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Q&A with Sculptor & Painter Marsha Brown

Golden Stretch by Marsha Brown (click for a larger image)
Golden Stretch by Marsha Brown (click for a larger image)

Every December, the juror selects one piece to win the Bertha G. Harrison Memorial Award for Figurative Sculpture. This year, the award went to Marsha Brown for the golden female figure above, which recently sold! The painter and sculptor told us some more about this sculpture and the process of working with clay, models, and inspiration.

What was your goal with Golden Stretch?
Marsha Brown: A 3-D figure created in clay, inspired by this model’s pose and persona.

I didn’t have a preconceived idea. When I set a pose, I have the model do quick gestures until I find one that looks expressive and natural for that person. The pose is what motivates me to start creating.

What makes a successful figure sculpture?
On the broadest level, any interpretive or intellectual expressions can be a great sculpture, but simple and beautiful work may be equally sublime. I guess the big question is who determines a successful sculpture/artist: critics; galleries; patrons. An artist’s work can be ignored during his lifetime, and then 300 years later (i.e. Caravaggio), the work is suddenly recognized as great. To me a particular work of art is successful if I’m satisfied with it. Of course, acknowledgement is always appreciated too.

Golden Stretch by Marsha Brown
Golden Stretch by Marsha Brown

What’s your creative process like (either for sculpture or painting or both)?
Much is now based on experience with the materials, but beyond that I look at the expression or the gesture of a pose and try to capture that emotion and the uniqueness of the model. I then move to proportions, measuring distances of various points about figure, i.e. the distance and angle of the elbow to the hip; the hip to the foot; the foot to the shoulder and so on, but in no particular order. Consequently negative space becomes quite important and exciting.

Which came first for you, painting or sculpture? How did you get started as an artist?
Painting came first. I always painted from very early on, as early as I can remember. In college, at the University of Michigan, I did my first sculpture, an abstract, and was encouraged by my professor but did not get back to working in 3-D, specifically clay, until the mid ’90s.

Some of the other three-dimensional work in the December exhibit.
Some of the other three-dimensional work in the December exhibit.

Why clay?
Clay is not my favorite material, but it is cheap and easy to work with. But clay is not great for animated poses. My favorite material, plasticine, is wonderful — it can be used with wire armatures and the liveliest poses are possible, however a mold must then be made, a complicated and costly procedure. The mold can be filled with bronze or other materials — again, another process.

I have never worked with marble or wood, because both are very difficult on the hands. Plus the process is to subtract from the form, cut into the material rather than building up such as clay or plasticine.

Golden Stretch (detail) by Marsha Brown
Golden Stretch (detail) by Marsha Brown

At what point did you decide on a golden patina — is that something you consider during the sculpting process?
Golden patina was simply an inspiration as I worked on a patina.

What are you working on now?
I am working on four figure pieces and two reliefs. All have been fired but the patinas are in various states of completion.

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