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Stephen Dubov

Creation/Incarceration : Life's Limiting Factors

The sculptural process demands setting parameters, unlike two-dimensional forms which are more illusory, the reality of materials is restrictive. Actually the process of defining boundaries is the method of expanded vistas; as a window closes, a door opens. Of all the plastic arts, sculptors are faced with limitations; real objects always rely on the actual laws of physics and the force of gravity. After obtaining an MFA in Sculpture from Stanford in 1967, teaching sculpture at Sonoma State University for 10 years, building a live-in studio South of Market, I now find myself incarcerated for a non-violent drug crime, serving Life Without Parole. Limits define our freedom, a truism in both conceptualization and construction.

The realization that we are all faced with an erosion, and the limitations mount until the entropy overcomes, the real problem becomes finding sacramental space/energy. For myself, existing in a regulated prison environment, limited in time, materials, space, and cut off from most visual stimulation, it was at first shocking, then debilitating; became, as I moved through the emotional spectrum, interesting again and is now liberating.

Here, unlike myself of 10 years ago, I have few distractions, nothing that occupies, nothing that's more real. To make a comparison, the monastic orders of the Ashikaga period developed a vigorous austerity, (i.e. discovering that expression has tremendous power when not completely revealed, as perhaps the statue/images of antiquity that Time has mutilated, are those that move us the most) and to retreating into detailed mental preparation. In the actual process, to allow that above mentioned gravity to assert its own pull, to be wonder struck by the doing, is to be liberated, if not free.

The primary concern is working in a vacuum and again it relates to limitations, self-reliance bolstered with a well-grounded art/education channels the way I view historical process. This is an ongoing problem, one never knows where to stand, that in itself is a blockage of sorts, and to pass through is to again allow the ideas to flow, memory-material-process. I must say that having been limited to clay, I find the general non-acceptance of this material rather problematic. Clay is considered pottery not art, and if these pieces were in bronze, stone or even paper, they'd be perceived in a different light. This second-class citizenship, the craft label, is a limitation I was unaware of until faced with the difficulty of finding shows.

As a method of moving beyond the enforced restraints of the 15 hours per week of actual work time, of limitations in materials, in available space, in fact, even tightly monitored oversight of the aesthetics, I have, with so much conceptual time-on-hand, chosen an even stricter set of limits, thereby using the confinement to force focus. Focus, my way of dealing with drab/dullness. The difficulty is not the control, since it's outwardly imposed like all societal strictures, one grows able to move within the set. The real problem is the propinquity of mental effects, to allow the material/object its integrity, rather than curtailing it.

At this point, against the oft-stated opinion that my site fixtures (as I term my objects) are more developed today, which they would be in any case, confinement has focused me, yet freedom in mental areas does not mean I don't miss the other. The crux of the issue is controlling/using limitations rather than having them debilitate. I would have to say, historically, sculptors and architects have been limited by their very pursuit, only since the fall of the European aristocracies have we felt we're immune, free in this new world. Yet today we're bound by the rules of mediocrity, the reign of Nobody. To continue to create is the challenge, against all odds, it's the only freshness left.

This article originally appeared in the December 1996 edition of PRSG News
Stephen Dubov ©1996



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