One of the most common themes discovered from the interviews The Eisenhauer Gallery conducts is the sense that each artist approaches their craft through an organic process, letting their materials and experiences guide them to whatever comes to fruition. For artist Monica Wyatt, each sculpture starts with a simple piece of clay that turns into something extravagant, but never planned out or predetermined. There aren’t any models standing around her room, nor are her collection of sculptures based on anything that already exists. Instead, Monica acts as a narrator, explaining the intricacies of the profound relationships between family, friends, life and “secretes never told.” We had a chance to speak with Monica about her work’s background and the process involved with bringing her sculptures to life. Here is what she had to say:
Q: Tell me about how you come up with titles for your sculptures?
Monica Wyatt: I don’t think about titling a sculpture until it’s finished. My English major background definitely comes in handy because I love words and naming a piece has to taste, sound and feel just right when saying it. One of my favorite titles, and I dare you to say it without smiling, is “Wiggle My Toes,” a voluptuous, playful seated woman. She’s pure joy and whimsy and the title is an open invitation to, well, wiggle her toes! “Learning to Fly”, “I’m Listening”, “A Secret”, and “Circle of Life” are some other favorites, oh, and “Dreamer”. I guess I’m somewhat partial to all of them!
Q: Your collections of sculptures largely reflect levels of communication between family and friends. Whether its love, curiosity or hope, each sculpture seems to represent what it means and how it feels to be completely caught in a moment. Would you agree and can you elaborate either way on what type of sentiment you try and solicit from viewers?
Monica Wyatt: Yes, these small moments in life have definitely become the big moments in my work. My sculptures celebrate those fleeting, timeless happenings that are universal but so easily overlooked. Every viewer brings his or her own history and interpretations to the piece. My sculpture, “I’m Listening” of two parents and a child is one example of a piece that elicits different emotions for its viewers. A number of people have started crying remembering when their children were small and listening to them. Others see the child listening to the parents. My kids actually think that it should have been entitled, “You Did WHAT?!” and that there’s something mischievous about it. I never would have guessed that interpretation!
Q: What about the views from particular demographics? How does “Learning To Fly” relate to a father as opposed to the mom who is throwing her child up in the air?
Monica Wyatt: My sculptures are definitely created through the lens of being a woman but some of my most loyal collectors are men. “Learning to Fly” was created after coming across a photo of me playing with my then infant son, swooping him through the air like an airplane. One gentleman collector felt like the piece captured his mother’s unwavering and powerful love that was his foundation. I think “Learning to Fly” resonates for a lot of moms as well. It represents an indelible period of time that’s short-lived but unforgettable.
Q: Do you think that your collection resonates with all audiences or are they meant for specific backgrounds and experiences? My sculptures are meant to be enjoyed and touched and lived with. They reconcile the joys and ordinariness of life. In success, they make the ordinary into something extraordinary. My hope is that they resonate for many, regardless of background, sex or geography. Their themes are timeless and intimate and hinge on human relationships and experiences, the every day stuff that collectively connects us. Additionally, like the universal themes I’m attracted to, I try and make the patinated finishes look like ancient relics, unburied antiquated treasures.
Q: Each sculpture at The Eisenhauer Gallery is rather large, some that have the dimensions of 48 x 31 x 35. Can you explain how the creation process works? What actually goes into making a sculpture that stands four feet off the ground and about how long does an average piece take from start to finish?
Monica Wyatt: For me, the creative process is always unchartered territory. I don’t use models when I sculpt nor am I interested in replicating something that I see. Instead, I draw inspiration from something that happened in my own life, or a gesture that made an impression or a photo that I can’t get out of my head. And then I pick up a piece of clay to which I add more and the creative expedition begins! I love exaggerating proportions, trying to show something in a fresh, different and elegant way. It’s a very intuitive process. I don’t know how anything will look when it’s finished but the evolution is what’s the most fun for me. Figuring it out. Experimenting. And I’m very bold and fearless when I’m sculpting, sometimes too much so! I can completely alter a piece so that it shares no resemblance to what it looked like just hours earlier. But it’s in these bold, often playful moves that I find the happy accidents and the essence and emotion of the sculpture. My sculptures range in size from 5 inches to 48 inches tall. I have a large piece called “Circle of Life” that I first made as a small maquette, 6 inches tall, and then created the large 28” tall “Circle of Life” using 350 pounds of water based clay. Just building up the clay to the mass that I wanted was a long and arduous job. “Circle of Life” took about a year and a half to complete. With the large “I’m Listening” piece, I first sculpted the smaller maquette, which is 11 inches tall. I had sold a lot of work around that time and paid forward those profits for a digital foam enlargement, which is the process many large scale sculptors use. It’s very expensive but a huge time saver. The small maquette is digitally scanned and then the form cut out of 2-pound foam. Many things that were not noticeable in the small maquette became glaringly wrong in the enlargement because of the scale change. Before and after I covered the foam in clay, I did a tremendous amount of re-sculpting. Then, like all my other finished clay pieces, I have the foundry make a mold of it and walk it through the intensive bronze casting process. “I’m Listening” took about six months from start to finish. Had I not done the foam enlargement, it would have taken at least 1200 pounds of clay and about 18 months to complete! The finished bronze weighs close to 400 pounds. I ADORE working big and my sculptures, though often small, feel monumental in their dramatic weightiness. I’m often asked, “How big is that?!” because, from a picture, they think it’s huge. I hope to do a lot more large-scale pieces and am just starting on a life-sized enlargement of the small reclining nude piece called “Good Morning.”
Q: Your passion for visual story telling began as a producer of television content; articulating stories of various objects in motion from one side of the camera to the other end of a television screen. You have said that over time, you began to yearn to express your own stories of personal relationships and are now a full-time artist and sculptor. Was the career move intimidating?
Monica Wyatt: My shift to full-time artist was actually a really ungraceful one! When my second child was born and my son was just 2 ½, my body couldn’t keep up with the 70-80 hour weeks plus a newborn and a toddler, so I chose to step away from my producing career. Even though I was used to all-nighters, high pressure and crazy hours, the messiness and chaos of full-time motherhood brought me to my knees. But, gratefully, it’s that jumbled messiness and domestic chaos that became the source material for my body of work. Producing was a collaborative creative vision in which we brought the words to life. Sculpting brings the life to the clay. It’s like sensory choreography. I want to touch, to walk around, and to compose in space. I’ve never felt more creatively charged and fulfilled.
Q: If you were to create a sculpture that depicts your feelings around where you where then and now, what would it look like?
Monica Wyatt: I think my feelings from back then could be reflected in a small sculpture called “Babe in Arms” that I made in 2006. It’s angular, abstract and tender. A representative sculpture of how I’m feeling today could be “Struttin’ My Stuff” from 2012. It’s joyful, carefree and struttin’ her stuff like no one’s watching…or maybe because she has an audience but just doesn’t care!
Q: How did you become involved with The Eisenhauer Gallery?
Monica Wyatt: Unbeknownst to me, my wonderful friend, Lisa Pimentel, who was visiting her parents (Sandy and Paul) in Edgartown, mentioned to Elizabeth that she should check out my work. There was probably some hefty exchange of cash that I don’t know about, but Elizabeth DID look at my website and contacted me to say she loved my work and that I’d be a great fit. She was so charming and delightful and I’m thrilled to be part of The Eisenhauer Gallery. I came out to the Vineyard a few weeks ago and met the amazing Elizabeth and her fantastic staff and can’t wait to return!
Q: With you being located in California, do you think that your sculptures reflect the west coast lifestyle or can people living in Martha’s Vineyard find the same meaning and purpose in them?
Monica Wyatt: I think my pieces translate to any part of the world and feel quite at home in gorgeous Martha’s Vineyard! Me, too!