DAWN ROWLAND by JOHN W MILLS PPRBS ARCA FRBS
I first met Dawn some years ago when she joined a group of sculptors working and demonstrating their art and skill at Art in Action, an annual art fair held at Waterperry House in Oxfordshire. She arrived with a large block of stone, which she set up and then set about it, carving with alacrity, skill and obvious pleasure. It is important to get a buzz from the material you have chosen to work with and carving demands you encounter the material head on, there are no intermediary processes, such as modelling , moulding and casting. Of the two most traditional carving media stone and wood, stone in all its forms impresses its personality most directly upon the artist affecting the images they make both in form and colour. As is evident in this exhibition Stone is Dawn’s preferred material.
In the main stone carvers accept the fact that the very nature of their chosen material imposes certain constraints on the shapes and forms they can achieve. It has great compressive strength but very little, if any tensile strength. Thus mass has the greatest impact on form, placing pronounced emphasis on the shape of the original block, its volume and visual character, to such an extent that it becomes a ruling factor. Dawn’s sculpture obeys this rule.
Dawn has chosen for the past few years to concentrate her sculpture narrative using the three factors of human visual communication, the head (face) and hands finding them in great variety in all the stones that come her way. She thus ignores whole body language and by focusing on body fragments distils and refines her imagery. She often enlarges the proportion of the hands, relative to the face, thereby creating scale and concentration making the fragment acceptable. She makes columns with the fingers implying an architectural solidity. She will occasionally bring in breasts or knees, sometimes a shoulder, but only enough to tell her story.
Via the work of August Rodin I came to understand the powerful use of the fragment and to recognise that Michelangelo used it to great effect long before him. Rodin showed that if you are using only a small part of the figure, a fragment, then the surface could be fragmented too becoming expressive and aiding the depiction of emotion. The so called unfinished works of Michelangelo embody this expressive factor also, they are complete images taken as far as he needed and the joy of carving is there in the stone, juxtaposing polished forms with rough pointed, chiselled and clawed surfaces. In those mark we can read his passions.
Dawn too explores emotion, expressing in her sculpture concern for the human condition. Her images reflect a feminine point of view, they encourage empathy but avoid sentimentality. The strong geometric shapes for fingers and hands, that often frame the eyes nose and mouth make the statement ‘ this is how it is’ in a no nonsense manner that avoids a maudlin sentimental view. She also enjoys that visual play of textured stone, the softness of alabaster, the gritty texture of Indiana limestone that will also take a polish. She balances the texture achieved by the various carving tools against the highly finished polished form. There is sensuality in her work that comes from her handling of the various stones. You can feel her pleasure in the carving processes, pounding, cutting, abrading, polishing. Revealing the natural colours and exploiting their tonal range. Discovering carving devices, such as the shape placed across the eyes or around the head. These imply a blindfold or hair blowing across, but are also indications of carving pleasure, giving the spectator a sense of the chisel cutting across the surface hinting at the form below. Discovering too the device of balancing a horizontal stone as though fresh from the quarry.
Purist carvers decry the notion of making bronze castings from stone carving, but casting from stone allow two things, firstly the chance to exploit surface and colour in a different way and secondly the creation of an edition. This is a relatively modern but very sound sculpture business practice, whereby the stone original becomes the master pattern and bronze castings permits a numbered edition in its own right. Bronze however is known as the ‘Queen’ of materials and has her own demands. Working the surfaces of the bronze sculpture is quite different to any other material. (Michelangelo hated it) but there is a luminosity that comes from burnishing the bronze that has a visual and tactile quality uniquely metallic that is very tempting. Applying acids and various other chemicals to the heated bronze to make the colour is an alchemy that has its own fascination. It is obvious in her bronze sculptures that Dawn has taken the opportunity to investigate some of these demands and has not produced simple bronze reproductions from the stone carvings, but exploited opportunities that occur at each step of the lost wax bronze casting procedure. The generosity of form in Dawn’s sculpture comes across well in these bronzes, where the effect and character of the carving tools no longer apply and the marks they have left become textural qualitative factor in the bronze and the image is dominant.
Enjoy the sculpture of an artist who revels in her work and pursues a personal line of thought resulting in very strong images.
JOHN W MILLS PPRBS ARCA FRSA