been determined to do a good job on this piece.IMG_9701

The first step was to build the easel. Gabe accomplished this using an old solid core door, a 4×4 and some canvas we has in the studio from the Art Center days. The tech is really costing quite a bit for this show so keeping costs down in other areas has been important over the last year. The easel was heavy and difficult to move which was a good thing considering the amount of clay that would need to be stacked on it.

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The next step was for Gabe to use his observational super powers to scale up the figurine on the canvas so we would have a frame-work for stacking the clay.

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While Gabe worked on that, I prepped the clay for stacking. To build the piece I used a highbred technique of the brick sculpture I used to do with Jarrett Pottery and the large solid sculpture techniques learned during the Beth Cavener workshop in January of 2015. (see post here) The piece required about 550 lbs of clay, which I shaped roughly into bricks straight from the extruded blocks from the clay factory.  I used talc between the bricks to prevent sticking, which turned out to be mistake in a way as I changed my ideas for taking the piece apart to more reflect Cavener’s technique rather than the brick sculpture I had done in the past. The best choice would have been to work for solid attachment of the units to each other as I built the wall.  It would have saved valuable time in the disassembly and hollowing stage. For clay I chose the cost saving measure again. We were still sitting on about half a ton of Laguna’s Whitestone, which is really the last clay I would have chosen given the problems we’ve had in the past with it, but it’s what we had and the dates are approaching quickly so we went with it. Because of this choice we anticipate a good deal of epoxy after firing, with that in mind we will be using a fired and cold approach to the surface.

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Gabe, in the mean time, worked on a second outline, on paper this time, that could lay over the stacked clay and allow us to map in the essential elements.  After that it was a matter of stacking the clay, brick by brick.

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On this last image you can see the outline that was traced onto the clay using the second, paper drawing. The clay was very wet here and carving for detail was not possible, so for the first week or so only crude shaping and removal was possible.

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At this point the form was basically mapped and fine detail could be added. While the piece was based on the figurine, the scale shift required a greater attention to detail that the small piece could not support.  These changes are most apparent in the folds of the fabric.IMG_9774 IMG_9785

You can see in the above image that the clay was really pulling apart, which made finishing imperative. The last section to be tackled was the head.

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I did return later and add material to a few places, the knee and the nose, brow and chin most notably. This is the face before the additions.

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The additions to the face were made after the piece was cut away from the larger whole. In this image the “brick” separations are clearly visible. The first step in the deconstruction phase was to attach the bricks together.  Once this was complete and the attachments had time to set, the entire section was flipped on the foam and carved out from the back to make firing possible as the density of this clay will not allow solid firing as brick does.

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Once the pieces were attached and hollowed out they were sculpted and finished. The remaining sections stayed on the easel as I worked.  After a while the pieces became so dry on the canvas backing of the easel that the whole thing had to come down and be more thoroughly wrapped so they would last while I worked. It took about a month the finish the disassembly.

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After hollowing and attaching, part of the finishing process involved placing each section on a waster slab and then resurfacing with steel wool to remove the making texture from the forms.

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The last step was to wash the sections with a red iron oxide wash that will be sanded back a bit before these pieces are loaded into the kiln in a couple of weeks. Reassembly and cold finishing to follow.

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