What are the professional or social accomplishments I am most proud of?
Article by Canadian Sculptor Hilary Clark Cole
I graduated from the Ontario College of Art and Design in 1969, and therefore have been a professional sculptor for over thirty years, a number which always surprises me. Perhaps it is because I was born an artist, rather than becoming one, and dates and times and diplomas mean little when it is an instinctive way of life. To distill those particular professional years into accomplishments I am most proud of is also an unfamiliar exercise. However, I do have professional and social accomplishments to define here.
As a sculptor, I have found that my best work emerges when I set out to do something that I suspect may not be possible in my medium. Because welded steel is a relatively new sculptural medium compared to bronze, wood, or stone, there were, in my early years, no examples of certain techniques, and certainly no-one to show me how. It therefore forced a kind of innovation. Perhaps there has been someone working somewhere parallel to me, developing the same techniques and getting the same results. I have not seen it. I therefore feel that my efforts to express ideas with this untraditional material has helped to develop welded steel sculpture.
Metal, particularly welded steel, is a commanding material, and I must work in co-operation with it, rather than fighting it. It really is a partnership between the metal and me. I have learned that I must allow the material to speak with my voice. The pieces that give me the most pride and joy are when the steel medium and the artist's spirit combine successfully. It is then a marriage of material and subject matter, and a true work of art.
My work can be very small or very large, rough or smooth, monochromatic or colourful. It can range in subject matter from a tiny sculpture of a flower, where the curve of the leaf makes one think it is real, to a ten inch bronze or steel female figure that seems human in its detail and beauty, to the fantasy faces that command the wall, to a study of a crow, steely-natured, with blue-black torch-coloured wings, to a life-size bull moose, chunks of weathered steel speaking of power and wild nature. These sculptures tell others about the metal and about me. Every artist wants to accomplish just that. I have accomplished it, sometimes, not every time. But every now and then, I walk into a room, and see a sculpture I created twenty years ago, which the owner still loves, which is a well crafted, good quality work, which still says exactly what I meant it to say. What an amazing reward that is. It is my message. It is my gift. It is what keeps me working.
There is a profound social aspect to my career. It is also one that I am proud of. It is based on the fact that I am a woman with steel in her blood. There have been many changes in women's lives in three current generations, if one considers me to be in the middle. Women of my mother's generation struggled for equality, and many female artists and writers up until then were forced to sacrifice, or at least, diminish their potential professional careers for the traditional roles of wives and mothers. For my generation, a change in women's status occurred right in the middle of our lives when we, the products of our mother's lives, suddenly saw liberation as a viable thing and said, "Hey, wait a minute!" How my father saw my art education is a prime example of that kind of Eureka moment. He was quite disappointed and upset when he saw that I had changed my direction at Art College, and instead of discreetly entering the world of magazine illustration, I had chosen the dirty, dangerous metal shop. No place for a woman. But I was driven by some unexplained force, and he had to give in. Then, having graduated, and several years into a successful career as a metal sculptor, I happened to ask my father what his father did for a living. My grandfather, he told me, was a blacksmith. I said to him, "Dad! There is a history here! Why did you never think to mention it to me before? Why did you question my choice at art school?" and he said, "I never thought a woman could do what you do."
Copyright © 2008 Hilary Clark Cole