Saturday, June 29, 2013


I must have spent hours last weekend trying to capture Livia's mouth in clay.  I was taking a sculptural portraiture workshop, and Livia was our model.  The corners of her mouth held me captivated.  I wanted to reproduce the exact shape of the upper lip and the way it slanted back and underneath, and the muscles that ran from the corner of her lips and down towards the chin, and the tiny crease next to the larger crease which delineated her cheeks.  If I couldn't understand the particular way she held the corners of her mouth,  it would be impossible for me to capture her facial expression.

Livia took this photograph of me sculpting her.

There are so many tiny differences in the way we hold our mouths.  Also in the muscles around our eyes.   There's a muscle, for instance, in the center of the eye that only comes into play when we are beaming with delight. It doesn't tighten when we are merely amused. Only when we're ecstatic. And everybody knows that if we fake a smile out of social politeness, the muscles round our eyes remain motionless.

Years ago I pored over a book by Paul Ekman called Emotions Revealed. He has analysed facial expressions throughout his career in law enforcement, and it was his work that gave rise to the tv series Lie to Me. In fact, he was a consultant for that show.

When I recall my fascination with his book today, I see that it held a future utility which I hadn't then understood. I only started figurative sculpture about six years ago and grew interested in sculptural portraiture about three years ago.

My friend Gail says that all my years of writing fiction have fed me as a sculptor.  I don't quite know how they've done this, but I have a feeling she's right.  So in a sense, it doesn't matter that I'm such a late bloomer.

It's amazing to have discovered such joy in sculpture this late in my life.  I took it up almost by accident, when we lived in Rome.  I met a sculptor, Claire Nelson, at a school fete. She had her busts of children on display and a little sign which said, "You can do this too!" So I began taking figurative sculpture classes with her at the Palacio de Venecia.  I went there on the tram from Piazza del Populo, and headed up the steps of Mussolini's palace, through the galleries and down corridors to a sculpture studio and here I found a new creativity which has become one of the most rewarding and nourishing things in my life.

I want to say that we should never underestimate  the ability of life to surprise us, to open up new doors and teach us about ourselves, to change how we view and interpret the world.

How could I spend hours last weekend trying to capture the muscles in the corner of Livia's mouth?  Why did it not seem an utter waste of time! Why was it so fascinating to me, actually not just fascinating, but deeply gratifying!

Today I hollowed out the finished bust.  It's a funny process. You take off the top of the head with a wire and scoop out the clay inside, so that the piece won't be so heavy - and so that when you fire it, it won't blow up in the kiln.  It feels a little creepy, looking down at the face as you scoop clay out of the top of the head.

I can trace my initial interest in sculpture to my girlhood in Surbiton, where a sculptor lived across the road. Her name was Rose Deering.  I was fascinated by her studio. It resonated for me. But her work seemed far beyond me and I didn't know how to articulate my longing, nor would I necessarily have defined it as a longing to try my hand at sculpture too.  I suppose I was right.  Because it was decades into my future before I would begin to do just that.

Perhaps we should trust our early longings and our earliest purest instincts. After all, we are going to be learning who we are up until we die!

#sculptural portraiture  #creativity 

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