I almost failed my first college sculpture class because of this art piece! My professor, a highly respected sculptor, gave the small class - what seemed – very simple requirements for the class project: the bas-relief must be monolithic and dynamic. Two words, one sculpture - easy, right? Unfortunately, I was naive and terribly overwhelmed by the exact method in which to create monolithic and dynamic with the 20lbs of clay that was heaped in front of me. At this early point in my art career, I had yet to develop any sort of art vocabulary. What is gouache anyway? I thought about raising my hand, "Can you just tell us what you want it took look like?" At that moment, it seemed everyone but me had amazing ideas right off the bat while I stood looking at my ridiculous pile of clay. I worried, "Maybe art school was a really bad idea! Maybe I’m not good enough?" Before the class ended, the professor instructed us to visit the Museum of Modern Art that weekend to draw inspiration from Matisse's bronze sculptures - the Back series.
I thought “Oh goodie!” Once I saw the Matisse sculptures, I would surely understand what the professor was looking for and BAM! The perfect creative idea would hit me. That weekend, while riding the train into the city, excitement filled my brain as I eagerly waited to see the Matisse bas-reliefs in person. I knew that once I saw the sculptures my creative idea would hatch! I held my sketchbook tight and waited for the train to enter Penn Station.
Upon arrival to the Modern Museum of Art, I ran straight to the sculpture garden and stood in front of one of the large bronze pieces. I waited for inspiration to hit me. I waited and waited. The Matisse bas-reliefs were way bigger than I had imagined and I wasn’t convinced that I thoroughly understood what they were about so, I walked around the garden and admired other works while waiting for the amazing idea to arrive. After about forty minutes, I finally threw up my hands, "What on earth are these things and why isn’t inspiration hitting me?" The Matisse sculptures really annoyed me that day and I blamed them for not providing me with enough inspiration for my own sculpture. I thought, “Oh my, I’m going to fail this class!” Ultimately, I learned a tough lesson about creativity that day at the MOMA. I learned that my own creative inspiration cannot be forced out on command. I learned that the more I try to demand creativity from myself, the more it hides away in the darkness of my brain. Art school, and the New York City design world, would teach me a lot about patience and perseverance.
Back at school, with barely one week to spare before the end of the semester, I eventually shaped the 20lbs of clay into "face". I knew that I was onto something when the professor's eyes lit up. "Ah ha" he cried. I took that as a sign to make the nose bigger and move on to the final step of creating the mold in which to pour the cement.
Luckily Face didn't crack upon curing and I rocked out an A in my first sculpture class. I was so excited and couldn't wait to bring my very first art piece home to show my parents. They would be so proud! Summoning herculean strength, I carried Face into the kitchen and gently put it down on the table. My mother’s face wrinkled in confusion, "What on earth is that?" and my step-father laughed. Feeling dejected, I carried the cement out to the side yard and leaned Face against the house. For sure Matisse was mocking me for delivering such sour remarks towards his master work at the MOMA!
Needless to say, I have lugged Face down the east coast through many moves over the past three decades. During that time, Face spent many days and nights in the garden as well as, a few years covered in green mold while serving a sentence under my pine tree. Face did receive an injury from a lawn mower but for all the traveling, I'm surprised there's only one small piece missing off the sculpture. While I still lived at home in New York, my mother never let me put Face in front of the house "What would the neighbors think of that creepy thing?" but I can happily say that Face now enjoys a sunny spot near my front door in Fleming Island, Florida. I often wonder what the neighbors think!
I had the honor to be chosen to join a select group of art students who were hired to paint a 2,000 sq ft mural at the DNA Learning Center in Cold Spring Harbor, NY. The mural you see above would eventually become part of the first in-house exhibition, Story of a Gene - (1995-2001). Can you say best summer job ever? I can!
Before digital design took over the industry, hand-painted designs were the norm. Two of my dinnerware patterns were produced by Farberware and sold in Macy's department stores. How I now wish that I had actually purchased a set of my patterns! Arg, the idiocy of youth!
Joyous, 2010 by Donna J. Conversano. Acrylic on canvas. 3'x2'