Beginning a new sculpture...


There’s a disconcerting moment, sculpting a face, when it looks at you. You’ve just been sculpting away, adding daubs of clay here, scraping them off there, balling up those scrapings and sticking them to a low spot. Smoothing. That wonderful symmetrical movement of both thumbs across cheekbones and brow lines. Sculpting a face, the movements of my hands are ecstatic. A push to the lip turns a smile, or a query. A pinch to the brow releases concern. The emotions a clay face passes through as it comes into being are as subtle as the emotions of its creator. Touching it like this, over and over, easing it into itself--each modeled success releases a burst of serotonin, makes me realize how Pygmalion could fall in love with his statue of Galatea.

I save the eyes for last. The last feature. At first, they are just hollows, positioned at a classic three fifths of the face length. Then I make a slit, just a line for each. The face is sleeping. This is not my intent. I add the lower eyelid, a slight bulge, begin to shape the upper lid and round the eyeball by indenting the tear ducts with my wooden, triangular tool. The conversation I’ve had up to now with the chin, the lips the eye brows—as well as the room and my own body within it—determine the gaze.

The room where I’m working has

no windows. A dingy skylight alludes to weak sky, blurred by rain. The overhead lights are fluorescent, and their imperceptible flicker, combined with the air conditioner’s pull at the double doors behind me creates an anticipatory edge. When I look over my shoulder, I can see the through the translucent glass on those doors the darkness of the room beyond. Their hardware is loose, and they pull at the middle, pull toward me and the face.

It’s disconcerting. It feels as though anything could be in there. Someone sleeping, or lurking, or expiring. I know this creak of the doors, but it can’t quench the unease. My blue-handled katana is on the table with me. Earlier, my heart beating enough that I noticed it, I drew it full length from the shaft and stood, poised, feeling its weight and pointing it at the darkness beyond those doors until my heart softened, and I re-sheathed it, and pinched off another plug of clay.

Now, drawing back for a moment to check the symmetry, I gasp, suddenly seeing the face looking at me. Without my noticing, it has gone from object to agent, some kind of magic of the mind, but I hold my breath and let this homunculus regard me. I look at him look at me. I can see it isn’t just me that he’s watching. His attention is torn; he looks over my shoulder at the doors. This makes sense. His expression, unintended, is wary bordering on displeasure. I take my fine blade and, steadying my hand with my pinky balanced on his cheekbone, I assign the iris. Here he is. The rest will come later.