marble quarry
marble quarry

I must write about this magical month in October before I forget.  Our life goes so fast sometimes, I forget to take note of the extraordinary experiences we have and that are wonderful to share.

In the piazza of Pietrasanta
In the piazza of Pietrasanta

We just spent 4 weeks in the old medieval town of Pietrasanta where we carved in studio Shakti in the industrial marshland, walking into town each morning for our coffee and brioche, the pedestrian streets echoing in the early morning as we briskly made our way to the great piazza, home to Michaelangelo for a few years as he wandered the mountains searching for beautiful stone. He found the most beautiful statuario in Mont’ Altissimo, in the mountains above Pietrasanta, and opened a quarry there.  It is truly amazing to be in the history of this original Roman town, that for centuries has had artists coming to make their sculptures in the many dusty studios, working with the artigiani; experienced craftsmen who could point up the model from an artist better than the artist, and execute the idea with truth to the artist, the great artists’ friend.

old photo of the the artigiani working on the artists sculptures
old photo of the the artigiani working on the artists sculptures

We lived at the studio in a small apartment, all day and all night the noise of machines in the surrounding studios and factories, churning and cutting the marble for facades of buildings, copies of old sculptures, kitchen benches and tiles, facades of pillars; the great inners discarded after the veneer was peeled off, a tragic loss of mountains slowly disappearing into the terrible maw of consumerism, temporary but forever gone.

lunch on a fine October day in studio Shakti
lunch on a fine October day in studio Shakti

The Shakti studio is very basic, but lovely with its great old Mediterranean pines towering over the makeshift sheds, catering for artists working here short term and mostly working with smallish pieces.  You bring your own tools and you can work with the supplied air or by hand.  There is no lifting apparatus, though the guys in the studio next door will come in and move your piece if it is too heavy with their little crane truck.  You can buy your marble from these guys too.  There are also artigiani wandering in and out, willing to work for the artists if they need their stone cut out in readiness for the finer work.  One lady we met was so delighted with what the artigiani could do, she employed one of them full time, and simply told him what she wanted, asking him to be more graceful here, and more elegant there, I think she was innocent of her appropriation, but she annoyed a few of the artists for her shamelessness…  In the studio next door an exquisite sculpture of two figures, one carried by the other, and destined for a British museum, had taken six months for the artigiani to point up from the artist’s model.  We were there in its final days of finishing, and, the artist not in sight, but his orders were explicit, for the sculpture to be highly polished, lucido.  Before the polishing, but finished if you chose, the light had entered the sculpture so that it was luminous and unbearably sensuous.  Days later we went back, devastated to see the sculpture in its finished state, polished and plastic, the delicacy of form gone into slick hardness that could have been a white gloss resin.

Delivery of marble for Mike
Delivery of marble for Mike
New marble for Mike
New marble for Mike

I don’t think I have ever worked so hard in my life.  From 8.30 in the morning till lunchtime, and an hour or two’s break and then till 6.30 at night.  All day. I fell into bed each night and became entirely useless, I couldn’t clean or make a meal.  We had our lunch at the Croce Verde in Pietrasanta and thank goodness for that because we ate really well, and then basically nothing of an evening, too tired to muster energy other than for a pecorino cheese sandwich which we thought was manna from heaven sloshed down with local red wine. I loved it.  I loved finding my stone.  It was the first time I had ever carved marble and I loved the process.  My first piece I worked with from a model that I had originally cast in bronze.  It equally suited marble.  Finding the stone became the first step in the seduction process and then haggling for the price, knowing you’ll pay too much because you want it so much.  Michael was my teacher, he knows me so well, he wasn’t in there at every moment, allowing me to find my way, but there to let me know when to change tools, helping me with the cutting, teaching me to listen to the stone, pulling me past frustration.  It was wonderful.  The process was wonderful, because bit by bit, as you got beyond the raw stone and refined its surface, you took the piece to be your own, you gave it its life, you allowed its inner light to shine.  And shine it does.  The light of the stone is so beautiful and I am sure the in-loveness you feel imparts something else that is symbiotic with life.  It was also wonderful to continue the process till the end under your own hand.  It makes you consider the surface more because it is not lost through another process.

My first carving in marble
My first carving in marble

It was four beautiful weeks together, devoted solely to our art.  Our conversation was about art and our development and growth in our work.  We forgot the outer world of busyness, totally immersed in the passion of seeing things differently.  It was the great retreat into ourselves and Mike emerged with beautiful bird forms that had become the mother over her nest which was the universe or the cosmos, her great form shadowing the egg like planets immersed in the ether.  My work in marble is spinning off the cycladic influences of neolithic art, loving the mother, loving the duality of male and female, finding a way back to a place in ourselves that honoured life and the earth.

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