Stone and its (Hidden) Image

Ljubljana, July 21 1994

Fig. 1: Doesburg, 1995

Tutte le opere, che si veggono fatte dall’ Idio, della natura in cielo ed in terra sono tutte di scultura.

(All works of nature created by God in heaven and on earth are works of sculpture.)

Benvenuto Cellini


I wish to start with an argument that began back in the Renaissance. But first, allow me to remind you of this: divinity is invariably adored in sculptural form. We can paint a god, we can paint Christ, crucifixes, the Holy Family and all kinds of pious scenes in any religion, but a »painting« is never revered. A painting can be wondered at, admired or disliked, but never worshipped. Only God or gods carved in stone are worshipped.


Non ha l’ottimo artista alcun concetto,
Ch’un marmo solo in se circonscriva
Col suo soverchio, e solo a quello arriva
La man che ubbidisce all’ inteletto.

(The best of artists hath no thought to show
which the rough stone in its superfluous shell doth not include;
to break the marble spell is all the hand
that serves the brain can do.)

Michelangelo Buonarotti, Sonnet XV


Io intendo scultura, quella che si fa per forza di levare, quella che si fa per via di porre  simile alla pittura.

(By sculpture I mean that which is fashioned by the effort of cutting away, that which is fashioned by the method of building up being like unto painting.)

Michelangelo Buonarotti


All materials except clay are characterised by a specific quality that dictates something fundamental. By their nature, stone, wood, iron and other materials dominate over the artist; they mystify. Only clay does not show any inherent beauty or expression.

Carving forces me to respect the material. The material prevents me from moving away. By carving in stone, I explore the spirit of the material and its own proportions. The hand thinks and follows the thought of the material. There is no need to measure, because proportions are already there, in the block. Things can either ascend to heaven or descend to earth without changing their proportions. A sculpture is hidden in a block of stone, waiting for me to carve it out.

When I carve, I begin with a large solid block, something that exists. I begin with a mass from which I must extract a shape. In the beginning, there is much more material than at the end.

Modelling or constructing a sculpture in the direction from its interior to its exterior, is a procedure that is contrary to carving. I begin with the frame and use it as the foundation for the construction. It is as if I worked anatomically, beginning with the skeleton and adding the flesh. I can retrace my steps, make corrections, add and change. I begin with space, in which I create a form. It is a creative process, in which I begin with nothing.

Carving and modelling are two completely different modes of creativity. Modelling may be an easier way of creating a form in space. It takes great force to create a form in space by carving a sculpture in stone. It is easy to create a large compact block or carve it from one side or another without creating a form. Sculpture is in many ways covered with moss, with different kinds of surface growth, under which there is no form. This is extremely important when I want to emphasise the significance of those who like Michelangelo, Moore, Brancusi or Hepworth have achieved three—dimensionality by carving directly in stone. Direct carving demands that I openly face the material that I must master. Because of this, it is a very important craft.

If I was as sarcastic as Leonardo, I would say that there have never been any great artists among sculptors, only excellent craftsmen. This art started on a downward slope when direct carving, which gave the artist a personal victory over the material every time he finished a work, was abandoned.
Every art must obviously have roots in the »primitive« or else it becomes decadent. This explains why great periods, such as the Greece of Pericles or the Renaissance flourished so quickly: they followed the »primitive« periods and they waned slowly.

One of the first principles clearly visible in »primitive« art is respect for the material. A medieval chalice was made of rough gold and adorned with several large precious stones. When you held it, you felt the material. A Baroque chalice was of perfect shape, fragile, gilded and covered in tiny stones. When you picked it up, you were surprised how light and immaterial it was.
Today, we do not undertake enough practical work, because we are prevented from doing so by the artificially generated excessive need to rush and write. One who does not undertake enough practical work has lost all contact with the material and with nature in general. He imprints things with his ideas and projections that have nothing to do with the material. The same holds for observers, because they must be free of all wilful feelings: they must be free of all prejudice. If you already have an idea or perception about where your are going, you will not get anywhere, said Leonardo.

An artist makes a mistake if he writes too much about his work. Language is always directed outwards in order to describe something external instead of itself. Consequently, it is quite contrary to what sculpture should be. It does not see an egg as a simple, solid form, but as an object of nutritional value or as a literary idea of an object that will become a bird.

In addition, unlike in literature things in visual art are uniformly defined. If I wish to change a single detail in a composition, I will end up changing everything else, as well. Only philosophers can allow themselves to change a single comma in order to get something completely different.

Our weakness is also blind respect for ancient monuments. We endeavour to preserve them, including even ruins of a large part of »cultural« heritage. But this heritage is in fact ridiculous, if »cultural«, and we use it in a very confused way. We emulate it and turn (semi)art into art, instead of emulating nature and using raw material.

The »primitive« periods are mines of information and messages for a historian and anthropologist. But in order to understand and appreciate it, it is important to observe it rather than write a history of the primitive nations, their religions and social traditions.

Fig. 2: Albers, 1995

Throughout history, man’s connection with material and nature has gradually weakened. But rules that had developed over a longer period of collective practice were observed. They were based on the laws of nature and material. Their application represented security. Consequently, they were respected by all. A house could be constructed only in one out of five styles (in Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian or Composite). These styles were in use from Antiquity to the last classicist period. Only in the Middle Ages, they took a different direction. But it is obvious that they respected all laws of material.

But if we take a look at the contemporary practice in any area of artistic creativity, we can see that we have lost all contact with material and nature: at a time when we most need them, there are no rules or laws that we are prepared to observe. We say that we are free, that we express ourselves freely, that there are no limits. But the question is whether we are truly free. The wise say that we are not.

In this century, all available means seem to be used for the material satisfaction of man who is only interested in scientific and technological progress. There is no unity between material, idea and proportions; there is no unity that would yield proportion.

Flying the flag of progress, practitioners become theoreticians whose work consists of expressing thoughts in highly restricted expressions of logic and words. But the observation of natural objects does not permit me to operate with formulas.

In my opinion, the only true sculpture is something that cannot be expressed in any other way but in sculpture. Anything that can be presented in other media should become something else. In order to understand what sculpture is, I must first focus on what I cannot express in any other way. I must focus on artistic practice and craftsmanship.