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Interview with Michael Esbin: Sequential Obsession

November 19, 2010

Michael Esbin is an American sculptor who is better known in Europe than the US. He fell in love with marble years ago and has been living in Carrara, Italy for the past 30 years.

We’re very proud to show Michael’s work at The Second Hanging (http://www.thesecondhanging.com) but the work piqued our curiosity in several areas. Fortunately, Michael had the time to talk.

First, a bit of history and philosophy. Michael is an abstract sculptor and always has been; he is not a figurative artist. He was a bit surprised that I wanted to interview him because he claims to think about nothing but sculpture. I can’t tell you if that’s true, but I can attest to his deep commitment to his work.

Michael’s first sculptures were flowing and free-form. (He describes than as a bit blob-like.) He began working as a student in clay but was quickly redirected by his teacher to stone.

As he continued working in different types of stone, Michael’s thinking about form evolved. Philosophically, he adheres (although that’s too strong a word) to Eastern mysticism, i.e., cycles, rebirths, the circularity of events. There is a concrete component to this philosophy: how you live this life guides your next life. That’s a hard-edged thought, different in toto from western religious belief in the power of absolution. Michael’s work evolved to include sharp cuts, hard edges, corners, columns, and so on – but no amorphous interpretive shapes.

Now add to the philosophical mix someone who thinks he’s all about art but has a real engineering bent. How does that person develop as an artist? The answer is that he poses a construction question which requires engineering support in each new design idea.

• Example 1: Tibetan Sun XF-16: the problem was to create the circle from 8 separate pieces of stone. Should the circle come first and then be carved or should each piece be carved and then assembled into a circle. How to make each joint perfectly smooth? How to attach the pieces?
• Example 2: A sculpture with 2 long cylinders balancing on each other in an open formation.
• Example 3: A sculpture which is a large upright diamond shape with free floating squares on both sides.

The technical difficulties partially explain why Michael repeats his pieces, an unusual event for a stone sculptor. The nature of each type of stone, sodalite vs. statuario marble, granite vs. travertine marble, partially explains the repetitions, as he explores the nature of each. More importantly, Michael simply hasn’t finished with an idea until he’s consumed the totality of that idea’s obsession.

After all, he’s been called the King of Circles in Carrara. That means many Boundless, Tibetan Sun XF-16 and Sunya sculptures over the years.

Still, I’m curious to see where Michael’s methods take him. He has a truly architectural approach to sculpture. I’d love to see a collaboration with an architect, one in which the artist drives the architect, in which the art is the foundation for a building’s design. He is a challenging sculptor whose works require thought and imagination from all parties.

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