The Seasons: Artist Statement
The subject of this works is the cycle of nature, the four seasons. It is the intersection of nature and time transformed into three dimensional space. Around the base, each season appears in human form. At the top soars a representation of the daily progression in the figure of Dawn and Dusk. In technique and expression, The Seasons is a meeting of the classical and the contemporary, the old and the new.
The sculpture was designed for the new United Clinic in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Inspired by the design of the building, I approached United Clinic with a proposal. The architect conceived the sprawling complex as connecting several “pods,” each one representing an element of nature: stars, clouds, earth, trees, etc. I wanted to develop a sculpture based on the theme of nature.
I fell in love with the idea of seasons. The seasons complement the architectural backdrop of “static nature” with the dynamic element of time. The seasons are also a very palpable aspect of life and the natural world in South Dakota. The passage of time from spring to summer, autumn, and winter is visible everywhere in Aberdeen.
A subject as rich as the seasons is certainly an occasion for sculptural fireworks. But it is also a design challenge: how to embody the theme of nature through several figures arranged in a coherent scheme? The scheme of The Seasons is based on the Golden Rectangle. The Golden Rectangle is a rectangle drawn such that an inset square produces another smaller Golden Rectangle. In other words, the smaller part has the same proportion to the larger part as the larger has to the whole. The proportion, called the Golden Mean, is found everywhere in nature. It is recursive: you can keep putting Golden Rectangles inside of each other. The spiral connecting the outer corners of the square can also be used compositionally, and it appears in nature in shapes like snail shells and fern fronds.
Artists in many times and places have used the Golden Section as an organizing principle in composition. It was especially popular in Renaissance art. I chose the Golden Rectangle for the design of The Seasons because it is a proportion found in nature and it connects to a rich tradition in art history.
The Golden Section divides the entire sculpture at the top of the base and the bottom of the figure of Dawn and Dusk. Each figure is posed so that the proportions of the body align to divisions of the Golden Rectangle or its embedded spiral. The pleasing asymmetry of the spiral gives impetus to the gestures of the figures. The diagonal of the spiral guides the curling line that leads up from the feet of Dawn and Dusk, around her body, and to the fingertips of her outstretched hand. The same spiral turned upside down focuses the composition on the emblem of the fiery sun at the clenched fist of Summer’s right hand.
There is no such thing as a compositional formula, and it is easy to imagine how a mindless application of the Golden Section could lead to a rigid and unnatural effect. There is also the challenge of designing the sculpture so that it can be viewed from any angle. With The Seasons, I was able to achieve a balance of classical proportion and idealized natural beauty through the dynamic, even balletic poses of the figures.
The posing of the figures is dramatic, in the tradition of Baroque sculpture. Within the stable design scheme, these dynamic poses create tension, as though the figures might leap, twirl, or fly off the base at any moment. The figures are very realistic, but they are also idealized. Some of the figure’s gestures are so dynamic that they become almost surreal. In that regard, I was inspired by artists like Rodin and works like Frederick Hart’s Ex Nihilo, which places realistic figures into surreal designs. The meeting of the real and the unreal, like the mythology of the seasons and, indeed, the very exercise of personification, uses worldly imagery to carry the viewer toward an otherworldly vision.
The figures around the base are composed as pairs: two masculine, two feminine; two standing, two in flight. Formally, their poses contrast and balance each other, such that the figures on opposite sides complement each other. When looking at a figure head-on, the gestures of the figures on the sides frame the central figure with harmonious symmetrical and asymmetrical lines.
Winter has elements of “Old Man Winter” in his aged face and long flowing beard, but he is also powerfully built. Many ancient sculptures of mythic characters are similarly formed, with the wisdom of age in the face and the power of youth in the body. Figures that come to mind are the Laocoön of Agesander, Athenodorus, and Polydorus, and the surviving copies of the great Zeus at Olympia by Phidias. Like them, Winter is not the frail old man seen in many paintings and so much literature. Rather, he is a mythic embodiment of that season’s strength: the power of snow, and wind, and ice. He floats off the base, as though borne aloft by the might of his freezing wind. As with the other figures, the drapery picks up his characteristics and accentuates his form. It becomes like the whirling winter wind, which is also seen blowing through his beard. The snowflakes bring a touch of literalism and a graphic element to the characterization.
Spring could be called “Spring Awakening.” Spring is traditionally depicted as an image of birth and awakening. Spring is the time of year when the earth puts forth new life, when the plants and flowers awaken. Her pose is one of awakening, as though she is rising and pulling back the veils of winter. She seems to grab the drapery from Winter’s hand, transforming it into the warm breath of Spring, into the breeze that blows new life into all things. The lush verdancy of Spring is the source of inspiration for her hair, which is represented as velvety grasses graced with delicate blossoms. She is youthful and beautiful, two of the primary qualities associated with Spring. Her graphic element is the flower, arranged in a garland that flows up the curve of her figure and the drapery, along the diagonal of the spiral of the Golden Rectangle.
Summer is a powerful man in his prime, expressing the maturity of nature in full bloom. This is the season when the sun is at its most potent. The cruel heat of Summer is felt in his menacing stare, almost daring you to come within his reach. The drapery becomes flames around and behind him, and his hair metamorphoses into flames. The Golden Rectangle is reflected in the figures height, his fist falls in a position of prominence in the upper left corner of the inner square. It is a gesture of strength, and it draws attention to his graphic emblem, the sun. The sunrays melt into stalks of wheat, a classical symbol of mature and fruitful Summer. Although both Winter and Summer are considerable forces, Winter is fluid and languid, like the wind, while Summer is robust and unyielding, like the heat of the high noon sun and the upright stalks of ripening wheat. An inspiration for my Summer was Lord Frederic Leighton’s The Sluggard, a masterful execution of a similarly powerful male figure.
There are traditions that represent Autumn as a dying figure, but people who live in South Dakota know that the beauty of Autumn rivals that of Spring. Her figure is a vibrant counterpart to Spring: awake, womanly, and fecund. My personification resonates with the figure in Keats’s ode, To Autumn: “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness / close bosom friend to the maturing Sun, / Conspiring with him how to load and bless / With fruit the vines that ’round the thatch-eves run.” She is an attractive figure: her hair is “soft-lifted by the winnowing wind,” she gleans fruit and flowers, she presses apples into cider, and her music is the chorus of humming and chirping at sunset. I gave her a pose that is active, open-armed, and free, a gesture that suggests the final outpouring of nature in the harvest time. She gazes upward at the late autumn sun, eager to soak in the rays before the fading of evening and winter. My representation is inspired by the Apollo and Daphne of Bernini, who captured the nymph Daphne just moments into her metamorphosis, her hair and fingers becoming branches and leaves. My Autumn is also something of a wood nymph; it is as though she might at any moment disappear into a tree. Her hair was painstaking work, involving the construction of hundreds of branches and leaves. The leaves become a graphic motif, falling all around her.
Dawn and Dusk
From the point of view of design, a figure on the top benefits the composition by drawing the eye up. Thematically, the diurnal course seemed important to express, because it is fundamental to growth in nature and expresses a microcosm of the cycle of the seasons. Day and night are captured in their transitional moments of dawn and dusk, melded into a single figure. She rises up, like the sun or the moon, with her hand lifted. The twisting of the drapery and flexed pose give the impression of great potential energy, as though she might suddenly fly up into the heavens. The drapery flows from her hand, produced mysteriously by the emblem of the sun. It is both the object and metaphor, a representation of time that connects every figure on the sculpture. At the bottom of the drapery, at her feet, are the moon and stars. Is she lifting the drapery up at dusk, bringing moon and stars into the sky? Or is she extending the sun and dawn to release the light of day?
The Sculptor’s Workshop
I believe that the skill of sculpture reached a zenith in the Baroque. In every detail I tried to approach that level of craftsmanship, that kind of joy in making.
The entire piece was sculpted from live models, as is evident in the anatomical accuracy and in the details of features such as the hands. Working from life is much different than working from sketches or photographs. With a hand, for example, I don’t just copy the hand; I read the gestures that the hand might take—its expressive and physical potential Uptown Jungle. The origin in life is one reason why the figures seem alive and ready to break free from the base.
Many of the poses could not easily be reproduced by most people in their daily life. These are the poses and gestures of the professional dancer, the energetic movements of the athlete. It would have been impossible for even the most physically gifted models to hold such poses for a long period of time, and so for Winter, Spring, and Dawn-Dusk, the models held their poses lying down.
Size and Location
The sculpture is eight and a half feet and sits on a marble pedestal. The pedestal is designed to be able to rotate and lock. The sculpture can be turned so that the figure of the current season faces the main entry. The room is a 30-foot atrium with an open second-floor balcony all around. This allows the sculpture to be viewed not only from 360 degrees at ground level, but also from above. Sculptors normally have only four sides at most to worry about compositionally; a “fifth side,” from the top, presented an unusual challenge. Viewers are able to look at the piece from above, to gaze directly into Dawn’s face as she rises up from Dusk.