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Negative Space in Stone Sculpture

stone sculpture negative space

We attended the Sculptor Society of British Columbia’s annual exhibition at Vandusen Gardens this summer.

Among the many sculptures on display was a whimsical cormorant sculpture carved by Sam Michael Hesse from a block pyrophillite. Hesse’s “Cormorano” (above left) was dressed in a human’s suit and he had chosen to carve the beak of the bird in a manner where he released it from the wing behind it. This created a deep black shadow which contrasted against the light grey of the polished pyrophillite and accentuated the long, thin beak. However, the negative space was made up of multiple compound curves and the bird’s beak was very long and thin. I was very impressed with the technical skill to achieve this.

I have an aversion to a lot of negative space in a stone sculpture. My preference is that a sculpture in stone should celebrate that medium and have minimal negative space. A good example of what I dislike is the Shona sculptures from Africa that have more negative space in each sculpture than positive volume of stone. I feel these designs would be better suited for bronze (eg. above right).

However, Hesse’s cormorant sculpture was a lovely balance of positive stone volume combined with negative space that gave one’s eye an interesting form to observe and for one’s hand to explore. I was also impressed with the level of detail Hesse had achieved with this piece and the craftsmanship he had employed to evenly polish all the surfaces.

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