Saturday, December 07, 2013


This first image is the art, not the artist.

"Letter to God" by Tip Toland

Tip Toland

This Montana artist will never be in the CMR Auction!  And yet how Charlie would have loved her work. At its core, it is very much the same as what Charlie was doing: considering the human creature with love and humor.  Toland earned her BFA in ceramics at the U of Colorado-Boulder in 1975 and her MFA in ceramics at Montana State University in Bozeman.  She picked up whatever "menial" labor she could find in order to keep eating.

Here's a bit of a gallery.  They're not representative pieces -- just the ones I particularly like.  You could go to her website:  

"Grist" (2012)   Here she is, speaking for herself.

Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam have been talking about the Mona Lisa and why it fascinates us. Their premise is that the painting gives us two versions of the portrait melded together -- one strictly accurate(non-smiling) and one blurry (smiling) -- that are interpreted by two different parts of the brain that do not see the same thing, do not perceive in the same way.  It is the effort at resolution between them that holds our attention.  Super-real sculptures do something like that.  Every clue tells us this is a real person, but it is also clear this is art, mimesis. 

Most of the people who do this super-realism do their work in flesh-like plastic or do waxwork as in Madame Tussaud’s museum of famous replicated people.  Remarkably -- almost incredulously -- Toland works in stoneware, or if that’s not available she uses hydrocal, a hard form of plaster which is what we used for casting in the Scriver Studio until we could afford bronze.  (The skull above appears to be bronze and brass -- I love it!)  

I would not know about Toland except that she is the subject of an article in the Sculpture Review (Fall, 1913), that stuffy old instrument of the figurative sculptor organization, the National Sculpture Society, with its roots in the Beaux Arts Paris context that supported so many famous public monuments and was the genre “home” of Bob Scriver.  Even more shocking to some than Toland’s work is the “figurative sculpture” on the cover of this issue.  We forget someone has to sculpt a doll.  This doll on the cover is Neil Estern's way to pay the rent.  She is child-sized, designed to wear the child's clothes.    


One of Bob Scriver's works is a toy quarter horse for Breyer that is sold to kids and collectors.  Someone had to model the Barbies, trolls, "My Little Ponies," and Betsy-Wetsies. 

Super-realistic dolls, especially those portraying children, go straight to our hearts but are not marketed as sculpture.  One does not play with them as toys either.

Nudes, even more than dressed portrayals, engage additional different parts of our brains as we ask ourselves,  "Is this real?  Am I allowed to look at this?"  There might be an impulse to somehow interact, maybe even to offer a warm sweater.  Though I know what Bob's likely response would be and it would not be protective.  Nor would he critique himself for it.

Others of us see things differently and to some Toland's work will be philosophical, possibly even religious, as we ask ourselves what we poor vulnerable "fork├ęd" creatures are doing in this existence and how it is that we can see ourselves revealed naked as Toland does, replicate ourselves as tenderly as this, yet kill and abuse each other.  Why do we know we are here instead of going through life unconsciously as other animals?  How can we answer the insoluble riddle of who made us and why we are like this and how?

Many creation myths speak of humans being squeezed-up out of mud, which is essentially what Toland's work is.  But it takes enormous skill and patience to make these sculptures of water-clay, section them, thin the pieces to a uniformly thick shell, fire the hollow pieces, reassemble them, then work on their rejoining and finishing until they are "real." (She uses pastels for color, sometimes ground into dust.)  This long process of creation is not unlike gestation and giving birth, so by the end her sculptures are like children.  She gives her people names.  I don't know whether she uses molds -- maybe sometimes.  She says attaching the hair is the hardest part, but the invention of synthetic hair makes improbably long tresses possible.

One part of the brain clearly craves dolls, puppets, representations of the human if only knotted out of a handkerchief.  It must be deeply wired somewhere that is more accessible in children, even infants, but is always there throughout life if the artist can access it with an image.

Invent this for a child to put in a pocket.

"River of Patience" (2002)

Like a dream this woman in a common act is made surreal by two simple additions:  her hair is so very long and the objects she is brushing out are not flowers or bows, but babies.  So, considering the title, is this a mother producing babies or a woman getting rid of babies -- getting them "out of her hair"?  Another layer of ambiguity.  I used to be impatient when Bob's mom would look carefully at his sculpture and see only things like buttons or other tiny signs of accuracy.  She never saw composition or emotional content.  But I see now that she was wrestling with the ambiguity of life itself: should she see it in terms of a kind of familiarity, or should she venture into another level where the dreams and questions exist -- a level possibly dangerous and uncontrollable, but the place where artists truly live.

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