An Artist’s Statement
By Henry Dines Nelson
Sculpture that Strives for a Higher Purpose
Whether I am driven by my own naïve idealism or responding to the real and constant battles for social justice, I hope that my sculptures can make a difference. In part, my sculptures are about the imperfections of humans, but they also reveal the optimism of an evolving human psyche and the possible perfection of humanity. As a stone carver, my slow and arduous journey through granite is a search for a better way for humans to be in this world. Life as a sculptor not only provides endless challenges, but gives me abundant pride in seeing what others do not.
Materials and Process are Basic to Special Effects
The materials that I prefer to work with are granite, marble, earth, steel, and concrete. Stone sculptures, earth works and colossal installations can be seen throughout my ten-acre sculpture park on Whidbey Island. My gallery currently shows approximately thirty bronze and iron works of art, which were cast from my stone carvings. These affordable cast sculptures have a unique multi-hued patina. You will find totemic and crossover forms that are complex in their esoteric interpretations. All of my sculpture work is important despite the type of material. The earth works, due to the obvious as well as the site specific properties, are most suitable for expressing environmental themes. Repurposed concrete and steel are the right ecological choices though they require demanding, experimental procedures. Stone, however, is my passion: a passion for the potential beauty of stone as well as its properties. Stone defines the realm of creativity.
What Stone Carving means to Me
There is a beauty in a finished stone piece, but the experience of carving stone is truly awesome. For me, carving stone is often intuitive. The limitation of surrendering stone to a set design makes it the ultimate challenge for me as a sculptor. There are sensual aspects to carving stone that make it appealing; stone allows the creation of curves and a roundness that is analogous to the human body. The human body is beautiful and I pay homage to this as well as other psycho-socio and political aspects of humanity. Inherent difficulty, challenges, and even risks of working with stone, contribute to the total inspiration and motivate me.
Style, Creativity, and Influence
In addition to the intuitive nature of stone carving, there are other factors that affect my results. A less obvious variable of design is the maintaining of the integrity of a piece or a proposal. Design limitations are imposed by the stone itself. Yet, I believe my whole being is channeled into the carving of stone and the ultimate design. My travels in the Middle and Far East, the people, the cultures, and experiences, all influenced the design of my early sculptures. One example is the stone sculpture and subsequent bronze casting titled Buddha in America. I am unsure whether to categorize this work as abstract. Other artists also wrestle with the appropriateness of that label. Buddha in America is my contemporary western interpretation of what Buddha can be. My psychological makeup, i.e., ego (lack of ego at times), attitudes, emotions, and opinions, finds its way into the stone as I carve. To a certain extent I know what my sculpture is about, but many intelligent people have indicated to me there is much more than what I intended or have experienced. Perhaps I deconstruct to an abstract form that can then be reconstructed by others in a way allowing their own meaningful interpretations. Some of my work in stone explores primal totemic imagery. One might categorize this style as primitive abstract in a modern context. The development and creation of totemic forms is an exploration for me (and also for the viewer) into cross-cultural values, diversity, and even racism. There is no intention to cause harm or disrespect, but rather to learn about the great continuum of human form and behavior. My work reflects a love of ancient, primitive, and modern cultures. The Vertebral Forms Series is one route I took to understanding life’s relationships.
Personal Breakthroughs into New Dimensions of Sculpture
Periodically I have changed either my approach to sculpting or the type of material used. Exciting new results come from this. In 2005, my stone sculpture titled Journey in the Womb at Sea was revolutionary in form, content, style, and juxtaposition. Knowing the title and the primary meaning of the piece during the formative stages was truly a breakthrough experience. Despite a clear vision, the work was a struggle. Now, five years later, I believe it is one of my finest works. Another major breakthrough in my sculpting career was when I chose to work with Carnelian granite. These 8-11 ton blocks of stone posed a new challenge because of a ten-fold increase in scale. Cylindrical cores of Carnelian granite possess a ‘skin,’ which I now integrate into the form and surface design. A core’s skin is the set of markings produced by machinery when the core is extracted. The skin is a significant factor that affects the design, but in stone or cast bronze the strategically placed skin produces interesting effects. The monumental proportions of this gorgeous red mahogany granite have created a new dimension for me as a stone carver the last six years. Multiple breakthroughs also occurred with site specific installations when I started creating my own sculpture park. Current studies explore the possibilities for integrating innovative science and engineering into future designs; I look forward to developing interdisciplinary collaborations.
Come Share a Dream: Cloudstone Sculpture Park, Whidbey Island
In a pristine setting of indigenous trees and ground cover, I have created a synergy of sculpture, expansive space, nature, and anthropological story-telling. The largest of my site-specific installations is titled Passages. Made of recycled concrete, rebar, steel and earth, it takes up 1.5 acres. Though Passages is a work in progress, it already makes a powerful impact on visitors. In the park at different times of the year 50-70+ sculptures are showcased. My totems can appear like frozen sentinels or gods presiding over their domain, especially in the misty early mornings or at dusk. A serpentine pathway leads visitors past great pyramids and 20-foot high fabricated steel sculptures. Conceptual pieces with environmental (sustainability) themes remind people of their responsibility to our natural resources and to their own safety on this planet. Cloudstone Sculpture Park offers a highly accessible venue for conferences and workshops. I encourage all types of organizations, companies, and patrons to consider its peaceful yet inspiring setting.
©Henry Dines Nelson, 2017