Living the Renaissance Life, Part Two: A Conversation with Sabin Howard
When flipping through the pages of the 245 page book The Art of Life, written by author Traci Slatton, one cannot help but be captivated by the full-page photographs that emerge with every next turn. On one page, a victorious Perseus, with nothing but a cloak hovering on his arm, looks upon his defeated whose head he holds in his right hand, the sword that slayed him in his left. On another, we see a bronze colored Aphrodite with her hands extended and knees bent as if she were readying herself to honor the viewer with a ballet glissade. As one delves further into the book, the images become more frequent and detailed from a bronze sculpture of Hermes with serpent in hand and several bronze fragments and busts of Aphrodite to standstill shirtless models with flexed muscles looking into the oblivion, unaware of their surroundings.
These lifelike sculptures are the ingenious masterwork of sculpture artist and husband of Slatton, Sabin Howard, whose primary influence and inspiration derives from two sources: the human body and the Renaissance (though Slatton has been known to cater to the talented New York artist’s imagination with a few ideas of her own). Formulating a mixture of the human psyche and the movement of the human body together with the technique reminiscent of Donatello and Michelangelo, Howard creates a statuesque celebration of both past and present in the realm of art and civilization. He is simply put a master at capturing life’s passing moments, much like a photographer or historian, engraving them in bronze for the eyes of the generations yet to come as well as those who presently tread the earth and wish for an eternal captivation of their remnant footsteps.
Having grown up between two diverse art meccas, New York City (the city at which he currently resides and has his private art studio in the Bronx) and Torino, Italy, Howard was immersed in the brimming art scene from a very young age. He frequented museums with his parents in both metropolises and scrutinized the various architectural designs and infrastructures that pervaded Torino, the “cradle of Italian liberty.” But it was not until the Philadelphia College of Art graduate was 14 and had discovered the Medici Tombs that his love for art and sculpture really took over his entire being, and reputedly became his way of life. Though he had already been intensely involved with wood-working at that point, it was after seeing the Tombs that an unprecedented ambition grew inside of him of someday being able to create art at such a high-esteemed and comprehensive level. Many years later, he has achieved his goal, and is continuously pushing past the standards of modern sculpting, with the hope of preserving antiquity as well as plunging forward into the depths of the contemporary art world’s growing unknowns.
Rounding out to approximately 45,000 hours of studio time, as mentioned on his Web site, the man who taught for 20 years at various universities, took time away from his next project, a multi-figure composition, and spoke to GALO about The Art of Life, the experiences he has encountered while working with models, and his rigid self-criticism — a result of artistic perfectionism.
GALO: You and your wife co-authored the book The Art of Life. Why were you inclined to pursue such an endeavor and reveal the secrets of your craft?
Sabin Howard: In my opinion, art has lost its value and purpose. Traci and I wrote the book to educate the public about the value and sacredness of contemporary figurative art. The general public is unaware of how traditional art can be brought to this age without irony, and for the purpose of remembering that visual art is first and foremost visual.
GALO: Have either of you considered making a documentary as a follow-up to the book?
SH: Every single appearance that I make is now filmed for this purpose. I am interested in extending a kind of intimate knowledge of my studio, process, and ideals to the public.
GALO: The book, apart from being an inside look into your life and that of your wife as well as your art, is also a lesson in art history. Why was it important to give background information on the various pieces and artists mentioned in the book?
SH: Many would argue that art is much more about feeling and interpretation rather than education. I have been reading Thomas Moore’s book The Planets Within about Marsilio Ficino’s work. It’s brought me to the realization that each culture or era borrows from earlier ones and recreates those earlier ideals for different times and different cultures. This is not a continual recreation of the wheel. There are a limited number of ideas that keep being reformulated. The modernists hate this idea; they think they’ve reinvented the wheel out of whole cloth.
GALO: When one examines your sculptures, especially the ones visible in the book, it seems that the faces of the models are similar in shape and style, whilst the body is constantly evolving from one model to the next, mirroring the image of movement. Is this done intentionally?
SH: The faces stay the same and bodies change because I am creating archetypes from my individual experience. As I transform in my own life, my personal transformation plays a deep role in how the morphology and gesture keep changing in my art.
GALO: What particularly fascinates you about the human body, carving and sculpting the flesh in stone?
SH: The human body is an incredibly complex biomechanical organism that manifests multiple psychologies through gesture and morphology. We are each unique human beings. The variety of body types of the life model can be translated in the studio using concepts of anatomy. These concepts break down the body into two frameworks: the skeleton, which is the architectural element, and the muscles, which are the organic elements. There’s so much to work with, I can never get bored. There’s always room to learn more.
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