Uncarved Block VT: Tai Chi 2010
Materials: White Vermont marble 27" x 28" x 40", mounted on a Canadian pink granite erratic
Location at Summa: Juve Family Behavioral Health Pavilion Serenity Garden
About the art and artist:
In the centre of the Serenity Garden at the Juve Family Behavioral Health Pavilion, an almost one-ton block of white marble is poised on one of its corners. Its centre hollowed, its cubic surfaces undulant almost as though moving, sunlight gliding over the satiny surfaces to duck into and out of the shadows that flow silently over and through, playing tag with the ambient light ... We circulate within its orbit to observe this massive volume apparently spinning delicately en pointe ("on a point," as in ballet) and marvel at the dynamic balance, its mass embracing a central void.
Sculptor Jon Barlow Hudson began a decades-long engagement with his "uncarved block" series, of which this work is one, when in Italy to learn to work with marble. Italy has a long tradition of marble carving, going back to those ancient Greeks who colonized the southern part of the peninsula (Magna Graecia) and, most notably, continued with the Romans and then with Renaissance and Baroque sculptors such as Michelangelo and Bernini. In this work, Hudson uses marble that has a North American vintage, a block quarried in what is now Vermont. Its pink granite (a much harder stone) base, on the other hand, arrived in southwestern Ohio after slip-sliding in and on glaciers down from the Canadian Shield over several million years, now split in two in order to serve as a base for this and another sculpture.
In addition to dealing with the engineering challenges of an outdoor work of this scale and this nature (there would have been fewer difficulties if the block lay flat on one side!), Jon Barlow Hudson has been thinking about how his passion for sculpture grows out of "the void from which all form emanates". Interests in Zen Buddhism (which often inspires expression in stone gardens, in the metaphors for life and spirit offered by Joseph Campbell, and in the movement of planet Earth around a central star, as well as our own galaxy forming from a central infinitesimally small point of energy, all inform the artist's thought while he works. He also practices Tai Chi and transfers its principles of balance and centeredness to his sculpture. We as beholders are not expected to see all this explicitly in the work. But we can slow down and let ourselves attend to the simplicity of its sinuous planes, being open to appreciating some of the shared precepts of ancient spiritual practices, myth, and consciousness of the psychic life of the individual.
Or we can come in close to the block to see the minimally visible marks -- this is, after all, "uncarved" -- made in its cutting, grinding, and sanding. For example, after the big, deep cutting to open the interior, Hudson created a series of flat surfaces on the interior with a 9"-diameter grinding disk, followed by a mini-grinder (about 4 1/2-inch diameter), followed by hand-finishing with diamond polishing pads: ever finer carving. These are obviously rougher, and then a strong raking light (coming sharply from an angle) permits us to distinguish even finer technical processes deliberately, but again, minimally, left for us to discern. Apart from powering by electricity, many of the tools used by sculptors today are unchanged from hundreds, even more than a thousand, years ago. Like any skill, hours and years of repetition make for expertise!
Jon Barlow Hudson grew up on the move and studied art at the Dayton Art Institute, the Stuttgart State Art Academy (Germany), and Cal (Institute of the) Arts, where he earned the B.F.A. and M.F.A degrees. He also spent time as a studio assistant and a gold miner, making sculpture all along the way. His year studying marble (and bronze) sculpture in Italy was sponsored by an award from the Institute of International Education (Fulbright). Since establishing a studio in Yellow Springs, he has taught at Wright State University and Stephens College (Columbia, MO), and has regularly participated in international symposia while working on a continuous series of commissions around the world. He works in many materials, but his favorite seems to be stone, which itself comes from all over the world!
Where you can see more of this artist’s work:
Hudson's commissions began with Shiva: Shiwana at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory - Very Large Array (Socorro, NM); Paradigm, and Morning Star for the World Expo 1988 in Brisbane (Australia); and Wind Dragon for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He has another 22 sculptures in China alone, to which he provides an introduction on his website. His work has been collected by institutions around the world, including in Hungary, Germany, Egypt, and Japan. Closer to home, in the U.S. and Ohio, you can see, just as a few examples, Eidolon at the H.Q.B.Memorial Library of Central State University in Wilberforce; The Common Good in Cooper Park in Dayton; and The Tree of Knowledge, at the public library in Yellow Springs. His website offers a good sense of the range of places where Hudson's work can be found and directions it can take, as well as his lively accounts of his experiences and thoughts.