This has been months in the making and just the first half of a short film about how my husband views imagination. The second half will go into more depth about how his imagination as an artist/sculptor works. Take a look and let us know what you think!
To follow last weeks post about the sculpture ‘Mademoiselle‘ and my memory of Paris, I will keep with the Paris theme. This week’s sculpture is The Woman in the Red Hat.
Are Memories are identification? Our mind is made up of our thoughts and what we are thinking and believing.
When I was in Paris in February many years ago I was by myself. I wonder now if I had an image of Paris in the spring but it was really still winter and I didn’t have enough warm clothes with me. I rang my husband home in England who told me to go and purchase a jumper. I don’t know why that thought hadn’t occurred to me. Too often do I not realise that money is a tool to be used to our advantage. I am not sure I made a particularly good choice. Why didn’t I buy a lovely warm coat? Whatever money I had then or not doesn’t serve me now. So I came out of the shop with a rather thin pink hoodie and a brown skirt. I went into places to keep warm, museums, shops and boutiques. Bought some perfume and a pair of earrings. Took lots of photos and then decided to go to the hairdressers and dye my hair red. So with my splattering of French I communicated to the hairdresser who didn’t have much English that I wanted it short and red. I can visualise the small shop, myself sitting on the left hand side of the salon and there I spent a few warm hours and some more money. Back then I was young, had no responsibilities, no ties but I wasn’t as calm, content and settled as I am now.
Sometimes when we look at a snapshot in time we can project an idea, a thought, a reality that is or isn’t true. Today with all the social media tools and images people post we can start to easily believe that others have it easy, more care free, happier, better. Whatever. It can create jealousy, resentment, anger, mistrust.
It all begins with our own thinking. We make a moment, with what we think and feel at that point in time. Someone else’s photograph may capture smiles and sunshine but it doesn’t capture what that person is thinking and believing in that moment and it could be their version of hell.
Imagine a woman walking down the Champs Elysee in a red hat. Audrey Hepburn springs to mind. She walks confidently. Self assured. She knows what she wants and how to get it. Her mind is clear. She is free of all negative thoughts which could constrict her. She is free of worry or concern. Everything around her is there to serve her. She is happy and healthy. She wears her red hat unconcerned about what any one else thinks. She has black stilettos and a colourful dress which she choose that morning. She is going out for coffee and will probably have a croissant. She is unconcerned about her appearance. She is happy with how she looks. She will sit at the cafe and read a while, watch the people walking past. She is happy to be alone. Alone with her thoughts. She questions constantly what she thinks and what she believes.
Most of the work my husband sculpts forms part of a collection, a group of sculptures under the same title. The latest finished collection is, “Only Human”, born from ideas taken from human phrases. Phrases we use in conversation that has then shaped the form of these vessels. Human beings are fallible, we are not perfect and we can only strive for improving ourselves. Always makes me think of the song, “Human” by Rag’n’bone, as the boys did a Viking song based on the rhythm and we had the song going around our head constantly. ” We are only human after all, don’t put your blame on me.” Human beings are no longer a subject of focus on a daily basis and in many ways have become devalued. Alex Rodgers wrote a book with the same name about the current issues and problems young people face in today’s society.
Each sculpture is created as a human figure whilst simultaneously acting like a canvas which if stretched out would give you an abstract colourful painting, showing that emotion has a colourful impact on human energy and action. These pieces are a frozen body movement which has been shaped by the emotion to allow you to understand that each one of them is only a presentation of who you are. The colour e describes the emotion hidden within the piece and is a completion of the actual concept. Our emotions are so powerful, if we look back at the past mankind uses this emotion to direct not just thousands but millions.
All these pieces have been hand carved using various materials and then painted. Many people can have a create talent, they can draw, paint, take a photography or work with clay or wood. It is something again to bring something out from an imagination of an idea or concept and one in which you are telling a story. In an attempt to be more organised the next series of blog posts I will go through each one in turn, but for now you can think of your own titles for the pieces.
Only Human. Sam Shendi. 2017.
When writing blurbs or bits and pieces for galleries, agents and articles we often describe my husband’s work as minimal, referencing the sixties minimalistic movement and stripping the human form down to the bare essentials.
In my own recent quest for minimising the home, trying to contain our family in a small northern English terrace house, I discovered Greg McKeown’s book “Essentialism, The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.” Just a few pages in it dawned on me that, the way of the essentialist, is very much the way of the sculptor. ‘The relentless pursuit of less but better. It doesn’t mean occasionally giving a nod to the principle. It means pursuing it in a disciplined way”.
Originating from Aristotle, the term ‘essentialism’ is the idea that everything has an essential nature to it. Plato, too was one of the first essentialists, believing in the concept of ideal forms.
Our youngest has asked a few times, “Why don’t you do arms Baba”. The sculptor answers making the point that they aren’t necessary. I have heard him speak about how Egyptian sculpture lasted longer than Roman sculpture because there were no weak points. An almost ideal form that could remain. Roman sculpture today stands without arms because they have been lost to the elements where as the ancient Egyptians made no gaps between arm and torso. The Egyptians knew what was essential but also had a style that would remain in tact. It is in the taking away that more is added, and in this case time.
Not only does my husband sculpt in an essentialist way I feel he lives his life to that aim. He lives by design (pardon the pun) perhaps it goes hand in hand, he is so ruthless in his pursuit of sculpting and because he is not yet a full-time artist his time has to be used to purposefully. He has a, “disciplined, systematic approach for determining where his highest point of contribution lies, and then his execution of these things appear to be almost effortless”. That effortlessness makes it easy to think that it is un-challenging or un-demanding and consequently, I become forgetful of how hard he works.
In this journey from realism to the minimal my husband’s work takes away all that is not essential to the story he is telling. “An Essentialist thinks almost everything is non-essential”. For the pieces are like three-dimensional stories in a very contemporary, minimal form. Play is an important part of our development because it doesn’t just help us to explore what is essential. It is essential in and of itself. My husband’s work is playful in the use of colour but also the shapes and themes which are provoked.
‘The essential life is living a life that really matters, a life lived without regret. If you have correctly identified what really matters, if you invest your tie and energy in it then it is difficult to regret the choice you make. You become proud of the life you have chosen to live.”
In short, I think Sam Shendi is up there as one living an essential life and consequently his master pieces mould into an art movement of Essentialism. Then of course I should say, it is essential that they are seen, that the work is viewed and appreciated by the many. This is what the sculptor is working so hard to achieve.
I have caught some beautiful days this summer. Wandering. Walking. Captivated by the clouds and flowers this year. Always looking up for some loftier inspiration. I dart around like the swallows in my pursuit for easier homemaking, exercise, minimising and reducing waste, writing and looking after our business and the boys. Reminded recently about the need to be grateful for the place where we are at, both mentally and physically. I am fortunate to live in a beautiful part of the world. Sometimes grounding ourself in the importance of seeing something through, brings us back to earth.
My husband seems to be able to tap into some subliminal subconscious web of communication. There have been several times where he has been working on something which parallels what is happening else where.
These heads were created at the end of last year. Usually working to a smooth, perfected finish these pieces are the opposite. Rough and ready to represent the experiences in life that leave a mark and shape us. Entitled; ‘Mr Green’, ‘Mr Blue’, ‘Mr White’, ‘Mr Red’ and ‘Mr Grey’, colours often symbolising mood, emotion, feelings, expressions. I have put this image with the sculptor in the scene to show the scale of them. As a group, ‘Head’s together’ which yesterday I stumbled across is a campaign, http://www.headstogether.org.uk ,which is spearheaded by Prince Harry and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. It is raising the awareness of “unresolved mental problems” and “wants to help people feel much more comfortable with their everyday mental wellbeing and have the practical tools to support their friends and family.”
I thought it would be interesting to show a sketch and sculpture together for a change. I love seeing the lines on paper and then the shift into three dimensions. The bird symbolises the idea of voices or the noise pecking away at the mind.
Mental health has huge stigma, often misunderstood and a reoccurring theme in my husband’s work partly I think because of his increasing awareness of how much it was hidden and not spoken of growing up in rural Egypt. It’s the same here in the UK but with media and celebrities speaking out it is something being uncovered and discussed more and more. It would appear it is a global issue on the rise of being discussed. Again, these pieces show a visual story. A visual interpretation of a subject, theme, idea which we all have connection with an experience of, a shared similarity beyond the differences of culture, class, education, gender.
After posting my last blog entry I realised I had left out a really important image of a piece which sums up the ‘Less is more idea’. So to follow on from Friday’s post:
When asked to choose a favourite piece the sculptor often settles for this piece; inspired by two of his favourite artists Rodin and Mondrian. After making this piece he realised he was influenced by both artists and the architecture of the 60’s. “The concept of minimalist architecture is to strip everything down to its essential quality and achieve simplicity. The idea is not completely without ornamentation, but that all parts, details, and joinery are considered as reduced to a stage where no one can remove anything further to improve the design.”
I think these words echo truth concerning this sculpture and many of the others, “no one can remove anything further to improve the design.”
This piece is entitled ‘The Thinker’, harps back to the old masters but brings a unique contemporary style for today. It combines the fascination of the piece, ‘The Thinker’ by Rodin and the abstractions of Mondrian.
‘Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication’ is a quote attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. I have really begun to tap into this idea of simplicity. It began last year when we cleared out the attic space in an attempt to start converting it into a inhabitable space. Full, it was of boxes, of my things. So I started to de-clutter and was recommended the book, ‘Spark Joy’ by Marie Kondo. Since then I have delved online into the world of Minimalism with countless sites and support groups. It is a work in process and I still have a way to go, being a natural hoarder. Tied into this is also the realisation of how much waste we produce and in minimising somethings I am also looking at how to reduce my own waste.
Before you get any ideas of me producing no rubbish, I have to point out that we are still producing endless amounts of blank bin liners full of waste every week and that is what shocks me. Shocks me into action… a little bit. So, I start with myself. I am trying to be consistent in making my own dairy-free milks to reduce the number of tetrapacks. Our milkman delivers the milk in glass bottles which I rinse and return but my eldest and I are no longer having cow’s milk. Here in lies a little problem, of how you get everyone onboard in these journeys.
My husband’s work has always been around the human condition, the human figure. In many ways, if we think about form it is hardly surprising that sculptors have always been preoccupied with the human body. ‘Stripping away to the most simplistic form’ is what has become integral to his practise as a sculptor.
Clement Mont said “Very often people confuse simple with simplistic . The nuance is lost on most’. Within art in the 1960’s minimalism was about “painters and sculptors avoiding overt symbolism and emotional content, but instead called attention to the materiality of the works.” My husband is referencing this movement in many ways, perhaps in use of colour and form but using it as a platform for storytelling and communicating deep human messages. In a time when, globally, nationally and individually we seem to be hankering after meaning.
Hans Hoffman who was pivotal in abstract expressionism stated that, “The ability to simplify mean to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak”.
In the art of de-cluttering your possessions, this rings true. We live in a world of consumerism and a society driven on the belief that acquiring possessions and wealth will lead to greater happiness. A study from Princeton University shows that too much disorganized stimuli simply overwhelms the brain. I am finding that getting rid of the excess is leading to more time, more space and more opportunities. Only at the start of my journey, I am already feeling the benefits, peeping through like the snowdrops beginning to emerge from the frosted soil.
I am finding my ability to the house work a more pleasurable process and less time-consuming. If we take pleasure in the things we do have, we can value their role and be less wasteful in what we consume. Although it is not to become another thing we aim to achieve just to keep up with others, or put pressure on ourselves for perfection perhaps.
‘Nature was pleased with simplicity’ Issac Newton believed and that ‘Truth is ever to be found in the simplicity and not the multiplicity and confusion of things. With the world around us being a noise of confusion, the art world should be responding by giving us something beautiful, simple yet telling a visual story and reminding us what is means to be human. Slightly bias, but I think my husband’s sculptures do just that.
Last week I got back into my writing and wrote a long post, ‘Less is more’, saved it to come back to in an attempt to re read and edit what I am writing and be a little more conscientious. I occasionally do this (not that often) and the saving system works fine. However, this time it has cleverly morphed the post I wrote the last week with one I had not ‘published’ yet written 6 months ago that was quietly sitting in the ‘draft’ file. I am not even sure how this has happened but the bulk of what I have written is lost into a virtual ether that I feel my brain can’t get back.
I sit here feeling frustrated about all the quotes I had sourced and the links to other things, it had the making of being a really good entry, I was sure. Lost. Made me think about something my husband had put up on one of his social media a few weeks ago. Ironically, someone commented that they wondered what Mrs Shendi thought. I was puzzled as to what they meant. Why were they interested in my opinion about what my husband does with his work?
I know the sculptor can grab a bit of clay at anytime and sculpt it into a head, so easily that it makes you think anyone can do it. With words, perhaps it should be as easy, to re-write something that has already been written. Will it be better rewriting it? At this moment it feels irretrievable, gone. Evaporated. Do writers create as easily as sculptors or is moulding words into a coherent piece of writing a different process?
The mindful meditation that I have been trying to work on this year reassures me that yes everything happens for a reason. There is a purpose as to why that piece of writing is not to be ‘published’. As I quietly, calmly sit here with the ‘serenity’ I am pursuing, a little cartoon image of me stopping like a 2-year-old and having a tantrum, going bright red with anger and frustration pops up in my mind’s eye. But it’s just not me. The only thing that seems to anger me at the moment is my boys not listening to me, and I am working on that because I think we all have selective hearing once in a while, especially when we are asked to do something menial like pick up a sock! So to take heed of my husband’s lesson. I can do it again.
“Since the time of the University until now, I have created so many portraits. Yet I always break them after I finish and recycle the clay. The same piece of clay that I used in this portrait has been recycled since 2008. I think I have made about 8 different portraits and somehow I stop and then the only thing I want to do is break it, instead of casting it. It feels as though if I were to cast it and have it around me in the studio, it would be as though everything I made afterwards would look like it. These days I could stay 2 years without creating one portrait. I just get a feeling that my hands need to create a portrait. The more I let my hands decide to create the sculpture, the quicker and the easier it comes. The point is, I was never frightened to break it after the hard work because I always say to myself I can do it again.”
In memory of those who risk their lives for others.
No one can say with certainty what will happen to us in our life.
A Thousand clichés
Everyday is a gift
Live your life to the full
Live until you die
Don’t take life for granted
Be courageous to live:
Being a child of the 80’s I remember the theme tune to a programme called Record breakers, ” Dedication is what you need.” If you want to be the best… There are so many definitions to the meaning and I have put a link on the word which goes into that idea.
The sculptor made this piece thinking of those who chose to step out into the unknown or even the known and save others. He had an experience on a boat as a child but the memory of it was brought back, seeing images of the boats with refugees.
My husband is dedicated in his practice. He lives and breathes to create.
I love this image below, it’s so different from the images above and visually shows us how sometimes it is good to get a different perspective on things.
“Sometimes it’s hard to just keep going but dedication is moving forward without giving up no matter what.”