Sometimes a piece of art starts with a concept and even a name. I created a marble statue called Empty Womb years ago that was very personal, and the name drove the form of the piece long before I selected the stone or picked up a chisel.
But more often, for me, at least, I can visualize a piece, work on it, even for years, and complete it before really focusing on a name. Sure, I may have a working name, so I don’t think of it as “newest white marble bust”, but I generally know my working name is flawed and transient. It may be cutesy, meaningless in referencing the artwork itself, or overly contrived. Or it may be an obtuse reference only I will ever appreciate.
For me, names should be short, striking and memorable, with insight into the piece or the artist. Either a story connecting the piece and name, or a “Gotcha” moment when you understand the names relevance is preferred, but without getting too cute. And I always appreciate using a modern reference in an unusual or unexpected way – probably the contrarian in me that helps drive the art process itself. Other artists will have their own formula and ideals for what a perfect name should be.
A great example from my recent work is the mixed medium marble and wood piece above I titled “Fatal Attraction”. Of course, a little backstory is required. This piece had actually gestated in my studio for years, including one move, before I “created” it. I use quotes here because I claim to have curated this piece, giving God/nature the real creation credit.
I had driven up to Tate Georgia, about an hour north of Atlanta, to hunt for a large piece of Etowah Pink marble to do a ¾ size torso sculpture. Tate is home to Marble Hill, Ga Marble Co, and one of the larger East Coast quarries, supplying stone for US buildings like Lincoln center and the NY Stock exchange. While scavenging for a suitable piece of marble along the rail tracks into a quarry, I spotted a dead fig tree growing up through scattered stone. It had grown around pieces of marble, and created what you see above. Nearby I found and winched into my truck a 600 lb piece of marble for my bust, which I took back to Atlanta. But a few weeks later we went back to the Tate area to find and cut a Christmas tree, and then back by the quarry with my chainsaw for the fig tree.
After stumbling around this awkward log in the workshop for many years, I had an upcoming gallery show with room for another piece, and finally attacked the tree, cutting and sandblasting it, then finishing and mounting. After mentally creating lots of different ways to mount and present this piece over the years, I stuck with my original, simpler idea – sometimes you have to let something special just speak for itself. Part of feeling that I had more curated than created this unique once in a lifetime piece.
Then another hard part, coming up with the right name. A tree expert looked at the base section of this tree, and estimated that it might be around 50 years old based on circumference. And we know it takes marble millions of years and intense pressure to form. Yet this relatively soft young tree had grown around several pieces of hard marble, and cracked them under pressure over just a few years. While I came up with about 5 good names, I kept coming back to “Fatal Attraction” as signifying the struggle between these 2 materials, both the tree and stone yielding, and losing, but joined forever.