My First Sculpture in Clay and Then Finished in Bronze

Newberry-Lynia-1978-clay-lifesize
Newberry, “Lynia”, 1978, clay stage before casting, life-size. Seeing this now decades later, I love the ear, and the pensive quality of the eyes, the form of the cheekbones, the profile, and the calmness of the full mouth. I love the current of the hair flowing one way and the lines of the neck curving the other way.

“Lynia” is my first and so far only sculpture. It is dated circa 1978 maybe 1979, I would have only been 22 or 23 years old. I sculpted it at the Free Academy Psychopolis in The Hague, Holland. It was a marvelous school, no teachers! They had models everyday, all day, and they had facilities for printmaking, sculpture, and life drawing sessions. I did this as an exploration to see if I could do it. Even today, I think “wow, this is really good look at that ear!” Even more remarkable is I was never taught figure in drawing, painting, or sculpture–my 3 years of fine art at USC, didn’t teach the figure. They just left us to our own devices and played with postmodernism.

lost-wax-technique

I never became a sculptor, but I loved molding the clay realistically, and it was easy for me to conceptualize in 3d. I didn’t much care for the industry of getting it to bronze, never one for manual labor. From the clay you make a plaster cast, dig out the clay you sculpted, trusting the negative cast would not loose for form or detail. Swirl in hot wax to coat the inside of the plaster mold, fill that with more plaster, creating a wax shell that will be later transformed into bronze. Then you are halfway there. Trip to the bronze specialists, boiling metal, protection gear, steam, then let it cool, crack it open, intense clean up with metal files, and then torch on a patina. A lot of collaborative work, worry, because the original clay was destroyed, and nervous hope it will turn out. Not like doing a painting.

newberry-lynia-bronze
Newberry, “Lynia” (left side), 1978, bronze, life-size. One of the problems to solve in a sculpted portrait is how to cut off the neck. A lot of neo-classical works chopped it off slanted leaving a disk shape, like the bottom of an elephants foot. I was really happy how I did it, with the rough clay, following the line of an imaginary necklace, then morphing into the finished head.

I think having studied all of Rembrandt’s paintings as a 12-year old and on, gave me sense of the shape, tone, and expression of a human face–I could easily feel when it was right and annoyance when something didn’t work, which I quickly changed to get back on track. It hard to explain talent, but there is definitely a feeling of delight in making the right marks and forms.

Newberry, “Lynia” (right side), 1978, bronze, life-size.

I mentioned a lot of technical stuff, which I love in a nerdy way. But the key thing is does it feel alive and how to I feel about it? I love everything about it, and looking at it now makes me feel a very full sense of tenderness. Being able to go back decades and genuinely feel satisfaction is amazing. It is like falling in love with someone, and re-experiencing that same feeling again when you see them so many years later.

Michael Newberry, Idyllwild, 2/23/2020

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