Penticton ancestors is a wonderful sculpture of three large figures on the shore of Okanagan Lake in the small city of Penticton, British Columbia. It was created by sculptor Michael Dennis and was installed in 2009. The figures represent the spirits of the past, and they do indeed make me think of benevolent ancient spirits that are there to guide and protect.
Lakeside Sculpture: Penticton Ancestors
The sculpture is a good example of public art that perfectly matches the surroundings. The figures are large enough that they aren’t dwarfed by the lake and hills in the background and the material—wood—is a good match for the natural scenery. Because they are carved from cedar, the figures will eventually change from brown to grey as time passes.
The artist, Michael Dennis, lives on Denman Island BC. His sculptures of human figures—like the ones shown here—are smooth, flowing and minimalist. He originally worked in academia in the field of physiology before devoting himself to sculpting, so it is interesting that someone so familiar with the intricate details of the human form would adopt such a minimalist approach to sculpting that form. His brief artist’s statement sums up his approach well
SCULPTING THE SHADOWS OF ANCESTORS I try to capture the essence of human gesture from a tree using only the minimum definition required That in one piece the viewer may see both human form and form of tree We do not need details of feature to respond Consider the essence of the female form the mother we know the lover we seek How few lines it takes to see her
The colors and light in the photographs are a little unusual. That is because there was a lot going on in the sky when I was taking the photos—a sunset, a slight haze from a distant forest fire and the sudden appearance of storm clouds over the city. The sky over the lake looked like this:
Taiwanese artist Ju Ming (朱銘) is best known for his Tai Chi sculptures, with their instantly recognizable blocky forms, but he also has a more colorful and whimsical side which comes to the fore in his Living World series.
Sculptures from Ju Ming’s Tai Chi Series
What I love about Ju Ming’s Tai Chi sculptures is the sense of balance between the heavy, blocky, rock-like shapes and the clear, light and graceful sense of the implied movement. And what better subject is there for focusing on balance and movement than the gentle, flowing martial art of T’ai chi ch’üan? It’s a perfect match!
There are two scupltures by Ju Ming outside Exchange Square in Hong Kong: Single Whip Dip (1986) and the smaller Tai Chi (1991).
Ju Ming was born in 1938 in Miaoli County in Japanese-occupied Taiwan and started his career as a sculptor at the age of 15 when he started work as an apprentice to Lee Chin-chuan, a master woodcarver at the Temple of the Empress of Heaven. After finishing his apprenticeship and opening his own studio, he became an apprentice to another sculptor, Yang Yu-yu, who was also the one who advised Ju Ming to take up Tai chi as a way of developing mental and physical discipline. Ju Ming did follow this advice and he was inspired to incorporate the martial art’s forms into his artwork. He has continued developing this series over the years by working with different materials and techniques.
Ju Ming’s sculpture Taichi: Sparring (Harmony), which is outside the Bank of China building in Hong Kong, is just what the title says: two tai chi practitioners sparring. Most people have seen basic Tai Chi routines; however, there are also more advanced routines involving swords and staffs as well as a two-person training routine called pushing hands (推手). Moving past that, advanced Tai Chi practitioners may practise a kind of martial arts sparring that also involves strikes, blocks and grappling techniques. This is the kind of training shown in the sculpture.
The sculpture was made from bronze using a technique that involved creating molds from carved styrofoam pieces. The end result is a sculpture that looks like it has been roughly hewn from slabs or rock.
Ju Ming: Sculptures from the Living World Series
The sculptures in the Living World series are snapshots of daily life that range from a boring wait on a bench to a pleasant family outing to an adventurous skydive. His works invites viewers to participate. Passers-by will often get into the scene—jumping into a queue of umbrella wielding commuters or joining a formation of sculpted soldiers.
These sculptures were part (the outdoor part) of an exhibition of Ju Ming’s work—Sculpting the Living World—that was held at the Hong Kong Art Museum in 2014. The exhibition featured works on loan from the the Ju Ming Museum in Jinshan, just outside of Taipei.
Ju Ming began work on the Living World series in the 1980 and has continued to the present.The sculpture shown below is entitled Lining Up and depicts people queuing up on a chilly, rainy day. The different postures, clothing and actions of the people in the queue can reveal a lot about each individual.
For example, the man in beige, who is wearing what appears to be a matching Chinese-style trousers and jacket set, seems quite stylish and traditional. With his scarf, hat and umbrella, he has taken care to protect himself from the elements. He has edged up as close as possible to to the man in front of him to get a surreptitious look at the newspaper.
The exhibition also featured bronze sculptures of three rows of soldiers standing at ease. Though at first glance, they seem very similar, the soldiers are all individuals—they are of different heights, have different face shapes, seem to be of different races and there are variations in their uniform, equipment and rifles.
These soldiers are part of a much larger set of over three hundred sculptures located at the the Ju Ming Museum. The whole set of soldiers, which represent different eras and branches of the armed forces, was created during a four-year period.
Here are a gymnast on the high bar and a motocross enthusiast.
In the following photo, a family investigates a sculpture entitled The Whole Table—a group of people are sharing a moment together with a representation of a group of people sharing a moment together.
For the last sculpture on this page, we are back to the blocky, rock-like style of the Tai chi sculptures, but the theme here is familial love.
The pride and love of the father is clearly visible even though his face consists of just two tiny indentations for eyes and a line for a mouth. So much emotion is expressed in just the posture and that simple expression.
Ju Ming has an intuitive style of sculpting and is deeply influenced by the material he is working with. In a video interview with RTHK (the video is embedded below), he states:
Every material has its own characteristic, an irreplaceable characteristic. When I do wood carving, after a while it will raise all sorts of questions telling me how to carve it. But then one day, it will stop telling me these sorts of things. so I change and work with another material such as stainless steel, and it tells me different kinds of stories.These are the things that I need to absorb. You have to know that what the stainless steel is telling you is different from what the wood is telling me. What wood can do, stainless steel cannot. This is what I am after.
What do you think of the works in the Tai Chi series?
What do you think of the works in the Living World series?
Why is it important for an artist to experiment with different materials and techniques?
Create two artworks. For the first one, paint, draw, sketch, photograph or sculpt a scene that captures a moment in modern life. Focus on the people in that scene. For the second artwork, try to capture the same scene using a different medium. What effect did the choice of medium have on your creative process?
As I was rushing through the Art Basel exhibition just before closing time, I turned a corner and was confronted by one of French sculptor Louise Bougeois’s large spiders. That definitely made me pause. The artist’s spider sculptures seem to make more of an impact indoors, where there is an element of surprise and where lighting can be used to create shadows that emphasize the spindly and pointed legs.
Louise Bourgeois: Maman
Louise Bourgeois also created a series of six 30-foot tall spiders, entitled Maman, that reside in different parts of the word. I am familiar with the one that stands outside the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.
With that spider, you can see it from far away, so the effect is less visceral. By the time I actually got close enough to see the spider clearly, I was distracted by a series of thoughts: “I wonder why someone decided to put a giant spider sculpture there. Is it supposed to represent Canada? If a spider were that large, would its slender legs be able to support the massive weight?”
Some backstory is helpful in understanding the artist’s fascination with spiders. She created her spider sculptures at least in part to pay homage to her mother, who had died when the artist was a young woman. Her mother, who had worked as a tapestry restorer in the family’s workshop, was, in a sense, a weaver, as are web-spinning spiders. The artist drew other parallels between her mother and spiders; in a text accompanying a series of etchings entitled Ode à ma mere, she wrote:
The friend (the spider – why the spider?) because my best friend was my mother and she was deliberate, clever, patient, soothing, reasonable, dainty, subtle, indispensable, neat, and as useful as a spider. She could also defend herself, and me, by refusing to answer ‘stupid’, inquisitive, embarrassing, personal questions.
Though she focuses on the positive characteristics of spiders in her text, Louise Bourgeois’s actual sculptures don’t shy away from depicting spiders as being dangerous, threatening, fear-inspiring creatures. There is an interesting contrast at work there. Spiders create by spinning webs, which they then use to destroy life so that they themselves may live, procreate and nurture—a cycle of creation and death.
There are different versions of the sculpture located around the world. For example, in Roppongi Hills in Tokyo, you can see this slightly smaller one.
I walked right past it without noticing it. Perhaps I was distracted from the large group of Doraemon statues right beside it. Tokyo must be one of the only cities in world that is so bustling with activity that you can walk by such a large spider sculpture without even noticing it.
Videos Louise Bourgeois: Maman (the video shows one of the Maman sculptures being assembled) by VernissageTV.
Three Artists on a Spider by Louise Bourgeois (Different interpretations of the artist’s spiders). Video from Louisiana Channel.
Louise Bourgeois: The Welcoming Hands
Spiders were a frequent subject in the work of Louise Bourgeois, but she also produced a wide range of works ranging from abstract cell-like installations (with cell here meaning room) to small, realistic sculptures of hands. The Art Basel exhibition also included this lovely bronze sculpture.
This section includes links to online photo galleries and websites, a spot-the-artwork activity and an art challenge.
I came across the painting at the Art Central Exhibition. It is entitled Starry Night – Art and is by a Chinese painting duo known as Tamen. The painting references a lot of famous contemporary artists and artworks. The pieces and artists referred to were all responsible for expanding the boundaries of art (and/or the art industry) in some way. Looming in the background in the left is one of Louise Bourgeois’s Maman spiders.
I would say the way in which the expanded the boundaries of art was break gender stereotypes—showing that a piece of art by a woman about motherhood could be strong, hard, imposing and intimidating.
After doing a bit of research (and getting some help from my friends and my sister, I could identify most of the other artists and artworks.
Can you identify all the allusions to other artists in the painting? (If you click on the picture, you can see a larger version)