This semester I have been excited to do a subject on Bronze Foundry. I wanted to learn something of sculpture in my Print-focused Bachelor of Fine Arts, and felt that gaining a perspective on how bronze sculptures are made would give me insights when looking at art into the future.
Indeed, the background history lesson was really interesting, and I really enjoyed learning about the sculptures of the Etruscan civilisation and the way that the use of bronze has been used over the ages: Riace, Hellenistic, Romanian, through to last century and still now. After just completing my first bronze sculpture, and then looking back at some of these historic examples, I am in awe of them even more so. Check these incredible historic works out:
As a print-based art student my work is mostly on paper, and therefore, I know that what I produce won't last forever. Making a bronze sculpture seemed a little intimidating, firstly given I had never made one before, but also because it would definitely outlast me and generations to come! It was almost a relief to hear that we could smelt it down if we did't want to keep it!
Another refreshing aspect to doing this subject has been the way in which we did not have to incorporate any conceptual ideas into our Bronze work: this is the opposite to my other classes which are conceptually and politically orientated. It was really nice to just make something for fun because learning the techniques was enough at this time. It felt totally whimsical and in some ways 'wrong' to be making 'just a penguin' - especially after looking after the grand historical pieces. However, the more I worked on my little piece, the more attached I got to it - the more important it felt - like even each little penguin is important.
I went to the zoo one afternoon to sketch the penguins. It had been a busy and stressful week, and it felt awesome to go, sans my child, and stay with the penguins the whole time, spending a decent amount of time watching them. Staying in one exhibit made me realise how little people stop and really watch the animals when they are at the zoo. I know when I go usually with Imogen, visiting the zoo is a bit like playing Where's Wally - you try find the animal and then you leave - spending very little time seeing how the animal goes about its day, getting to know it's unique character.
I went home from the zoo with lots of pictures and sat down to sculpt my penguin out of wax, watching Penguin Town on Netflix. Whilst the producers made the show comedic and entertaining, it was sad to see these endangered penguins on TV struggling to successfully breed and survive in Simon's Town, South Africa. It made me think of how hard we humans have made life on planet earth for so many of our co-habitators. Reading Donna Haraway's work on making nature our kin resonated more here. I considered placing some lettering on the sculpture to talk about our impact on these these creatures - but decided to keep it simple for my first sculpture.
Once the wax sculpture was completed we needed to attach wax sprues and risers to deliver the molten bronze to the cast and allow air to escape. We sprintzed the wax model with shellac.
We then invested the wax model in a mixture of plaster and brick, kept in place until set with a wooden disk, paper card, cling wrap, chicken wire. Finally they were coated with plaster.
The investments were baked in the kiln to allow the wax to melt out. After that molten bronze was poured into the mould the wax left hollowed out.
Once this was set the bronze sculptures we carefully hacked out with a mini axe and power hosed down to clean off the extra plaster-brick mix.
After that occurred I spent the next few classes, and a bit extra, cutting off the sprues and risers, clipping and chipping off the unwanted lumps and bumps, grinding a flat surface on the bottom of the penguin's feet so it could sit flat, and sanding, sand blasting and polishing it up to a level I was happy with. There were a couple of holes in the penguin's head that needed to be welded to fill in. It was amazing how the more I did on it, the more perfectionist I wanted to become. Every time I used the equipment, I found myself initially worried and nervous, but afterwards, elated and capable!
Finally I added a patina of black and blue to penguin, coated it with wax and buffed it up to a nice shine.
I'm so proud of this work. The process of making it has been such an experience of stretching out of my comfort zone and learning something completely different. The class has been so hands on and collaborative and sometimes I have felt like a factory worker when we have worked together make the investments or clean them off together. After two years of not being able to be in the studios as much due to COVID lockdowns, I have thoroughly enjoyed meeting new students from all over the School of Art. Turning up to class on a Friday morning in my full boiler suit and working with my hands, using power tools and gas torches and working with metal, has been kind of empowering. It's always a great way to end the week and start the weekend!
I called this penguin Kin and Kind after Donna Haraway's riffing off Shakespeare's words. Nature is our kin, we must be kind.
For my next bronze sculpture, I want to explore a variation of texture - leaving some rough and wax like, and other areas more smooth and highly polished.