Posted by farid from customer-148-233-78-77.uninet.net.mx (220.127.116.11) on Friday, June 27, 2003 at 3:37PM :
The Boogers Of Jose Guadalupe Posada
Life is weird. I'm sitting here on a hillside in Mexico waiting for wax boogers to freeze. I've got them in a small plastic container in the freezer. There are some skulls...a rib cage or two, arms, feet...most of them not yet assembled as it's easier to work them in sections and then fuse them all together. I HATE working in wax. The odd thing is as I look back over this bumpy road I see I practically started out with wax and haven't been able to avoid it. When you make very small sculpture you can't use clay or much of anything except wax. That's because you can cast the piece directly when finished, no need to make a mold from which you then make a wax.
My first serious piece, years ago, was a two inch sculpture of Botticelli's Venus...sheer madness. Took a year and just about permanently crossed my eyes and broke my shoulders. Wax gets warm in your hand as you work it...especially if you use soft wax, which is easier to maneuver like you would clay. The closest thing I can liken it too is sculpting with boogers...or elephant snot. You can use a harder wax if you carve...but a softly formed nude like the Venus is hard to carve when her arms are barely 3/8 of an inch long. That's why you have to put the thing in the freezer periodically...depending on how warm the weather is and if you're working by artificial light...which also heats the wax up and how delicate a section you're dealing with...fingers are a killer, so were her nipples.
Add to that the relative size of the tools you use. Imagine making a life-size portrait and using a shovel as a tool, or something that size...and try to model an eye with that...or a nostril. I use jewlers files and rifflers...the smallest available. These are heated over the flame of an alcohol lamp...and that presents a whole other dimension of frustration. How long do you hold the tip over the flame...and do you go into the flame itself or hover above...and how far above and for how long? The answers to these questions all vary depending on the ambient temperature...daylight or lightbulb...and of course with what you're trying to do. An additional problem is that the tool tends to leave tool marks...and you don't want that...so how do you smooth them out without botching the whole thing? Later on I discovered a nifty tool the Irish make for doing really fine plumbing work. It's a butane torch about five inches long with a bunch of different heads. The best of them is a device that burns and blows out hot air...no flame...just hot air. It took a while to learn to use without seeing hours of work melt in a careless instant...you have to hold it just right because as the wax BEGINS to soften, you have to move or it will be too late.
In the case of the Venus, my fingers were larger then she was so that any one of them, carelessly deployed, could gouge her whole face out and I'd never know it till I looked...so there's the problem of how you dance around the piece...intent on not moving your hand holding the tool even a fraction in any direction or the nose gets wiped out...but you also have to watch the other fingers of your hand so that when you maneuver the tool into place to smooth her brow, your pinkie finger doesn't smash her breast. Add to that the other hand which isn't doing any work per se, but has the equally crucial task of holding the piece in such a way as to not smoosh the features you just laboriously finished. And if either hand shakes...or moves a fraction in any direction you didn't intend...
Oh yeah..and in the case of the Venus, I had to wear jewlers magnifying goggles, 10X, that give you a headache after four hours...which compliments your butt ache, back and shoulder ache nicely. But, I did it for love. Cast only one, the original, in gold. It was a nervous weekend I spent after handing the finished wax over to the jewler. Lots of times a casting goes bad. When you don't have a mold especially (the mold making material can only be used on a hard surface), can't make a duplicate and have to start from scratch...it makes you "lively". To protect against insanity I came up with the trick that if I lost the piece, it just meant I would do it better the next time.
Come this October (when the arbitration hearing with the Jackster is shecduled) I will have been in Mexico for two years. Aside from a few Assyrian pieces in the beginning I cast for customers, who got them at half price, I aven't cast anything new in that time. I've made a bust of Don Quixote that sits is my lawyers office, but it's plaster, painted to look like bronze. Also made a Zapata portrait, but it's in wax, waiting to be cast. I have a firgurine of Frida, in plaster, that I haven't been able to finish carving...and a life-sized head of her I want to make into a ceramic flower pot and a glazed ceramic vase. That was what I wanted to do with Assyrian bowls, but no one was interested...we're too busy demanding a country and driving around in Rolexes. I think it would make a neat novelty item and could be used to generate much needed funds down here for children's programs. I figure we could call it, "Frida's Flowers" and incude a packet of seeds typical of the kinds of flowers she wore in her hair. Forgot to mention that there's an openning at the top so you can either grow the plants in the plain pot...or place cut flowers in the glazed version...which will be realistically glazed as per her own portraits. Could be corny...but might be cute too. I'e got that in plaster also but haven't had the time to finish it. Delores Hidalgo, a town near here, is chock full of ceramic factories that could easily mass produce the piece.
But...as silver abounds in this country...and as bronze casting foundries are few and far between...I was going to make my skeletons over again and do them in silver...right here in San Miguel. So...I made a new skeleton...five and a half inches high and cast him (it's a "Him"...I'm going to use his rib to make the woman skeleton). I showed him to my lawyer who said it reminded her of the drawings of Jose Guadalupe Posada (you can find him on the net) a much beloved Mexican artist and contemporary of Frida and Diego's. My lawyer, after hearing me speak for ten minutes the first time we met, said I reminded her of a Don Quixote type of fool...which isn't bad in Latin countries because they idolize the Don. Her point however was that if I wasn't going to get myself killed by windmills, idiot convicts and other implements, I had best rely on her to be my Sancho.
She got my curiosity up about Posada so I checked on his work and what do I see but a fabulous drawing of Don Quixote on his horse, Rocinante (When Che went off to Bolivia he was quoted as using a line from Don Quixote when, just before setting off in his last adventure he says, almost apologetically, to his tired old horse, "Once more, Rocinante"). He's shown as a skeleton, so is his horse and he's charging at what I call a bunch of "Uglies"...other skeletons who are running madly away from him as he bears down on them with a spear. There are at least eleven skeletons all over the place and some skeleton parts flying about as he's already bashed into several of them. I call them Uglies because they represent all the nasties in Assyrian society the Don declared a one-man war on...ahem.
Naturally, I decide to reproduce the entire thing, as a sculpture, cast in silver. That was four months ago and I'm still at it. I'm going to title it, "Homage To Posada". And by the time I realized just what an homage was...I saw I'd have to start over again. My mistake was in using my skeleton design, which is pretty standard fare, in place of the highly personalized drawing of Posada in which the skeletons come in at least three sizes and are unmistakably HIS skeletons. Having already made and cast the figure of the Don and the basic Ugly, I'd then make a mold of it and have several waxes made from that...then alter each one to reflect the individual ones in the drawing, THEN cast those and THEN make a mold of each one of them so I wouldn't have to re-configure each skeleton...based on the ever cheerful assumption that I would need to make more than one complete sculpture...for obvious reasons which every Assyrian knows and loathes..."artists live to make MONEY"!
note: I feel I have to interject something here...(my wax boogers are still freezing), and this goes to the core of being Assyrian. I get the impression that besides the FBI, State Department, Pentagon and several CIA agents...we now have some people from the community here reading as well. The information the server provides us also indicates we get hits from all over the world. It's my dearest wish that many of them be non-Assyrians...because we thereby break the taboo of letting "others" into the secrets of this madhouse we call, "Assyria in the Diaspora". We have this thing about "appearances"...putting on a good show...not exposing our dirt and tomfoolery. I think we got that from the Catholic Church, the Pentagon and every other entity that knows it has plenty to hide...a whole lot to answer for...but wishes to go on with business as usual. Well our "business as usual", is leading us straight into the toilet...with a brave face on it as we get flushed down being the one acceptable sign of the "true" Assyrian. I don't want to go that way. There has to be a better one or let's just close shop...and if there isn't, then let's stop embarrassing our predessors. If you're going to make the almost preposterous sounding claim that you're a deesecndant of Ashurbanipal and those magnificent people...then fer chrissakes start acting at least as "nobly" as any one of the mules in his stable would have. As we stand now...if that's what you want to call it...we have not a single attribute that tends towards bringing any honor or repute to our ancestry...none...zip. While we understand alright what it takes to succeed as a doctor or businesswoman/patriot...we haven't the foggiest about how to do it culturally. And that isn't only because we have no culture, outside church rituals...but because we don't know what Culture is in any case...what its uses are...why it ever developed and how you maintain and nourish one. If Atour Golani used the same expertise he has in designing cars for Ford that he uses when determining what is legitimate sculpture...Ford would be doing a lot worse than it is. But these people...the Jackster chief among them...who've figured out what to do to succeed in business or the professions assume therefore they know what's best in culture and the Arts as well. I would never presume to tell Jackie how to run her business...but seeing herself run her business fairly well, she feels no qualms about venturing out and telling me how to run mine. The unspoken cause is that she believes things like art and dance are "cute"...nice things to do on weekends after a hard week making real bucks...but nothing one should take too seriously. The odd thing is that it never strikes these people that the only thing that remains of worth of past cultures is their Art...not their minor millionaires...even though in most cases it took someone else's wealth to get the stuff made...So, by all means leave us "embarrass" the Big Shots of our community...tell them things are certainly NOT good enough the way they "appear". You can easily understand why the Bishop feels it's better to sweep allegations and children under the rug...it's the same with those who caution that we souldn't expose ourselves in public. I say, "UNPEEL".
So, by the time I realized my skeletons were mine and not Posada's, I'd already made and cast the Don and the main Ugly. I figured this out when it came to make his horse. Here was a dilemna indeed. I had drawings of real horse skeletons to go by...but Posada had his own design for it. Which was I going to make? I was afraid his was too cartoonish...that it would look like I couldn't make a "real" horse...so I tried compromise...but then it didn't look like his OR a real horse. So what was the problem? Am I afraid peole will think I can't make a real horse? Was I going to "copy" faithfully and not worry about it...or was I going to make "correct figures" and just copy Posada's general idea? This is getting too long...no time to go into the dangers of imposing a Classical form of study on oneself...eschewing for the time being what gringo society insists upon...even when it isn't there by a mile..."originality". I still haven't figured out if there is anything original inside or I'm just an excellent technician and copyist. Not yet...but soon, maybe.
That comes of not going to art school where everyone is straining to be original or die and no one develops much technique. Imagine what kind of caterwauling you'd get if the school at La Scala ran on the same principle...but the plastic Arts have become a neurotic game for the newly arrived who can't afford to buy a Rembrandt and so ever compliant art and gallery wheeler dealers fob off "highly original" geniuses who can help their bottom line immensely by contracting Leprosy and dying an agonizing but early death. I remember one notice for an artist in this town ten years ago that breathlessly stated..."The artist locked himself up in his studio for an ENTIRE WEEKEND...come see what he created in that desperate time".
Well...I started the Don over...and now have three different sized Uglies, the way Posada does. What will emerge is more a real homage than it started out to be. It's also going to be a better piece...though I'm merely the technician...an ever humbler one. That doesn't mean that it isn't damn hard to do. Making teeth...in wax, on a skull no bigger than a small marble...isn't creative, I'll grant...but oh what madness to even try it...and aren't geniuses supposed to be crazy?
Hey!!! I yam a genius!
pss...boogers are frozen by now...next round.
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