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DESCRIPTION OF WORK
"Why do art at all?" poses philosopher-sculptor Stefanie Rocknak. "Quite simply, because we have no other choice. My work is meant to capture certain self-evident aspects of the human condition. Wood sculpture has become the antithesis of my philosophical work; it purposely repels elite, intellectual interpretation." Though Rocknak began sculpting in the late 1980s, she experienced an artistic epiphany a decade later while in
TYPES OF WOOD
Although Rocknak uses many types of wood--which she either buys or finds--she prefers basswood. "It's a soft, light, incredibly dense wood," she explains. "It's what the medieval artists used to get their detail." She also enjoys exploring new woods, even types that are more challenging, such as eucalyptus or cherry. "Eucalyptus is extremely hard and heavy. For example, 'Woman in a Crowd' is 20 inches tall and probably 35 pounds, but the grain is remarkable. Basswood has no grain, so that's something I have to sacrifice."
METHOD OF WORK
"I'll leave a piece of wood in my house to look at for awhile before I decide what I'll do with it," Rocknak says. This self-taught sculptor approaches her pieces in the tradition of the old masters--studying the raw material and then trying to free the figure within. She begins by drawing a rough outline on the wood--to "ensure that I don't inadvertently cut an arm off or something"--but her goal is to become more fluid. "I want to get to the point where I stop thinking, 'This is what a hand looks like and this is how it relates to the arm.' Then I can think more about the technique." Rocknak doesn't employ any electric tools--just chisels, a rawhide hammer and micro tools for details. Each piece typically takes several months to complete, worked in around her day job as assistant professor of philosophy.
FIRST ARTISTIC INSPIRATIONS
"My father was a high school art teacher, a watercolorist and worked as a cabinetmaker, and my mother refinished furniture, so I've been creating art since before I can remember," Rocknak says. Trained in figurative painting and drawing, she might not have started sculpting if it were not for a semester spent in
"It was serendipitous," Rocknak says about the inclusion of "Figurehead" in the traveling exhibition "Captive Passage: The Transatlantic Slave Trade and the Making of the
FAVORITE SUBJECT MATTER
Rocknak is a figurative sculptor. "I want to explore the different ways people look and carry themselves," she says.
Rocknak's current project is a limewood triptych titled "The Philosopher, the Academic and the Artist"--"a political statement about the politics that go on in academia," she says. "To a degree, it's a self-portrait. However, it's more than that: It's a commentary. 'The Academic' is grotesque. It's all about people with their labels and degrees, the power trips they can be on. 'The Philosopher' is about the real spirit of philosophy, which is trying to give birth to an idea and constantly being in that uncomfortable state of intellectual pregnancy: You think you have it figured out, but you don't quite have it figured out. 'The Artist,' which I haven't done yet, will probably be a woman with an infant, in the crude respect that you can actually produce something tangible."
AWARDS AND OTHER ACCOLADES
The International Art Contest, first prize in the mixed-media category, 2002; Northeastern Woodworker's Association Showcase, judge's commendation in the carving category, 2001.