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Cleft in wax

Jac Saorsa: Artist-in-Residence // As an artist with a profound interest both in anatomy and the experience of illness and injury, I am fascinated by the capacity of wax as a sculptural medium to emulate the look, and sometimes even the feel, of flesh. Since discovering the visceral qualities of wax I have created several sculptures, and through this overtly haptic form of creative practice my understanding of the human form in three dimensions has been very much tested. But it is not only the form itself that is of interest here; the expression of emotion I feel is at least comparable with that which is invested every time I put paint to canvas.

O! but they say the tongues of dying men
Enforce attention like deep harmony:
Where words are scarce, they are seldom spent in vain,
For they breathe truth that breathe their words in pain.
(Shakespeare, Richard II 2:1)
‘Given my state it almost feels as if I’ve already gone.’ (Gilles Deleuze)
Dissected uterus:
Consider if this is a woman,
Without hair and without a name
With no more strength to remember,
Her eyes empty and her womb cold
Like a frog in winter.

(Primo Levi, from ‘Is this a Man’)
The artist’s hand
I skinned a face today…
‘It’s not the lack of organs, the contortions and the visceral presence of the broken body – the horror is evoked by the the rope on the wrist…’

Recently I was given a commission to create a wax sculpture of a head with a cleft palate and lip. The client is an esteemed member of the anatomical community, an expert in this field of research. On visiting my studio one day he saw a clay maquette with which I had been playing with the idea of a cleft lip and he immediately asked if I could create it in wax.

I usually begin any such sculpture by constructing from the ‘inside-out’ and this time was no exception.

In this case, given I wanted a natural looking tilt to the head itself, it was necessary to create the skull on the armature at an angle and then straighten it up in order to complete laying on the muscles and the flesh.

The head-dress is ‘appropriated’ from a painting by artist Odd Nerdrum

For realism’s sake I added a hint of facial hair over the lip and above the eyes with fibres stripped from a hog hair paintbrush. I created a subtle colouration on the ‘flesh’ using fluid glazes of oil paint. Finally I mounted the completed head on a mahogany plinth.

The sculpture is now proudly displayed its new owner’s home, and I am aware in myself of a strange emotional interrelation between satisfaction and loss.

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