2019-07-05T14:25:53-04:00

The Three Graces Are Visiting Dunedin This Summer

The Three Graces Are Visiting Dunedin This Summer

My work for the Creative Pinellas Emerging Artist Grant is progressing and I wanted to give you an update on it’s theme and the various ideas percolating in my head all summer.  I’ll begin with this scenario:

The ancient Greek goddesses known as the graces or muses, Aglaia, Thalia and Euphosyne are peering down from a cloud and whispering to me the virtues they represent: elegance, brightness and splendor, youth, beauty and good cheer, mirth and joyfulness. I suddenly hear a loud clap of thunder and see Zeus, their father and ruler of all the gods agreeing YES I approve.

My inspiration is multilayered and I’ll be sharing all of the bits and pieces as the weeks go by. But the most immediate and prominent thought is how grateful I am for receiving this grant and the wonderful team of Creative Pinellas that’s making this dream come true. I feel as if I literally have been gifted by the graces and my hope is to share an original sculptural work that beams with all of the beautiful qualities they represent. Nothing less would be worthy of this generous gift I have been given. Thank you Danny, Barbara, Kimberly and Leigh and my mentor Marlene Rose!

By Christina Bertsos

2019-06-27T13:17:09-04:00

My 5 Life Lessons from Stone

My 5 Life Lessons From Stone

As I’ve followed my passion for sculpting with stone, I have found great joy and satisfaction in that expression. But I have to acknowledge the challenges inherent to the learning and practice of this discipline that have taught me some of my most important life lessons. The first is courage. I’ve got this beautiful piece of stone that has come halfway around the world; and there’s that scary moment when I must crack into it and more importantly expose it’s essence. I’ve learned to truly appreciate and respect the stone and what it has come to teach me, so it’s not just an insignificant rock.  I feel it is my responsibility to bring the best of what I have to offer to the experience of that particular creation and how it can potentially affect the world.

The second is acceptance. Once I have removed a portion of the stone, that’s a decision that cannot be altered. There’s no gluing the pieces back on. As in life there are certain experiences that we cannot change so we must accept them, make the best of them and carry on. The third is that there are no mistakes. I’ve often gone down a road that’s led me to a seeming dead end. When this happens, I simply walk away, give the work and my mind some space to re-calibrate. When I allow myself to do this, I always find clarity the next day or next week or sometime soon after.

The fourth life lesson that working with stone has taught me is to not be overly attached to the outcome. When I’m flexible in what I want something to be, even though I always want it to be perfect, I’m open to see new opportunities arise that are completely unexpected. These are the joyful surprises that you get when working with an organic medium. For example, when I carved ‘Night” out of a piece of Atlantic black marble, I wasn’t aware of the white crescent moon shapes that appear throughout the stone. So the name of the piece came so easily as these white flecks against the dark black of the rest of the stone reminded me of the night sky.

The last lesson is patience. This is honestly a virtue I never thought I possessed. And so I’m surprised to find that with the time and physical effort it takes to create one of my pieces, I have to be willing to be with it for awhile and so be very patient.  There are ways to speed up the process; for example you can use all motorized tools to carve out a stone sculpture and produce a simple shape in much less time than it it were done by hand. In fact, this is done all the time in the marketplace.  But I truly want my pieces to show the affect of my hands with the end result being something one of a kind.

By Christina Bertsos

2019-06-19T15:16:44-04:00

Escaping Time

Escaping Time

Michelangelo Cave Carrara Statuario is a mouthful and the name of the marble that I’m currently sculpting  for Creative Pinellas. Marble from this favorite quarry of Michelangelo is said to be 200 million years old. And yet it’s right here in my studio being carved! I continually marvel and wonder about this precious and beautiful chunk of earth beneath my hands and reflect on its ancient past and path, yet I’m at a loss to fathom the immensity of time it holds. I can scroll through the sequential earth ages and eras documented in history but cannot truly comprehend millions of years. What does that feel like when my life spam is nowhere near a nano second as compared. 

When I’m in my studio working on a piece and look up at the clock, I swear it was just a couple of hours earlier. I know time is passing through the sequence of events I perceive yet I know that in my unawareness of time it feels as if it’s  standing still. In fact, I love to forget about time completely when I’m creating my art or doing something I love. Emily Dickinson said “Forever is composed of the nows”. Maybe that’s all I need to understand of time and the millions of years between me and my beautiful stone. 

By Christina Bertsos

 

2019-06-13T12:29:21-04:00

The Ritual in Practice

The Ritual in Practice

A long time ago I came to the realization that if I didn’t set aside time and commit to making my art, life was going to take over, dictating it’s priorities and affirming that all other activities have more importance.  I’ve since learned that making art and consciously putting myself in that space  has a profound impact on the way I feel and so is deserving of a much higher position on my list of my priorities.

When I’m sculpting a piece of stone I do what’s called direct carving which means I work with the stone developing the idea and imparting it directly to the stone rather than copying something  from a preliminary model. As part of this process, I’ll ready all of my tools nearby, sharpen my chisels, and center myself becoming quiet internally, just to name a few.  Doing all of these preparatory tasks as I’m done thousands of times before feels so second nature that without even thinking about them, I’m already becoming more in tune with what I’m about to do with the stone. I’m preparing myself in a way that feels ceremonial in order  to have access to another space that goes from the linear to the non linear perspective, much as rituals do in sacredly held practices.

Throughout humanities history and even now we gather to perform rituals to evoke another aspect ourselves. These rituals or ceremonies act to take us out of our daily logical mind to another focus that invites the sensory, the imaginative and most of all our intention.  Ritual and ceremony are so ubiquitous, I even wonder if man can exist without them.  And then there is the actual practice of the art that once involved, takes me completely into “my own world” so to speak. Then once I’ve finished my singularly focused  session, I find that I receive the  incredible benefit of coming  “back into the world”  but feeling more present and somehow more grounded. The other night at Creative Pinellas’ opening reception for artist Akiko Kotani, she described in her talk how when crocheting her work she enters in a meditative like, quiet space that she really enjoys and I can very much relate to this in my own practice of sculpting stone.

By Christina Bertsos

 

2019-06-07T13:54:46-04:00

The Sparkle of Inspiration

The Sparkle of Inspiration

I was in my kitchen cutting a mango the other day,  not thinking about anything in particular, when suddenly I saw a beautiful sculpture within the cut mango. I laughed to myself  but this began an  inner dialogue about the concept of Inspiration. What is it? What qualities does it posses? How do we get it? And most of all  how do we hold on to it?  As an artist and a human, Inspiration is vitally important to my existence and  it would seem that I’m always seeking inspiration.  But after the mango, I wonder if it’s something to be actively sought or something  that one just allows when the mind stops it’s constant chatter. To be inspired is to have the world at your fingertips in your mind. It’s knowing anything you can imagine is possible.

It’s exhilarating at the onset but as it fades, I’m knocked down to a reality without it. That aha moment is usually referred to as a “spark of inspiration” but the more I contemplate this,  it feels more like a ” sparkle of inspiration” to me. A sparkle as the verb shimmers and dances, as the noun it’s “full of life” and dynamic. A spark seems to be a single point in time, a singular thought that’s gone as quickly as it arrives. But a sparkle arrives spontaneously and lingers a bit. And maybe inspiration isn’t your common thought, of which we have thousands throughout our day, but rather is an illuminated thought that holds a special quality which allows it to somehow feel much different  than the others.

When I have an inspiring moment it usually catches me off guard. Sometimes it feels very subtle and other times startling, but once arrived,  its effervescent quality is explored and enjoyed. And often times it results in not having any manifested end but the experience itself is delicious enough to want to have it again and again. As a kid I loved sparklers on the fourth of July. I thought they were so  much more exciting that loud firecrackers. The firecracker was gone with a bang but the sparkler lasted just long enough to capture my delight in it’s existence.

By Christina Bertsos

 

 

2019-06-15T14:05:01-04:00

Sculpting with Stone- Connecting Body And Soul

Sculpting with Stone- Connecting Body and Soul

 

As a sculptor working in stone, particularity a woman working in stone, I’m often met with curiosity about how I physically do it. I love this inquiry because I love to relay my process of a very ancient art form that is imagined to have only been done by strong men.  A logical deduction, as it’s an art form that is very “physical”. There is the heavy weight of the stone, the hand and power tools, and the many hours of sanding and finishing a piece that takes what I call a little “grit”. But for me it’s this physically engaging interaction with the medium that gets infused into the work and brings it to life. Over the last several years the scale of my work has been increasing. I’ve gone from stones that have weighed  under 50 lbs. to those now weighing close to 400 lbs. Why? Well, that’s an easy one. It’s  like having a  bigger canvas to paint on. And it’s thrilling to stand before this massive hard rock and imagine that I can create something with it.  But with that comes it’s unique set of practical challenges like “How am I going to move this thing?”  I often laugh at myself as while I’m working on a fairly large piece, even though I haven’t removed much of the stone, I’ll try to push it. Then I remember “Oh! this still weighs about 300 lbs”; several times more than my own body weight. There are also the other factors such as copious amounts of dust and  inclement weather. My fellow sculptors and I work outside with large fans blowing away the dust. During summer there’s intense heat and during the winters some very cold days. Yet, I’m grateful to be able to work all year long  here in sunny Clearwater, whereas my friends up north have to forgo sculpting during the  frigid winter months.

The actual carving is done with not only the traditional hammer and  chisel, arduous on the wrists and hands; but thanks to electricity, the use of saws and grinders help speed up the process. The air hammer was an incredible invention for the stone sculptor.  Like a motorized hammer and chisel it cuts through stone with greater speed yet after you’ve done it for some time, you feel as if you’ve been working with a mini jack hammer. So care and rest from the vibration into my hands is really important. Then there is the dust, this lovely dust that I’m  covered with by the time I’m done for the day.  And even though I always wear a scarf, goggles, ear plugs and smock, some of it always manages to get on even the covered parts of my body.  And some days, after sweeping and blowing out the entire studio, I feel as I’f I’ve just run the 5k at midday.

So what is it that keeps me doing this art form, when I could have easily chose something a lot less strenuous and neat?I ask myself this and always get the same response “It’s just in me”.  When I get into the flow of the work my entire body must be in the process. How am I holding the chisel? What is the pressure with which I’m hitting the the stone with the hammer? Are my shoulders and and arms in the proper position as I lift the 7″ saw to the stone? Is the weight of my body balanced and in a stance that I can hold for some time? I have to consider these and so much more in  terms of subtleties that make my tools do what I want then to do, keep me safe and respect the stone. I’m also  continually moving around the piece as well as stepping back and moving toward it to understand what the viewer would see as they approach the piece. This perspective is so important for me. And then there is the constant touch. How does what I’ve just carved feel? How does is flow in my hands in addition to my eyes? Sculpture to me, is meant to be touched so once I can accomplish the visual harmony along with the tactile, I’m satisfied.

When I was  learning to sculpt stone it was more about conquering the stone. Now it’s about listening to it and dancing with it. Body and soul become one with it. And in each unique piece I create there’s all of both infused in the work.

By Christina Bertsos

2019-06-15T13:52:49-04:00

On Beauty….

 

On Beauty…..

As an artist throughout my life, I have continually pursued and wondered about the concept of Beauty. Is it perfection or imperfection? A fleeting moment  or timeless? Over the years the creation and presentation of something that I consider beautiful has been my way of attempting to unravel it’s mystery.  And in that attempt, try to grasp an understanding of Beauty’s enormous yet subtle power over every aspect of my life.  I have always been certain of nature’s Beauty but as  I began to classify objects, particularly art, as beautiful or not, a limited construct of Beauty became apparent. Once I realized this,  I knew that I made Beauty static while it is not. And if I am to grow as a human being and an artist, so must my concept of Beauty. Socrates and Plato spoke of Beauty as being inherent to an object as well as good.  And that the Beauty within something is it’s purest form.  I believe Beauty must be experienced by the senses but in order to do this we must have the capacity to recognize Beauty. This is why it’s so important for me to continually expand my concept of Beauty. I believe that the more I look for Beauty, the more I find it and the more broad and ever present it becomes and can inform my work.

Another question that comes up for me is “Are imperfections and vulnerability inherent in Beauty or are they external aspects that make something even more beautiful”? As I work with a particular stone, I love what naturally comes to the surface or may actually be on the surface.  When I first began sculpting I was taught to clean away the  surface area to see if the stone had potential weaknesses or to find areas that may not be so “pretty”. Then as my skill and work evolved, I chose not to do this as I  often found areas that others may have perceived as “damaged” or vulnerable, to actually be quite interesting and lovely. So I’ve grown to love what I call these “surprises”.  I am also very quite purposeful and patient in the way I carve so as not to potentially miss any of these exciting surprises. But there is always a practicality that I’m conscious of  with respect to the stone’s structural integrity because after all, I want my sculptures to last for a very long time.

My sculptures begin with an inherently beautiful medium, natural stone.  So the big job of Beauty is already done.  All I have to do is scrape away the years of time left untouched until that moment my hands and heart meet the stone to uncover it’s essence. The medium directly informs the sculpture.  For me it is an experience that gives me great joy. I have been studying the ancient art of stone sculpting for the past 8 years and feel my journey is just beginning which makes it such an exciting medium for me in my quest for Beauty; and one I hope you will enjoy discovering as well.

By Christina Bertsos

2019-06-15T13:59:18-04:00

Inspiring Roots of The Sculpture Studio

Inspiring Roots of The Sculpture Studio

Each time I enter the door of my atelier I immediately sense the rich history of it’s founding sculptor, George Wagner, and the many talented artists that have previously walked through those doors. From the small vintage kitchen where we gather for breaks, walls lined with dusty pictures of sculptures and art books, to the musty smell of this well worn garage like space containing the original equipment George set up for his sculpture school back in 1996; there is an enduring energy that is palpable.  I flick on the main light switch, greet George, Sylvia and John who have long since passed, yet I still sense their spirit in these walls as they urge me to sculpt with passion and joy just as they did. I  open the back door that leads to the outdoor area  next to the train tracks where we sculpt; switch on “Old Nellie” (our compressor) who begins her deafening sound of warming up and gathering pressure for my pneumatic tools; don my air mask, goggles and ear plugs, and begin to feel the excitement of just being in this sacred creative space. It feels like home to me now after 8 years and I have so much appreciation and  love for the place and all the individuals here, that I wanted to share a little bit of it’s history with you. Yes, I do the sculpting but I couldn’t do it without the love and support of my fellow sculptors. It’s a place of learning, helping each other when more that two or even 4 hands are needed, sharing ideas and just being together doing what we love to do.

When George started the Sculpture Studio he was a retired engineer who loved to sculpt and wanted to teach others how to do it too.  He was said to have worked with Brancusi,  one of my favorite iconic modern sculptors of the early 1900’s.  He showed his work at all of the major shows in the Tampa Bay Area and took great pride in his complete sculptor’s studio with all the equipment any stone or wood sculptor would require. According to Patty Ferrel, artist and one of his original students, “He helped the artist secure the feeling for creating sculpture”. Kathy Manzon, original  student  and current manger of the studio, says of George ” He wanted to share his knowledge with everyone. And in that same vein we continue to be a place where we help each other”.  So as I begin my sculptures for Creative Pinellas, I’m inspired by George’s legacy, this beautiful arts loving area we live in and all of my wonderful artist friends whose energy will no doubt infuse the piece I create. Thank you George!

By Christina Bertsos

 

 

 

 

 

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