Isabel McIlvain and the rumor of body-casting
Concerning the above view, earlier in the year I wrote:
"Isabel McIlvain" picks beautiful young bodies and then organizes them with a stately, dreamlike, cold perfection that I find solemn and delicious. This is the most classical of classical sculpture: realism and idealism inseparable. There are no forms in a real body - since every shape melts into the next-- and she's caught that melting -- even as she's made a nice little piece of 18th century chamber music."
More recently, Jason Gillespie informed me that Ms. McIlvain now had her own website, was a body-caster, and he wrote:
Her work, is about the best I've seen in terms of the "artistic" use of body casting. I'm sure in person it would be more obvious. Some of her works are distinctly more well done than others....in terms of posing the form and giving it that sculptural feel. Some like this one lack much of an aesthetic and remind one of Duane Hanson's work sans the pigmentation.
(Please read the anonymous comment below, however -- where a McIlvain student says he never saw her make a body cast)
I have so many bad associations with body casting -- I don't know where to begin.
Or maybe I'll begin with the form of DEATH -- because that is the effect that is usually offered -- a complex form (like skin over fat-muscle-bone) that lacks the breath of spirit -- like a body that has just died.
Body casting is also evidence of another kind of death: the death of the figure sculpture tradition -- where body casting replaces the abandoned art of figure modeling.
Body-casting is a tool that allows those without modeling skills to make life-size figure sculpture that present a convincing illusion -- but for those who are aware of what sculpture has done and can do -- it is a very, very small tool box.
But still I admit -- I like some of Isabel's statues (or - more precisely - I like some photographed views of her work) -- and come to think of it -- I've always enjoyed looking at some of the specimens displayed at the natural history museum: especially the dead butterflies and beatles -- and sometimes the art of the taxidermist as well -- the carefully preserved hides stretched over sculpted forms -- which I don't think is too different from how Ms. McIlvan must work: using the body cast as the structure, and then adjusting the surface -- and come to think of it -- these surface adjustments -- and the resulting design --- would be what distinguishes her from most taxidermists and artisans of the wax museum -- because sometimes that resulting design references great historic sculpture.
"References" is the post-modern, academic word for it - but you could also just say that she likes some Euro and sometimes Hindu classical sculpture -- and sometimes she's trying to make things that give her the same pleasure that they have.
But then, as Jason notes, sometimes she's not -- sometimes there is no positive aesthetic -- and all that remains is an anatomically accurate biological specimen -- not outrageously ugly -- but not very inspirational either.
In reviewing her public statue of JFK, the Boston art critic, Christopher Millis, wrote:
"Isabel McIlvain's 1990 sculpture of our man from yesteryear is a three-dimensional cliché, with a face that has all the self-consciousness of a Life-magazine photo shoot and a body that has no more energy than Farberware. Kennedy appears to be walking, but that's only because one foot is in front of the other. It's the sort of work that makes one wish for more ambitious vandals."
.. and I think that Christopher Miller (myself) has a similar response to some of these views/pieces as well.
I wish I had the opportunity to see the actual pieces some day.
And many thanks to Jason Gillespie for raising this issue -- which he had raised earlier on a sculpture listserv here