The tradition of marble sculpture goes deep in time and there are some strong reasons for it. Marble is weather-resistant, it can last thousands of years and it’s the only stone which has slight translucency allowing the sculptures made from it look so soft and real. Its main disadvantage? Marble is extremely hard to work with. The task is slightly easier if the marble is freshly quarried (marble becomes harder with age). Using modern machines for carving and polishing also helps. Nonetheless, developing marble sculptures is hard on both physical and conceptual levels. And if you make a mistake, if you accidentally cut more than you wanted, you can’t fix it back. You have to start from the very beginning. In other words, marble demands time, serious skill and lots of patience, which may explain why there are so few artists who work with marble nowadays: the world we live in is too fast and too mass production oriented for a process like this. But there still are those who are up to the challenge.
Kevin Francis Gray
With bronze and resin as mediums, Irish sculptor Kevin Francis Gray lived and worked in London. Marble made him divide his time between London and Pietrasanta — a small city in Italy where Giannoni family studio is located. Giannonis have been working with marble for four generations now and they hold tight to their traditions. The only machine in their studio is the pointing machine which was invented in the 18th century so it hardly can be called modern. Except for it, everything is made by hand, using generations-old techniques. This strictly classical approach was exactly what Gray was after.
Giannoni studio is a relatively small one and works only with select artists but Ghost Girl, the first sculpture Gray showed to Marco Giannoni, proved that this collaboration would be worth Giannonis time. Classical pose, modern clothes, surprising combination of stone and crystals, hidden face, scars on the wrists behind the girl’s back. Ghost Girl combined the finest qualities of traditional marble statue with the contemporary world and emotional context. More works have followed: all intense, captivating, beautiful and strangely disturbing. Beautiful figures which looked like being wrapped in a thin, almost transparent fabric. Bodies made of marble which looked like it’s been melting, changing shape every time someone grabbed it. Anonymous portraits with no recognizable features but absolutely recognizable pain underneath. Gray has his own aesthetic, dark and unique, and it’s impossible to mistake his work with someone else.
Claudia Comte is a Swiss artist based in Berlin. Her initial medium of choice was wood: she created her first sculptures using a chainsaw, something you wouldn’t assume based on the delicate look of her work. Now she does not only sculptures but paintings, installations and what not, and marble has its place in her arsenal of materials.
Comte doesn’t try to impress the viewer with extreme complexities, she doesn’t offer deep subtexts or hidden meanings. Instead, she keeps things simple and unpretentious: basic shapes, polished surfaces, everyday objects. And yet her minimalistic creations come off as elegant and even playful. What’s more, looking at her sculptures makes you…happy.
Comte’s genuine love and adoration for the natural materials displays itself in multiple ways. She sources wood from the forests near her hometown, using the trees felled for ecological reasons. She works with a large variety of both wood and marble species and while with most existing sculptures it’s easy to forget that marble comes in many different colors and patterns, in case of Comte, the unique character of the material becomes an integral part of the sculpture. And the sculptures, in their turn, tend to be made site-specific. This way, Comte’s art is never isolated, it’s always a part of a bigger world, the same world its viewer belongs to.
Matthew Simmonds is an English sculptor currently based in Copenhagen. Simmonds started with learning the history of art, specializing in the medieval period, then worked as an illustrator, and then he switched to architectural stone carving and began to work on restorations of monuments and cathedral. These long and unusually intimate relationships with art and architecture allowed him to come up with a new, reversed way of looking at it. Simmonds takes the sacred architecture and places it inside marble and limestone blocks. He trades traditional for sculpture monolithic shape for negative space. And he makes sure to underline the sharp contrast between smooth, delicate, ornate inner spaces and the roughness of the material they are made from, to remind us where we started, how different is the world not touched by men. Simmonds miniatures never depict the whole buildings, he presents the viewer with details, fragments, just enough to get the idea, to allow the imagination to fill the rest with one’s own experience and to create the same play of light that we enjoy so much in real cathedrals.
Now, marble is obviously not what Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan is most famous for. If you take a look at what his most recognizable works consist of you might find the list slightly weird to think about: resin, silicone, pigment, natural human hair, wax, clothes, taxidermy horses and pigeons. All very soft and temporary.
Maurizio Cattelan is a world-famous provocateur, whose main features are hyperrealism and daring ironic humour. Which makes it especially interesting to check which plots and ideas made him turn to hard monochromatic marble. There is just a couple of works, actually.
“All” was created in 2007. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t be sure what it depicts. In the real one, we have no doubts that we see covered bodies of dead humans and their deaths were neither peaceful nor natural.
“L.O.V.E.” was created in 2010 and placed right in front of stock exchange building in Milan. Officially this acronym stands for “Liberta, Odio, Vendetta, Eternita”, which translates to “Liberty, Hate, Revenge, Eternity”. Some say that this sculpture hinted to the belief that the Italian financial sector contributed to the recession. Some notice that the fingers are not bent, they are missing, and if present the gesture would be transformed into Nazi salute. Maurizio Cattelan in his comments preferred to limit himself to the following: “Officially its name is L.O.V.E. — so it stands for love — but everyone can read between the lines and take away the message they see for themselves.”
The irony here. The material which is most known for depicting young naked bodies full of life — and the composition dedicated to their ugly tragic end. So many ancient sculptures that lost their parts by accident — the composition where being broken is part of the concept. The hurry with which we try to hide the bodies of the dead, the short life of “fuck you” as a phrase or a gesture — and marble which is suitable to survive us all.
Most of the marble we see around comes from Carrara quarries, Tuscany, Italy. Carrara deposits have been worked for more than 2000 years, recent aggregate annual output is estimated at 200 000 tons and yet the expert opinion is that it would be centuries before Carrara stops being able to supply the world demand. What’s even more impressive is the view of these quarries. Truly breathtaking.