Sunday, February 27, 2005


There it is, Larry. It's time to go to work. My head is empty of ideas; has the day finally come? Faced with six blank feet of lumpy sand, I struggle to start the sculpture.

"Well, I have to take off now."
"Bye, Virginia. You coming back?"
"I just have to do some things. I'll be back later."
"Have fun."

She walks back across the beach and an idea starts to work with this pile of sand. Between pressure to produce for the Sierra Club show and the presence of a real artist, I froze.
Is this art? Beats me. I don't ask questions, mister, I just make things out of sand.

People get curious, though, wanting to know more. Steve talked me into doing a show for the Camera Committee. There was plenty of time, but one thing and another kept me from doing a sculpture for slides until the last minute. This is it, the last chance; we do the show in three weeks.

Virginia makes her living from her art. I'm a dilettante, dabbling in the sand when I feel like it. She has to produce; I can do something else. She has been to art school; I'm entirely self-taught. She's an artist, I'm just somebody trying to make things I like. I fear her judgment, and for the first time I'm inhibited.

I'm also challenged.
"Are you going to leave that rough edge there?"
Well, no, I hadn't intended to. "I'm thinking about it." Normally I polish all the edges with my hand until the curve pleases me.

The day is cool and very cloudy. Steel-blue water sucks and pushes around the breakwater, foaming white when waves hit stone. Pelicans fly overhead, and an occasional gull cries.

After the difficult beginning, the sculpture starts to take form. I had no plan for this one. A crease in the top suggests a start and I continue the crease downward, scratching the sand out by the rough edge. Steve works around the area, shooting the slides for the show. I'm barely aware of him or anything else. As usual, it's the sand and me.

I'm still a little worried. This thing has to stand, so we'll have slides to show. Last time I was out here, the sculpture fell over when nearly complete.

My hands know. Feel the curve, feel the place this hole has relative to that space and dig through. Rub sand away until it bulges just so, smooth, with no cusps or lumps. There. That's a lovely curve. At this point I no longer care what anyone thinks.

They like it, though. People stop to talk: the guy in leather who holds a motorcycle helmet and tells me about his Gold Wing. The people who try to save Steve; they don't even try with me. The burr-haircut kid with earrings saying "Cool." The middle-aged couple who come by as the tide rises and say "Thank you." The jogger who runs two loops around and then goes on, giving me a thumbs-up. And Bruce.

Bruce is the lifeguard I met in 1984 up near the Santa Monica pier. He saw me all those times as I did my work and we'd talk at the end of the day. Then he went to work for the fire department and I went on to other things. Now he's back as a lifeguard, saying the fire department was too regimented. I was back on the beach and with mutual surprise we've been catching each other up on the news.

So, whether it's art or not, my sculpture fascinates more than me. It brings people together, and they smile. Virginia says this one is the best I've done. I say that about all of them.

Color photography by Steve Cohen.


Post a Comment

<< Home