In the history of art, marble has always signified something we call “High Art.” Famous artists such as Michelangelo, Bernini, and Brâncusi masterfully used marble to create works of art that have literally made me cry in person (it was Michelangelo’s David (1501-4), if you must know). I was entranced by the beauty and smoothness of how the artist tried to replicate the human skin, very much like the ancient Greeks and Romans did. But nowadays, marble has acquired new degrading purposes, being used as kitchen counter-tops for the rich and famous, and as decorations for tacky Las Vegas hotel lobbies (looking at you, Caesars Palace).
Below I’d like to present three of my favorite artists that are smashing the expectations of what marble can be, whether it be with traditional techniques or CNC carving machines.
Based in Mexico City, Milena is the latest of four generations to sculpt in stone, but her most recent practices in her art has taken this medium in new and “unorthodox” directions. As you can tell by the images, Milena carves out shapes into slabs of marble and inserts her body parts through the openings. She calls this series “Fleeting Parts,” and the effect is incredible – from the marble emerges soft, human skin reminiscent of the mythic stories of transformation, such as Pygmalion and Galatea. “The hardness of stone in general is an interesting characteristic to work with,” Naef said. “It demands time and patience, which stands in contrast to my fast-paced life. It’s a hard material that, at the same time, is very fragile.” Instead of mimicking flesh like past artists wanted to achieve, Milena’s work is blurring the line between what an artist can do between their material and their body, a subject and an object. But these artworks also serve as a marker for us humans, as a sort of memento mori – remember you will die, but stone will live forever.
Even though most of his sculptures stand at less than 2 feet tall, each are carved from a single block of marble and look as if they are remnants of ancient structures. In addition to appearing like existing structures, many of the designs are entirely invented by Simmonds! “I tend to work things out in measured plan, creating elevation drawings first, considering how [the carving] will interact with the natural shape of the stone. Usually, I don’t know exactly what a sculpture should look like when I begin, and during the working process, there are often several points where I can decide on a change in the design before a piece is finished.” As we can note, Simmonds has always been fascinated by ancient architecture, particularly those that served a sacred or religious purpose.
Juicy and squishy aren’t the usual adjectives you’d use to describe what marble looks or feels like. Yet these sculptures by Nevine Mahmoud express all of the descriptions surrounding these delightful words. At first glance, her artworks seem to be pliable and soft, like Blue Doughnut (2017) for example, which looks like a puffy, delicious pastry. What we see Mahmoud doing is contradicting a long standing history of an ancient material by carving them into desirable shapes with an almost “Pop Art” sensibility. This is what drives her to create something delicate out of something so strong. “On the one hand, there is a relative force required to move the stone, break it, hollow it, shape it into the sculpture” Mahmoud says. “At the same time, one needs a minute-by-minute sensitivity in order to understand the limits of the rock in front of you—its unique fractures, curves, and hidden layers.”