Sphinx in Heat
Unfired terracotta sculpture, 23 cm tall and long, 10 cm wide (9"x9"x4")
by Chris Wayan, 2006
This is a figure I've met repeatedly in dreams over the years, though she usually has wings, as in A Sphinx's Sketchbook and The Sphinx Approves.
It was a hot summer day when I sculpted this, and the warm red clay felt like slippery skin. Sexy. Instead of a cool, sphinxy pose, the pose of an intellect that plays mind games with its food, I found myself sculpting how I felt instead. In heat, begging for sex, and shamelessly showing it. Showing everyone, in hopes of getting a rise out of someone. The pose came vividly into my mind (and fingers.) All I had to do was translate it into clay.
I only half-succeeded. Her stance is more solid and calmer than I envisioned--feeling desire, but not overwhelmed. I removed her head, redid her neck. Now her head tilts. Better, but still a bit self-aware and in control.
Her torso looked too long, too--as if her head and tail were disconnected. Sex and thinking at odds! Exactly what I didn't want. I tried small changes. Nothing worked.
At last, in desperation, I cut the figure in two at the waist and shortened her torso a finger-width. Today, looking at her, I wish I'd cut out even more--but another millimeter and I'd have to shorten the hind legs too. At the time, that seemed too much. Now...
In short, it surprised me how hard it is to convey pure desire--as hard as it is to convey supposedly subtler emotions.
Lately I've been thinking of moving the head and breasts back quite a bit, cutting away much of that strangely equine neck. That'll create the effect of a shorter torso and more curve to the back--intensifying the emotion--without having to cut the legs; and the breasts and neck will look more natural.
But then I'll want to resculpt that chin, which is a bit too human--more cat would help. And bigger, more feline eyes.
O she'll never be done!
I seem to have talked myself into working more on this, when I have time (back to school next week!)
Oh, well--at least she's made of unfired red clay, the most forgiving sculpture-material in the world. Until it's fired, you can re-soften it a hundred times, hack it up, break it, and it'll always mend. The related drawback is it's fragile til you do bake it. But I might as well keep working on her; I don't have easy access to a kiln right now.
There's no armature (for terra cotta like this, a skeleton of small sticks that'd burn away in the kiln)--she's pure clay. Getting the tail to support itself while drying was a challenge. I'm just amazed it didn't break off, it's so exposed.
Probably she'd be lighter and more graceful if I'd made an armature, but since I kept changing proportions and cutting and moving things, an armature would've caused problems of its own--like a broken bone showing through the skin.
Tools? None, really. A spoon, a nail, and my fingers. First I molded the general figure, and let that half-dry, so it was leathery-strong but not yet brittle; then I added on surface detail. Oh, and third, when that was all pretty dry, I carved details and textured with a small X-Acto knife.
Sorry the background is so busy; I couldn't find a plain dark cloth big enough. It'd have become busy anyway, pretty fast; the soft raw clay left dust and crumbling bits all over...
TEN YEARS LATER...
I never could get access to a kiln to fire the Sphinx. She and two kindred unfired figures worried me the whole time. So fragile! At last, this year, I decided I had to do something to protect them. I made all the changes I ever planned to--cut her in two at the waist and shortened her torso, accentuating her curve to the right, and shortened and adjusted her overlong hind legs. Then I painted many layers of matte acrylic varnish. These sank into the clay and mixed with it, drying a tough but slightly flexible skin. Then I polychromed her in acrylic--again in many layers for added strength.
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