I’m taking a slightly different approach to the sculptor than I have to the other people I’ve written about. Normally I meet somebody and I cobble together the story only after the fact. Sometimes, because I’m slow on the uptake, it doesn’t occur to me that I even have a story until a couple of days later. I’m just hanging out, doing what I like to do, getting people to talk to me.
The sculptor is different. I always knew he was a story. And I knew that I couldn’t do his story justice after a couple of hours on a barstool.
I am not educated in art. And although I’ve conversed several times with the sculptor on the physics of his work—for instance how Michelangelo scraped a work of genius out of solid rock—I found it difficult to comprehend. Particularly the technical aspects. Ratios and perspective and depth of field, and suchlike.
The sculptor knows all that stuff.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I forgot to start with the best thing about the sculptor. Which is this; to pay for his college education, he carved tombstones.
Yes. Is that not the most amazingly phenomenal college job ever. Ever?
And that’s not even the best part. He wasn’t even a sculptor in college. He was a painter. But he fetches up at a funeral one day and the funeral director asks him, out of the blue, to come and carve tombstones for him. He was 18.
The sculptor says he has always liked stones. And he thinks that stones speak to him.
“It’s not my voice,” he says when I ask him what the sculptor’s equivalent of finding one’s voice is. “It’s the stone’s voice.”
Because I can never resist the lure of a stupid question I ask him what was his favorite epitaph. “Don’t ever put fake flowers on my grave,” he says, without hesitation.
I’m talking to the sculptor, because even though I often run into him—we are neighbors—I asked him if we could set a date to hang out and talk about what he does. And he said yes, so I packed a notebook and a pen and prepared to imbibe such concepts as grey scale and working in the round and anamorphic perspective.
So we meet at my local, which is also his local, and we talk. The sculptor is tall and thin and strong. He’s thin because he doesn’t eat much and often stays up working till seven in the morning. He’s strong because the local stonemasonry joint lets him have for free whatever stone he can carry.
The sculptor says he’s very happy with his work, but it has interfered with his personal life. “Human beings are needy,” he says. Many people don’t understand his need to work through the night.
Then we go back to his studio. So I can get a sense of what keeps him up all night.
And this is where I falter. Because the sculptor has already told me, some months ago, that he’s doing something kind of unique. He’s not being boastful. This is true.
The sculptor works occasionally in marble, but mostly in granite. A hard stone. He doesn’t work in the round, like, say, Bernini. So he works on slabs. Carving with pens made from diamonds and tungsten. Stand blasting, sometimes. He throws the word pointillism around a lot. His subjects range from the Unabomber to George Bush on the morning of 9/11, to a candy vending machine, to the graffiti on the bathroom of a famous Brooklyn dive bar.
He’s very proud of the fact that, because he hates George Bush, a lot of the marble he uses for the carvings he has done of the president on 9/11 came from bathrooms in the Pentagon.
He paints in stone, basically. Like a tombstone. And not only that. After he paints in stone he shines light on the stone, making a reflection so you can see something different on the wall, or the floor or the ceiling. He’s done some amazingly tricky thing with Holbein’s ghost that I hesitate to even attempt to explain, except to say the only way you see the skull is by shining a light onto an elongated version of the skull that he has carved into granite. The carving looks like a prehistoric sea squid. The reflection, illuminated by a flashlight, is a replica of Holbein. I can’t accurately describe the process except to say that it involves two vanishing points.
“I want it to be interactive,” the sculptor says brightly.
And that’s not all. Once he’s carved onto stone he shines light which reflects onto reactive paper of some kind and he prints the result. Again, my words fail me. But it’s quite something. He takes photos of the carvings he’s done. Over and over again. Adjusting the light source. Adjusting the treatment. Getting dozens of different results. “I’m turning stone into paper in complete darkness,” he says.
The sculptor is a quixotic mixture of things. He’s at once very shy and yet completely confident about his work and his vision. He describes himself as a Renaissance artist—using science to make art.
I’m not educated about art. But the value of his work is evident. You can see what it has cost him. How much time he spends thinking about it. You can see why he doesn’t sleep, why he doesn’t eat.
And yet he’s puzzled that nobody else sees it. Why is nobody parting with embarrassing sums of cash?
The sculptor is in his late thirties and he thinks it should have happened by now.
And yet it hasn’t.
I don’t know why. I can see what he has, and I don’t know much. And I do think there’s going to be a point when it will happen.
So there’s this one other thing that the sculptor has done. He has carved into stone Earth, as it’s seen from space. When I asked him if he had done it from a NASA photo, he said no, it came from the iPhone.
And then he took the carving and did all the usual stuff. Turning stone into paper.
Flattening it out, so Earth does look like a stone.
I want one of those photos.
I have no business buying art. I’m broke, and my job prospects are shaky to say the least. Six months from now I have no idea what my life will be like.
Yet I want this photo. I want this paper that came from stone.
I believe in the sculptor.
I’m going to buy it. Even though I shouldn’t.