Sculpture plays an important role, representing objects that in someway reflect an artistic expression and, in a broader context, acting as a mirror to the world.
Sharon Que, a Detroit area sculptor, has created three-dimensional artwork since 1985. Her exhibition, Ether at the Re:View Contemporary Gallery in Detroit mounts sixteen pieces of artwork following a logical path of thought and expression from her exhibitions at the Lemberg Gallery in Ferndale, Michigan.
Que refreshingly sets her oeuvre far apart from mainstream sculpture. Her eclectic collection of disparate objects first confronts the viewer with an aesthetic experience, followed by an precise, intricate, calculated, measured and intellectual investigation, sometimes having scientific connotations. The question arises: What does the work say? The nature and power of experiencing abstraction necessitates each of us to bring our individual knowledge to the moment of contact with the work, and therefore we all take away something different.
She draws on a personal collective of ideas processed by her own set of individual filters through which she meticulously executes her three-dimensional expression. Having followed her work for some time, I would be remiss if I did not mention the new work, My Distant Cloud, feels like a breakthrough piece in terms of shape and material. A cloud-like circumference made of thin wood, constructed much as if one were building a string instrument, surrounds an internal arrangement of magnets. Two interior rectangles have line diagrams that illustrate the magnetic field structure. Magnetic sand, something the artist found along the shore of Lake Michigan, covers the arrangement of small magnets. Throughout the exhibition, she employs line work, cast bronze, polyester resin, wood, and steel to bring her universe to the viewer, allows us to experience each piece through our own individual lens.
I sat down with Sharon Que in the Re:View Contemporary Gallery and asked her a few questions.
Ron Scott: Do you recall your earliest interests in art?
Sharon Que: My earliest interest came from walking to and from school. We walked along paths and I would observe nature. I remember wanting to take something from nature and alter it. The birch bark pieces in this exhibition perhaps in a small way go back to that time.
RS: Do your recall your early play during your formative years?
SQ: Let’s see, exploring swamps, making fires then cooking food, riding bikes, training caterpillars. As is turns out making art is easier than training caterpillars. My best friend Lori Snyder and I were inseparable. Never realized it but all of my best memories are outdoors. On a rare occasion we would go to Bob-Lo, an amusement park on an island in the Detroit River. Bill Rauhauser published a fantastic book, Bob-Lo Revisited that helped me to fill out some of my memories. The sculpture Bob-Lo is based on a glimpse of this time and is the only piece in the exhibition with a nostalgic feel.
Did you make a conscious decision to go to the University of Michigan for undergraduate school?
The thought that the highest degree you obtain is the most important to your development did not hold true for me. My college experiences were a bit haphazard. I attended Macomb Community College for the first two years, which was a great environment for me. I finished my BFA at the University of Michigan. My best educational experience came from an apprenticeship I completed at General Motors to become a wood model maker.
You have said your art really began in 1985, three years out of college, so tell me about that.
I remember exactly how it began. It was sudden and I can still recall where I was standing. It was I985 at Michigan Gallery in Detroit, I felt surrounded by artists that showed some interest in my sculpture, it caught me off guard. From that point on I felt I was part of a community and I still find this deeply satisfying. I was also a bit surprised because the art I was presenting at that time, felt derivative and perhaps relying too much from experiences I had just had from a trip to Italy, Israel, Greece and Egypt.
How do you look back on your artistic development since 1985?
Consistent and steady, really it is the same way I like to ride a bike. I have been lucky to have a great studio throughout my career and jobs that add to my development as an artist. One of the biggest influences in the past decade has been how I use a computer to Google an image and research ideas. I’m often astounded by how connections and relationships can be made between ideas in my head and how they relate to math or science. Recently learning a bit about chemistry has forever changed me.
You seem drawn to understanding the way things work.
Could be the blood, many of the people in my family are engineers and we are from Detroit. Before Detroit some of my ancestry goes back to Emilia Romagna in Italy, this is where Ferrari, Maserati and Lamborghini all originated. Before that, in ancient times, this region was inhabited by Etruscans, the undisputed masters of bronze casting.
Do you have an artist or a person whose work has influenced you?
Lately I’m enamored with Annie Oakley. She was born exactly one hundred years before me. Annie Leibovitz wrote and photographed this book called Pilgrimage that at first glance has these somewhat plain photos, but then writing is incredible and brings the photos alive. One of images is the card she used to shoot at, and the size was amazingly small. She could split a card when it was turned on edge with a rifle from 22 feet. She has been called the first woman superstar. This got me thinking about marksmanship, which I identify with. Sometimes I feel a bit out of step with contemporary art because of this but it goes to my core.
Has your work repairing string instruments, influenced your sculpture?
Well, for one thing, I’ve learned how materials act over three hundred years and so my sensitivity to choosing how I’m going to construct my sculpture is affected. Of course, sometimes there is failure between materials, and it works, so a failure, isn’t always a failure. Being familiar with constructing a violin has given me the ability to transfer this knowledge to aspects of building my sculpture. Both Dear Mr. Fantasy and My Distant Cloud are framed using violin rib cage construction methods.
If I can ask you about this new piece, My Distant Cloud, could you give me the evolution, or inspiration for the work?
That is a long story. I was working simultaneously with magnetic sand from Lake Michigan and a two dimensional image of the field of force around a magnet. In retrospect it seems obvious to put the two together but the obvious sometimes evades me. This is the first sculpture I have produced using a laser cutter and a huge thank you goes to Bob Stack at Maker Works. So much about this piece was a discovery for me and the process unfolded as I made it.
My Distant Cloud seems like a departure for you?
My Distant Cloud, came from discovering properties of magnetism in sand and wanting to take it a step beyond addictively playing with it. The final form it took is somewhat figurative, which could seem like a departure for me. The title comes from Stevie Wonder’s lyrics. The shape comes from the H-field, which describes magnetic field strength. The image seems to be pretty accessible. People understand the image. Yet if you try and recreate it mathematically it becomes extremely difficult. Go a step further and ask your self does magnetism have anything to do with gravity and tides? I thought maybe I should know this but was relieved to find out even scientists do not fully understand this. To tell the truth, nothing about my sculpture seems like a departure, it is ongoing learning connected in some way.
Do you know where your work is going?
It is not unusual for elements in my sculpture to be mistaken for found objects. Most of what you see in this exhibition I have constructed. I just keep investigating, and working, no future plans, anything could happen. I’m most happy when I’m at my workbench listening to music.
Ether at Re:View Contemporary Gallery runs January 25 through March 1, 2014.
Ron Scott is a pseudonym for a writer based in the Detroit area. View more articles by Ron Scott.