Sculptor and sculpting teacher Robert Cunningham is the creator of a marble bust, or rather a series of busts, on exhibit at the Getty Museum. The model was his father. “They wanted a series, from the beginning to the finished product,” he says, “to demonstrate the marble-carving process.” The works include a 9-inch clay head, a full-sized clay head and three marble busts showing the beginning, middle and final stages of cutting. They are displayed at the information center of the West Pavilion, where 18th and 19th century art is housed.
“I wanted to do a face with character in it and something with clothing. My father always flipped his collar up,” he says. The pieces have much of 18th and 19th century artistry in them.
He worked on them part-time at the Getty and part-time at his studio. At the Getty, he says, “People could watch. Very seldom was there an idle moment. I was talking as I was carving. People would take marble chips with them. Once in a while, I would let people peck at it.
“You worry about it,” he says. “Is it good enough? Is it really finished? Could I do more here?”
Cunningham is presenting an exhibit of his students’ works at his Culver City studio Dec. 5 and 6. He estimates the show will include at least 150 pieces by 50 different sculptors, “all different sizes, all different styles, from kitch to advanced.”
Cunningham also teaches at Santa Monica College, but the exhibit is from his Methods and Materials class and from his Figure Modeling class at his studio. He says the majority of students exhibiting have also exhibited in galleries and shows.
How does one know which to admire, which to buy? “Generally, you’re buying art to enhance your life,” he advises. “If you’re not, you should be. Art as an investment isn’t always a good thing.
“The person may be uninformed or naive,” he continues, “but they still have an initial response. Whether that response is enhanced by education, sensitivity, experience, they still have that initial response.”
People buy “names,” he suggests, because they don’t trust their own judgment.
What is the creative process for a sculpting student? “Most students visualize the piece. They have an idea and they can get it out in some form. Once in a while, they try, for example, to make the letter A and it comes out in a squiggle.”
Even he must find a creative impulse. “Sometimes I’m just pushing clay around,” he says, “just getting the movement. The proportions have no significance to me until after the image starts emerging.”
He enjoys the teaching process. “This has given me an opportunity to learn about people. Otherwise, I would be holed up in a studio.”
Robert Cunningham Sculpture Studio presents the 1998 Sculpture Exhibition, Dec. 5 and 6, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., 11847 Teale Street, Culver City.