My work as a sculptor and training as a clinical psychologist have had a reciprocal relationship as long as I have been practicing both trades. Graduate psychology training taught me the rigors of the scientific method with reason, logic, and a reliance on empirical knowledge. It provided insight into the nature of human sensation and perception, attachment, motivation, thinking, and emotion. This knowledge has deepened my appreciation for the complex nature of the human condition—not only for individual differences, such as culture, personal, and familial experience, but also for those universal elements which link us all as human beings. I attempt to draw on this experience in creating artistic works which are primarily evocative in nature. I seek to evoke basic human drives and reactions, such as curiosity and the drive for mastery (the need to resolve visual ambiguity and reduce the rise in tension it creates); needs for connection, affiliation, touch, and sensuality; and finally, whimsy and not taking oneself too seriously.
Thematically, my work often reflects relationships—between people, forms in three-dimensional space, or both. More than 30 years of sculpting has heightened my awareness, patience, powers of observation, and sensitivity to both patients and students. It has enhanced my skills in distilling complex themes into their more digestible components and improved my ability to differentiate signal from noise. I've come to see the “subtractive” process of direct carving as a loose metaphor for some forms of psychotherapy—removing obfuscating layers that don't belong, revealing the sculpture hidden within.
I use sculpture to express my aesthetic sensibilities. The choice of wood as my preferred medium relates to its living and organic nature, the diverse challenges of its many textures and grains and its inherent warmth and sensuality, which readily invite touch. I approach each piece with both tough- and tender-mindedness. Tough-mindedness is evidenced in technical details, such as painstaking attention to wood finishing and removing tool marks, integrity of component forms and the transitions between them, and the use of grain, natural defects, and unique features of the wood to enhance the piece's visual and emotional impact. Tender-mindedness is seen in the warmth, suppleness and sensual nature of the figures and the use of forms and contours that caress the eye as the viewer traverses a given sculpture's landscape.
I seek to simplify my subject matter by capturing some essence of the subject and presenting it in a way that has the greatest effect with the least amount of complexity. The shapes and forms I use are, for the most part, naturally occurring and anatomical and therefore, at least in some sense, are familiar to the viewer even though their integration may not always be easily recognizable. I value simplicity in form and efficiency in the use of lines, and I attempt to portray my subject matter through its fundamental qualities or nature.
It is with this philosophy in mind that I approach my process. I am a direct carver who works almost exclusively in wood, as I have with Irresolute Figure. I examine raw wood for cracks or checks and then study its inherent possibilities, taking into account its grain, color, density, and any unique defects. I usually begin by visualizing forms I believe are already contained within the wood and then using my skills to release them. To do this, I use an adze or ax to rough out main forms and, as the concept crystallizes, I use a wide variety of wood chisels, rasps, and rifflers to remove waste and refine the forms through a series of successive approximations. Finally, I sand and smooth each work with a variety of abrasive tools and papers until it begs to be touched. I use no stains, dyes, or artificial surface finishes—only neutral penetrating oils and/or clear wax.
Richard A. Weiner, PhD, ABPP