Chess by Bathgate
Fri, May 3 2013 07:34
It has been many months since the last time I completed a work or made a new post. This is all because I have been hard at work on a bit of a departure from my normal sculpture. I have been working on a project that has turned out to be one of the more complex and satisfying things I have ever had the luxury to attempt. It also just so happens to be a rather unique chess set.
I feel I should preface this post by saying that I very rarely if ever take on projects that produce works that have defined functions. I am approached fairly regularly by people that enjoy my work, who are curious if I am interested in making custom furniture or other functional objects for them that would have the same flavor as my sculptures.
This always flatters me, but I always decline. It is not that I don’t think some of the ideas would make for interesting projects, or that furniture or anything with function is somehow beneath me. It is simply because, as an artist, I am just much more interested in my own work, which involves exploring that blurry space where objects with no function begin to suggest that they might have one, without ever truly making that transformation. It is objects that defy categorization that most interest me, and I try to limit things that will distract me from that.
But the proposition of making a chess set, held a number of unique challenges and opportunities that I just could not resist.
For one, there is actually quite a long history of fine artists creating chess sets. Marcel Duchamp, Bauhaus, Calder, Damien Hirst, Yoko Ono and too many more to list, have all designed a chess set for one reason or another during their careers. So it would seem to me, that there must be some sort of universal appeal to this particular exercise for artist of all kinds.
Additionally, I personally have a short history of making two separate chess sets in my youth, which I had all but forgotten until this project surfaced. My first, I built when I was in middle school. I had stumbled across a large box of hardware and bolts in my basement. A find that I quickly and instinctively assembled into a crude chess set made of wing nuts and other fasteners. And then again years later, when in high school, I set about commissioning my classmates and artist friends to each create a unique set piece based on their particular art for a community board I was making.
I think chess provides a unique medium, because though each piece is symbolic of a function, it does not have a rigidly defined form, and so there is a lot of room to work with when designing, yet the frame work of the game provides an interesting context for the pieces one makes. So when a patron of mine asked me if I might consider designing a new set based solely off of the language of my current body of work, I jumped at the chance.
Little did I realize at the time what a monumental challenge it was going to be to make pieces that remained true to my aesthetic while performing their function in a playable chess set. During my research, I discovered that many fine art chess sets are purely conceptual works, they sacrifice their ability to be a playable set in order to make some sort of point or to subvert the purpose of a chess board entirely.
One thing my patron wanted, and indeed that I wanted as well, was that the set not only remain playable, but to do so exceedingly well.
This might well be a compromise to some artists, but I have always felt being subversive was sort of low hanging fruit, blowing things up and making them purely about you as an artist can often be the simple route. So for me in this case, maintaining playability represented a basic respect for ones medium and merely provided the constraints that I needed to work within. This is actually one of the core ideas I work with on a daily basis, I am endlessly fascinated how constraints themselves can be a powerful creative catalyst. So the constraints of a chess game seemed no different, so long as it did not inhibit what is most basic about my decision making process.
From the earliest sketches and conversations, on up through its lengthy construction phase, this project has taken well over a year to design and build. But in the end, I think I was able to thread the needle and make a set where each piece truly functions as its intended symbol in a playable chess set, while also being able to stand-alone and be recognizable as one of my sculptures and pare that with a chessboard that stands as a sculptural object in its own right.
So after this long process, I am happy to share the final images with you all. But now I am eager to start working on the many, purely sculptural ideas that have been piling up while I have been so busy working on this project. So keep an eye out, as I hope to have some works coming out in just a few short weeks.
Wed, Jan 16 2013 08:33
In this case I was able to make the pattern weave and intersect in such a way as to include a novel way of securing all of the inserted rods with mechanical fasteners. This is not always possible in all of my designs so it is a technical triumph to be able to do so.
Here is a simplified cut away to show how the hole pattern intersects with the center object laterally. As you can see there is very little room to work with. This drawing does not show the radial clearances however which were quit a bit closer than this even, but hard to display in a graphic.
This is my last new piece for a while, I am starting a rather unique and ambitious commission. The drawing above is a rather easy hint but I think I will leave the exact details until the project is completed. I suspect it will take me some time so It may be a little while before I post again, but it will be well worth the wait.
Wed, Dec 19 2012 11:43
Final post of the year to introduce my latest series of small works.
I have been sporadical making these small editions over the last few years. This set is my sixth and rather than making them all the exactly same as I usually do, I decided to go with different colors for each as a sort of color experiment.
As I have alluded to in earlier posts, I have been grappling with the introduction of more and more color into my work outside of the range that my base metals provide, and even with the limited pallet that I do use, I have struggled to wrap my head around how different colors effect the perception of different geometries. This series was an opportunity to try out multiple colors on the same shape so I could really get a good look at things to see where to go from here.
I think they all turned out wonderful, but I think it was a worth while experiment.
They each measure approximately 3" tall, by 5" long, by 2.5" wide.
As with many of my works this scale, they are removable from the base for that tactile experience. The weight on these is quite nice.
And finally a shot for scale.
Mon, Dec 10 2012 11:20
After a long summer of making some experimentally large and ambitious projects, I have been feeling like it is time to look back and reflect on what I have learned from those very time consuming and resource intensive pieces and make some smaller more subtle works.... at least for a little while anyway.
So in that spirit, here is my first attempt. I tried to keep the color more muted in this piece so I only let the colored parts soak in the die for a fraction of the time I usually do, the result is a color that is close to pastel (close, but not quite). I think it worked out well.
On the base the piece measures 3" in Diameter and is 11" tall.
As with all works around this size, I like to make them completely removable from their bases so that you can properly hold and appreciate the work from all angles. The two mounting pins have a slightly reduced taper to allow them to slip into the rods on the base.
One final shot of me holding it so you can get a feel for the scale. I am starting work on a new small edition of works next, I am hoping to complete them by the end of December so check back before the new year.
December exhibition and New work
Sat, Nov 17 2012 11:53
New Work, New Show..
Introducing my newest sculptural experiment. This piece, along with a number of my other more recent works, will be on display at the Ranter Museum this December in the D.C. Area. Details below.
The Dennis and Phillip Ratner Museum
Show Dates: November 29th-December 30
Reception is Sunday December 2nd from 1:30- 3:30
Gallery Location: 10001 Old Georgetown Road
Bethesda, MD 20814
This work sort of follows what I learned from my last black and orange experiment. I had been thinking of using a number of different color combinations before starting work, but felt like none of them would be as effective as what I ended up with here.
This composition has sort of been floating around in my head for quite some time, but it was always a bit of a ghost in that I could never really see it well enough in my mind to put it down on paper. Then one evening when I was just doodling in bed (possibly with a glass of bourbon) half awake and not thinking quite so hard, it kind of finally just fell out onto the page. Only one drawing was made by hand and I pretty much nailed the whole thing down in one shot looking back on the sketch. Funny how that works some times.
This is what a bedtime doodle looks like, Its not much, but its enough to work with in the morning. (see the final CAD drawing below)
The geometry for this work was very challenging however. All of the elements are comprised of offset cylindrical shapes with multiple center axis's as well as lots of unusual angles and details. So the machine work and work holding in general, were exceptionally complicated and required some on the fly innovation. I learned a lot from constructing this piece for sure.
I think I counted two dozen operations to machine the larger leg elements alone. One of them involved fabricating this custom arbor to hold the blank at the proper center distance so I could turn the profile along its entire length. There is a video on my FaceBook Page Here
The other thing that made producing this particular work so time consuming was how elaborate the anodizing details have become. Nearly every part has been anodized and re-machined to create the two tone details in the work, which was also challenging and quite labor intensive.
The completed drawing. I am hoping to finish one more small work before the year is out in addition to starting a new commission that I am very excited about. I will keep the details to myself until I have something to show for it. But it is a an interesting tangent for my work, so stay tuned.