Artist Statement:

I make sculpture of suspended shattered stone. Most of my work relies on the clean balance among its elements - the formal parallels of the suspending cord, the violence of the shattered marble, and, often, the cascade of cord below. The verticals ‘breathe’ but remain plumb. The rock, a variety of marbles and granites, holds the raw energy. (There is a violence to shattering these beautiful stones. ) In some pieces there is also a cascade of loose cord pooling on the ground below adding a graceful chaotic element to the work. In other pieces the stones themselves cascade downward.

The strict restraints I apply to my materials are essential. By limiting my materials to the cord and the stone, the work is able to sing out clearly and directly, unencumbered by decoration. Suspension and the promise of movement are fundamental to the piece.

All of the work floats between the lyrical and the formal, the powerful and the melodious, the violent and the beautiful. I strive for a sort of essence; a clarity that will allow the work grace but not prettiness, rhythm but not contrivance, balance but not stiffness. It will animate, as well as inhabit, its space. The work should be as clear as chamber music and as graceful as a dance.

Most of the works are in series, each with a mythological reference. They do not represent an individual story, but rather a paradigm, a portrayal of an ideal. They refer to a human archetype rather than a specific story.

Speech On Crenae:

Crenae is made of just two elements. There is the stone, white Italian marble, and there is the cord, white industrial lift cord. On their own, each is simply an inert object. Each has its own resonance, but essentially they are unthrilling, they hold only promise. It is my job, as an artist, to try to effect a transformation.

The impulse to metamorphosis might be called rather traditional. However, I find it requisite to making most art. One-to-one correspondence, simple agglomeration, is eventually boring. To give them substance, I have to take the materials and transform them. They have to leap to another plateau. The whole must become something completely other than the sum of the parts.

My work might be labeled ‘post-minimalist abstraction’. I quote the late, brilliant Kirk Varnedoe from ‘Pictures of Nothing’, derived from his Mellon Lectures, to talk about first, abstract art, and second, minimalism. About abstraction he says “Works of art are vessels of human intention. We have to expand our sense of the drives wired into human cognition, recognizing that we are set up not just to make connections and find resemblances, but also to project meaning onto experience.” About experiencing minimal art Varnadoe says “Minimalists wanted to get to something that engaged with its surroundings – that ‘activated’ it…The suppression of internal relationships and the abandonment of composition forced the viewer’s attention away from the work and out into the space around it, thereby drawing the viewer into the ‘theatre’ of the object.” Both concepts inform my work.

So we have these two elements, the stone and the string; my sculpture hovers in a three-part balance between the two. It’s interesting, I hope, because of the way the materials play out their functions both against each other and against the space that houses them. None of the parts have meaning alone, it is their interplay that produces the piece.

The upper portion of the piece is the formal section, the clean parallels. This is the most classical part of the piece, the most orderly and elegant. Because the stones are pulled by gravity, they form their own perfect verticals. Most importantly, because they are string, they move. In the way a musician makes a vibrato with his instrument the lines breathe. They are not stiff; they shimmer constantly with the air currents. It is essential to the life of the work that they are not rigid but living.

Next, you have the shattered stone. This part holds all the power; the innate violence, the energy, and the aggression of the work. The stone may be exquisite white Italian marble, but these pieces are neither smooth nor delicate. This beautiful stone is quite fierce and dangerous. Held in its constraining web it is brought into line, but not emasculated. It can crush, it could be weaponry. This stone is both devious and dangerous in its beauty.

Finally, there is the chaotic, lyrical section. The line falling below the stone has both wildness and grace. It is a tangle, a spreading living creature; its tendrils flow outwards, winding everywhere. This part is the song. It is a cascade that can play out, can be arranged, in many ways, and all of them are correct. Crenae can be hung at various heights, from 10’ to 25’ and the cataract below changes with each one.

I make titles that help the viewer find a path into the piece. I’m not a fan of untitled art. I would rather help one find a way to enter into the work. I name most of my work, which I generally produce in series, with Greek mythological archetypes. This gives you, the audience, a way to look at and understand it without telling you exactly what to see. My works are generally figurative, in an abstract manner, not landscape, and they have various attributes similar to their mythological namesakes. For instance, the works in the Danae Series involve the stones raining down, just as Zeus rained a shower of gold onto Danae. The Crenae, then, are water spirits; graceful and fierce. They are similar to the Neried and Pliade Series which also reference Greek mythological water creatures.

For those of you who have known me for a long time, you’ll notice that my work has included more of the lyrical in recent years. As a younger sculptor, I was concerned with a more forceful and power-driven kind of work. Wanting to cede nothing to being ’a woman sculptor’ I made the most ferocious work that I could. There was the giant circle of boulders on the rooftop parking lot and there was the two-ton river of shattered marble at the Katzen Museum. And, to be truthful, as of the ribbon cutting this past summer, there are the nine eight-foot, 1500 pound, granite obelisks in Legacy Memorial Park. But, generally, over the last decade more and more grace has entered my work. Both my drawings and the new bas relief pieces I’m making are stone-free and driven by linear exploration. The new sculpture follows arcing lines of painted monofiliment, inhabits a space somewhere between two and three dimensions. So please stay tuned…

Barbra Liotta by Mary Noble Ours .jpg