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Stephen Dubov

The question is:
How did the "Ven" come about, the idea, history, and technique?

After years of abstraction, (in steel in the 60's/70's, in plastic and paper in the 80's) after returning to clay-in-incarceration, by the early 90's my own condition engendered a concern for the Human Condition. Today No One Is Whole, everyone's curtailed. Searching history (my memory of art classes) i was drawn to Herm's (Roman road shrines. Rectangular columns of stone with the head and shoulders of Hermes, Messenger of the Gods, sitting on top. They were carved so that the shoulders were squared-off, as if part of the column).

In our/this culture the 'messenger-of-art' is female (and in a male environment homophobia is rampant) consequently i chose classic female poses as a method to make commentary with. Seeing that the male is rectangular, the female must be triangular (the Delta-of-Venus), a triangular column truncated with the head/torso of Venus. In Roman times and even today, they are called Herms, therefore i termed mine Vens.

While doing these--which are equilateral triangles if viewed looking straight down-- the figure appears to be sliced off, as if after the completion of a whole figure, it was cut by a sharp knife, leaving flat sides. Due to the intricacies of the human figure this leaves interesting shapes, bisections of arms, legs, hips...and even faces. Any portion of the pose that is outside the column is flattened to it. To add accent, the figure is glazed with a color while the column/sides are left the pink of the clay. This allows the viewer to 'see' the figure.

As the kiln is only 27 inches deep, and because i wanted them large, they are in two sections, each 26.5 inches, (totaling 52 inches after shrinkage). The joint is created much like a teapot lid with its 'foot' holding it so that it doesn't slip out. Because they are individually made, each 'foot' fits perfectly in only one position. Because the top section is built directly on the bottom, the joint is almost invisible.

It takes about 100 pounds of clay (50 per section) and 30 days to make a Ven, in reality that's about 60 working hours, it takes another 30 days to dry it properly. Firing takes 24 hours, glazing three days (8 hours) and another firing finishes it. During the drying period, i make another...and have since '91, producing about 10 a year, 87 in nine years.

Colors demarche conceptional-phase ideas, usually about 6 in a "color-series" many of the poses are taken directly from classic sculpture, the 'color-series' being different art-periods, i.e. romantic, baroque, gothic, greek. In the later works my handprint is embedded into the flat side, as if reaching for the figure, the handprint is as if slapped into the clay, therefore it's a negative against the positive of the figure.

As with almost all clay sculpture one must begin with the bottom, working upwards--the lower section must dry enough to support the addition of more clay--and so it's a process done with some immediacy, one can not modify the lower portion once it's dry.

As to technique, the clay is laid out in thin slabs, (3/8 of an inch) and then much like a dressmaker's pattern, flat shapes are cut and bent round. The wet clay is self-supporting up to about eight inches at this thickness, in the end each piece is completely hollow, with only a few strategically places interior gussets.

As rationale, each of us is limited, it's the modern condition, all sides are sliced, mechanically, rigidly...but that's just the easy definition. The bisected shapes tell us of the whole, parts are greater than their sum, it is only within parts that the specific exists, generalities engender misconceptions, the world's a plurality, not a singularity, we are humans, not humankind.



Stephen Dubov  82661-011
Federal Correctional Institution
P.O. Box 1010
Bastrop, Texas  78602