Authors: Sabin Howard and Traci L. SlattonISBN: 978-0-9846726-0-8
Traci is a graduate of Yale and Columbia, and she also attended the Barbara Brennan School of Healing. She lives in Manhattan with her husband sculptor Sabin Howard, whose classical figures and love for Renaissance Italy inspired her historical novel Immortal. Her novel The Botticelli Affair is a contemporary romp through the art history byways of vampire lore, and Fallen is the first in the romantic After Trilogy set during the end times. Dancing In The Tabernacle is her first book of poetry; Piercing Time & Space is a non-fiction look at the meeting of science and spirit.
Sabin grew up surrounded by the visual splendor of Italy and the urban hotbed of New York City in the 60’s and 70’s. This dual upbringing is the basis of his vision to create classical art with a modern vision of self expression, and a timeless adherence to classical form. He received his formal training from the Philadelphia College of Art (BA) in 1986 , and New York Academy of Art (MFA) in1995, and apprenticed in Rome under Paolo Carosone (1986-7). Howard returned to New York City where he taught at both of his alma maters for a total of sixteen years. The New York Times wrote : “Sabin Howard, a sculptor of immense talent, has created some of the last decade’s most substantive realistic sculpture. When viewing his works, visitors may be reminded of the time when Donatello and Rodin walked the earth.”
He has received multiple commissions for large scale works including from the architect Michael Graves, and has been elected as a board member to the National Sculpture Society. This year after twenty- eight years of practicing art and over 40,000 hour of sculpting from life, Howard unveiled his newest work, APOLLO. Sabin Howard’s work is a continuation of our rich art heritage. Apollo is about what it feels like to be human, while elevating the human spirit. It’s the celebration of the universe as seen in the body. It is not a piece to shock, but a piece that is shockingly beautiful.
Good day Traci and Sabin and thanks for participating in our interview
Traci and Sabin: Thanks for the great questions!
What motivated you to write The Art of Life and what was your creative process like? What happened before you sat down to write the book? What do you hope to accomplish with the book?Traci:
Sabin is always talking about art, and what contemporary art lacks: rigor, grounding in the great historical tradition, and beauty. A lot of art right now is just silly--especially sculpture, which tends to be tschotchkis, ridiculous balloon animals, or oversized toys. Sabin brims with passion to change the art world and to bring back the rigor of craft and the good feelings and uplift that great art inspires. The process of writing the book revolved around us sitting down at the dining room table and me listening to Sabin. (And boy, can he go on about art!) Then I would do research, reading books that we discussed and making trips to museums with Sabin. Finally, I would write. Sabin would add and revise. I would rewrite.
It's not so easy to write a book with one's husband; names might have been called, objects might have been thrown!
What we hope to accomplish is to spread the word in the art world: "The emperor has no clothes." Then we want to suggest the alternative to people: beautiful art made with passion, integrity, and superb technique.
Currently the norm in the art world is the decimation of the difference between "art world" and "real world," there is no difference. I was brought up to believe that art is sacred; once you look past the picture frame, you look into an elevated world. Or if you look at a sculpture on a pedestal, it's lifted up off the ground. So art is not "real" but more about what can be. I wanted to write this book because education is so important in how you look at art. Art works on many levels, but principally, art's main function is VISUAL. So the book is a way to educate people about the importance of our rich historical past and how that's not something to be thrown out.
This rich historical past talks about us as human beings. Figurative art should always be present in the art world because it represents us on a cultural level, as well. Since the art represents us as humans, it should represent our best parts, not our isolation and devolution, as modern art does. Modern art is a desensitization of our humanity and a discontinuation of our rich past.
I realized when I spoke to all my clients that the more they learned about the depth of the art, the more they become intrigued and passionate about sculpture. After twenty years of teaching, I realized my ideas could reach a broader audience with a book.
Sabin, you have had quite an eventful career, what influenced your evolution as a sculptor?
I didn't start off my life knowing that I would be an artist. It came to me on October 19th, 1982 in a grungy wood shop in South Philly, where I was working after having dropped out of college. I decided that afternoon that my life was going nowhere and I had to do something radically different. I decided at that moment: I would become an artist.
This did not come out of a vacuum but was the direct result of having grown up in Italy and having experienced Michelangelo and all the great cathedrals of Europe as a child. I knew that great art was something sacred. I knew that it took great skill and learning to create an art that changed people inside. When you are 19, the sky is the limit. Anything is possible. With an urgency to set out on that path, I enrolled in the following fall in the nearby art school, Philadelphia College of Art, and this is where I met my teachers and mentors Martha and Walter Erlebacher. I had zero interest in the current art world and showed no respect for other teachers who told me that the Renaissance was something from the past. I knew that the feeling one got when viewing this type of art was timeless. I obsessively looked at Michelangelo, Leonardo, and Raphael. Everywhere I went I carried a book under my arm. It was a template for me to follow. I knew instinctively that I had to learn specific information from the Erlebachers so that I would have the tools to make "real art." Art was part of another world that you looked into. It was divided from this world by a picture frame, or elevated about the ground on a pedestal. Great skill was involved and not everyone was capable of doing it.
I spent 15 years learning
my craft. I learned the nuts and bolts of creating an art form that
would be seen as “awesome” and carry with it a startling
presence. I became fascinated with the variety of body types
and poses available to me as a sculptor. I learned that each human
being carries a unique soul and life experience within their
body and this energy manifests itself externally in the morphology
and demeanor of the each individual. This uniqueness can be found in
each individual part and how all those parts fit together to make the
whole. Once I had gained mastery in the ability to design and compose
exactly what I saw in life, I took the next step in choosing what
story I wanted the body to tell. The variety of energies that I
could choose to depict in each sculpture became the next step
in my artistic process.
There is an internal pressure within the body that always pushes outward in a convex fashion. This internal pressure shows the unique spirit or soul of each individual; no two people are exactly alike. Using anatomy to translate this life force energy into sculptural terms, I learned to recreate this pressure within my bronzes, giving them the fullness of energy and presence of a unique human being.
Because my work is about showing man at his full potential, I began recruiting several models to create each piece. This part of my process allowed me to pick and choose the body parts to sculpt a unique morphology that best narrates the story and character that I am presenting. In this process of creation, I use my understanding of anatomy and I structure of the human body to organize the figure. The spiraling of muscles over the architectural foundation of the skeleton has become my grammar in telling a story that speaks to the human condition. As I evolved as a human being, my art evolved in a parallel fashion. The work I did in the 90’s with the seated figures and fragmented torsos exemplified my own struggles and stress, and this is why I gravitated towards that subject matter. Thus my art is, on one level, a visual record of my internal growth. The sculptures are an energetic evolution of my own experience and history. In the last 15 years, the energy of my sculptures has metamorphasized from figures that are closed and pressed down by gravity, to figures that carry an expansive energy with an open heart. The poses have become more elegant and graceful, taking on god-like proportions. The transitions between limbs flow with greater harmony. And the hierarchy of parts fit together with an ease suggesting a greater sense of wholeness. My vision as an artist has evolved from one of oppression and struggle to a realization that the universe is full of grace available to all those willing to open their eyes in the creation of the life of their own choosing.
Traci, who has written about your books and Sabin's sculptures and how do you view their perspectives, opinions, and comments?
My books are all over the internet, specifically with book review bloggers (who are very influential!), and fortunately have received some wonderful reviews. Of course, there are always less stellar reviews. My attitude toward those can be expressed in one word: "Next." But I also try to learn from critical reviews, so that the next book is better. There's always room for growth!
Sabin's sculptures have been written about by several art critics, notably James Cooper and Peter Trippi. Jim is a great admirer of Sabin's work and sees the potential for art to uplift and transform people. He has been a wonderful supporter of Sabin's rather lonely efforts.
But it's not just art critics who admire Sabin's work. Once Sabin was moving the Aphrodite out of his studio into a moving van, and she was on the street for a while. People from all walks of life walked up or drove up in cars to gawk. They were teachers, firemen, trash collectors, shop keepers, lawyers, mothers pushing carriages--Sabin had a wonderful hour of fielding questions from people whose only commonality was that they were struck by his sculpture's beauty. He came home and told me about this, and all I could think was, "This is what great art should do: magnetically draw people in, all people, from the PhD to the high school drop-out!" We intuitively feel and recognize mastery.
The critics who have written about me are very positive about what I am doing. It reinforces the importance of doing something vital in the art world.
Sabin, I noticed you have received many awards? What role do awards and recognition play for art and for you?
Making art is an individual experience, however the purpose of art is for the service of community: it expounds and elaborates hidden truths that only the artist's vision can put into physical reality. An artist makes something and becomes an energetic conductor (like a copper wire) to deliver to society something much larger than what he is. He is a direct line to ideas in the collective consciousness. Those ideas are filtered through his perceptions or belief systems and are completely unique to his experience as a human being, yet his individual expression and vision must be understood on a universal level.
Winning awards and gaining recognition are tangible signs that you are on the right track. Your individual experience is being heard loud and clear and is understood on a community level. For an artist to work in a healthy fashion, he has to fit into society. To do this he has to be appreciated: paid and honored. Artist do not make art solely for the joy of making art. They also make art because they have a "disease." They are obsessed with creating and feel incomplete or extremely uncomfortable when they are not doing what they are meant to be doing.
Recognition and having clients allow them to continue doing what they were born to do.
Can you tell us Sabin about some of your ideas that you explore in your art? As a follow up, can you elaborate a bit about your relationship to the materials and processes you use? And as a further follow-up, what inspires you to create your works of art and how do you keep motivated when things get tough in the studio?
Because I grew up in a
climate of change and constant evolution, coupled with beauty, my
reality and what attracted me led my art process on those paths. My
goal has been to integrate the freedom of self expression that we
have rightly acquired in modern art with the traditional concepts of
beauty. The integration of these two periods of art history has been
my goal. Because I live in a large metropolis where every type of
body exists, I can pick from several models the core, the legs, the
head, even the uniqueness of the features or the feet. The choices
are infinite, and I can assemble all these parts together to create
the exact energy that I want my sculptures to project.
These features are precise and individualistic, giving my work an intimacy that is unique to my own experience, and unique in the morphology that I am translating into sculptural form. The technique of only creating individual body types sculpted with strikingly realistic flesh and bone is not the point. This is part of the whole experience. My works are larger-than-life human beings who are vibrant conductors of energy. They are larger-than-life human beings who vibrate with intentionality and life; they have a magical uplifting quality. Through these individual choices that I make, I am able to create a sculpture that carries power and grace, that is full of intelligence with its own individual physicology or soul. These are the same quality that I experienced as a child in the piazzas of Italy. Each of my characters has a soul, and each makes a poignant statement through their morphology and gesture.
In my process, life models are of paramount importance. When you have someone standing in front of you, you see more than is simply inside your brain/memory system. This goes to the distinction between conceptual (anatomical information, and what is done from memory) and perceptual (using your senses to gather information and deduce things). We have the capacity to see much more than is inside our brains, and the detail of unique human beings is a springboard for that.
I work in clay that is cast in bronze, so I create in material that will last long past my life time. There is also luminosity to this material, and light is everything in sculpture. That is, when I sculpt, I pitch the planes of the body away and toward the light, thus creating a focal point and manipulating what the viewer sees. The artist leads the viewer through the sculpture by doing that. It's one of the primary things a sculptor does--and so few sculptors understand that. For this reason, I do not consider myself to be a realist.... What is realism? The art world likes to describe it as being “true- to-life,” or as a “faithful representation of reality.” But does objective reality really exist? It's always about how you translate things. We translate the world around us by what we know. In other words, there is no singular “real” way of perceiving the world. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it’s all an illusion. We look outside ourselves and translate every moment through our perceptions and our perceptions are driven by our beliefs. Change your beliefs and your perceptions change.
Clay is basically mud earth that is molded into shape using the mind. The mind manifests a form, and this is created by the artist's vision or perception. It's a fantastic thing that an artist takes dirt and molds it into a visual object that can become sacred and take on an energy that is transformative!
Inspiration comes from just doing the work. My art is a conductor for something much bigger than myself. I make this art so that I can recreate in myself and share with others the same feeeling that I had as a child in the piazzas and churches of Italy.
Traci and Sabin, how would your lives change if you were no longer able or permitted to write and to create art?
I am who I am because I write. 'I write, therefore I am.' I've been writing poems and stories since I was six or seven years old. That's who I am. My immediate response to any experience--following right on the heels of my feelings--is, "How can I use this in a novel?" It's instinctive and ingrained into the fabric of my being.
That is not an option. I can't even imagine that. If you can't imagine something it does not exist.
Traci, how did you get started in writing? What keeps you going?
I read my first 'Big Book,' a novel, when I was six years old. It was about a child who had died and was watching his family from heaven. I was moved by the story. More importantly, I was thunderstruck by what the writer had done: change my feelings and give me something lasting to think about. I wanted to write novels from that moment. It is the longing that leads me through my life. I suspect I will be writing until I am 97 and I keel over and they have to pry the keyboard out of my cold, gnarled-up fingers. Then I will be arguing with God/Krishna/Adonai/Jesus/Quan Yen, "Really? You wouldn't let me finish the paragraph?!"
Traci, how has your environment/upbringing colored your writing? Do you have a specific writing style?
I grew up in a military family and we moved around a lot. I got to experience first-hand that there are many valid ways to be in the world. Eg, Connecticut Yankees live with a different flavor to their lives than do Mid-Westerners in Kansas or Southerners in Tennessee--and that's great. There was a lot of chaos to this peripatetic childhood but also a lot of richness, possibility, and openness.
I tend to write from the first person. I imagine myself deeply into the characters, and I experience a lot of joy in the process of discovery that goes along with that. I tend to write with vivid language and plenty of imagery. I always need to scale back and prune my drafts. My historical novel Immortal was over 1000 pages at one point, and Bantam published it at over 500! While I am writing, I am constantly moving back-and-forth between the oceanic forces of inspiration and creativity and the discipline of structure and craft. Both are necessary.
When it comes to novels, I am always asking myself, "How can it get worse for my main character?" and "What are the stakes?" Right now, my working definition of story is, "Story is how your main character does NOT get what he or she wants." It is comprised of conflict and obstacle. Story is also, fundamentally, an argument for a specific value. THE ART OF LIFE tells a few stories: the story of figurative art throughout history, the story of Sabin's quest to become a master and to change the world. It argues for the value of beauty and mastery.
I think about this stuff all the time. You can see--I am in love with writing!
Where can our readers find out about both of you?
Traci and Sabin:
Sabin's website is www.sabinhoward.com He is on Twitter @sabinhoward and on Facebook
You can also check out www.parvatipress.com
What is next for Traci L. Slatton and Sabin Howard?
I am working on the sequel to my recent dystopian novel Fallen; the sequel is called Cold Light, it's the second book in the After trilogy. I am also working on a short romantic comedy and on the sequel to my historical novel Immortal.
Large public commissions. And to change the direction of art, and bring back the sacredness of art through the book and the work we do. They are examples of what can be