Interview with Raymond Persinger, Sculptor

Professional & Academic Perspectives of Sculpture

Since 1985, Raymond Persinger has created public monuments for several cities, universities and other public and private venues. Mr. Persinger has won many awards and commissions and has participated in prestigious art exhibits, including a national exhibition in Maryland curated by Dr. Virginia Mecklenburg, the chief curator at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of Art. As a commercial artist, Mr. Persinger developed creative and technical solutions in exhibit design for companies such as Walt Disney and Dinamation.

Mr. Persinger’s work is based on a thorough knowledge of anatomy and an understanding of traditional and contemporary sculpture materials and techniques. The main thrust of his work is defined by his focus on the capacity for the embodiment of the symbolic which is intrinsic to the human form.

Mr. Persinger & His Career

At what age did you begin to consider a career as a sculptor?

Fifteen.

How did you discover you had a talent for sculpture?

I have always been artistic. My earliest award was a certificate signed by Walt Disney which I received when I was in Kindergarten. At 15, I began sculpting and casting my work into bronze under the direction of Sculptor Douglas Churchill and through a program provided by the Garden Grove School District.

How did your career unfold?

I was aware that it would be difficult to make a living as an artist so I recognized the need to be well-trained and versatile. As well as receiving formal academic training, I sought out professional experiences such art foundry, mold making, bronze casting, commercial sculpting, etc. Always keeping my main attention towards developing as a fine artist.

If you had to define yourself vocationally in one sentence what would it be?

Sculpture is a hybrid between the poetics of form and a pragmatic understanding of physical reality. A sculptor is a problem solver whose task is to express intellectual or emotional concepts using spatial understanding.

What has been your keys to success?

A passion to create, persistence, integrity in work and business, and clarity in my goals. You must understand your dreams before you can fulfill them.

What do you enjoy most about your job, your career?

I feel I am a part of the great tradition of classical artists. Outside the structure of modern society, this role of fine artist affords me rewards rather than punishment for maintaining my own individuality.

What is unique about being a fine art representational sculptor?

The representational sculptor enjoys both the challenge and fulfillment of seeing a concept developed from a vague notion or feeling into a physical expression that is inclusive of a human likeness, emotional statement, and a dialog about the relationship between the artist and their medium.

What was your greatest success and biggest setback?

Being a successful sculptor is my greatest success. I haven’t really had any big set backs, though I have had learning and growth experiences. Difficulties go away if you always persist.

What are your the favorite projects of your career and why?

The “Mustangs” as it was the first large piece that I created, and “Patriarch” the portrait of my father as it is very personal to me. However, I am constantly growing as an artist and I do tend to feel that each sculpture as I complete it is my best work to date.

Would you do anything differently if you could re-live your education and career up to this point?

Whatever your educational experience, the onus is always on the student to amplify their development by not only taking away as much as possible from the curriculum presented to them but also seeking out every opportunity of self directed learning.

Who were the biggest inspirations for your career?

Michelangelo, Auguste Rodin and Augustus Saint Gaudens. They were each responsible for creating a new sculptural language, they were masters of their craft (craft meaning that of a fine artist, technically skilled and poetic), and they were successful at the business of their art.

History of Sculpture

Can you give us a super condensed, 3 paragraph history of sculpture?

Sculpture by its nature requires the viewer to move around it in order to develop a complete understanding of its form and meaning. Sculpture is almost as old as mankind and “man the image maker” represents a significant step, marking his emergence as a reasoning being. Then as now, sculpture through carving, modeling, casting, construction, in relief or full round deals fundamentally not with the actual but with the ideal. Then as now, it serves to glorify the living, honor the dead, or give bodily form to supernatural forces. This could be a summery for sculpture from the paleolithic to Mesopotamia, the Egyptians, the early Greeks the Romans the Renaissance, and continuing through our time.

The methods and materials of a sculptor at a given time or place inevitably effect and express the character of that time and place. In other words the sculptor represents a certain kind of technical knowledge that contributes to the understanding of the culture in which they exist. This technical knowledge represents the input side of the sculptor’s work providing nourishment for his imagination and a means for generating and developing ideas and explorations. For instance, the marked change that began with the classical ideal which emerged in Greece.

In the beginning of the Archaic period around 600 B.C. experimentation produced what was to become technically daring and anatomically more accurate forms of sculpture. This includes one of the most important innovations in sculpture, the contraposto; the illusion of tension and relaxation existing together within the body. At this time the sculptor learned how the body changes when the body turns and twists or moves the positions of the arms and legs. An interest in the structural dynamics of the human body was born. The Renaissance, an echo of this observational innovation, ultimately affected the entire cultural and intellectual landscape of the 16th century. Anatomical study and close observation of nature became the hallmarks of the Renaissance tradition and continues to develop and be explored into the 21st century.

The Actual Work

Describe a typical day of work for a sculptor?

A sculptor’s tasks for each day will vary greatly. It might be spent drawing or sketching, developing models for new work, or working on technical issues such as armature building, molding design, casting and finishing requirements, or logistical issues such as calculating and ordering supplies, scheduling models, interfacing with the foundry, shipping etc. Of course, all of these tasks are peripheral to the work that the sculptor will actually be judged by, which is sculpting.

Is the computer used for your work? If so how?

The computer is used for record keeping, developing promotional materials, and for communicating with suppliers and support industries.

In commercial sculpture, three dimensional images are created whose surfaces are then scanned and digitized for use in computer animation, etc. This is typically the first step in creating many of the complicated computer generated images that you see.

What are all the tools and supplies of your trade?

A sculptor creates physical reality from their own thoughts and feelings, so basically they have to be prepared to operate like a prototype manufacturing operation. Their tools will vary from a heliarc welder to a tiny dental probe. Any tool that would be used for shaping stone, wood metal, clay, plastics etc. would probably be found useful to a sculptor.

What are some common myths about sculptors?

There is a prevailing feeling that sculpture is a macho art form requiring great masculinity and physical strength. This is not true as some of my favorite sculptors are women including: Camille Claudel, Anna Hyatt Huntington, Malvina Hoffman and Marianne O’Barr.

Career Information & Advice

What are the different specialties within the field of sculpture?

Fine art, portraiture, numismatic, architectural, special effect make up, props and sets for movie or stage productions, sample sculpting for three dimensional animation, scientific/educational models, prosthetics, forensic reconstruction, prototype auto and industrial design, toys, and amusement park design. Basically any three dimensional object that has been produced, had a sculptor involved with it at some time.

Are there any health risks associated with the work of a sculptor?

There is a wide variance in the materials and techniques that a sculptor might use. Therefore we must make it our business to be aware and informed on the potential hazards that might exist with any tools or materials currently in our use.

Education Information & Advice

How does a prospective sculptor student assess their skill and aptitude for this specialty?

The most important thing for the prospective art student to have is passion and dedication. I have had students take my classes who started with little or no developed talent and through their efforts and my guidance, developed great ability. I have also had students with great natural talent who skipped classes, ignored lectures and critiques; quickly these students’ abilities became overshadowed by the developed skills of the more dedicated students.

What did you like and dislike about your art related education?

I attended a large school with very large classes. This made it difficult to get personalized attention in the lower level courses. I liked the quality of the instruction that I received and the level of professional experience and success possessed by my instructors.

What factors did you consider when choosing your school?

The reputation of the school (at that time it held the reputation of being one of the top three representational schools in the country) and knowing that the focus of the curriculum supported the educational direction that I wanted to take. This school has unfortunately broken from its long standing tradition of classical training and now provides a limited conceptual curriculum.

Was your art related education worth it for you? Why?

Absolutely! My exposure to the faculty who were all extremely well-trained professional artist, the opportunity to use and become familiar with the facilities and equipment, and the camaraderie and competition with my fellow students allowed me to grow immensely as an artist.

If someone has the art talent already, should they go to art school and why?

Talent isn’t the issue. It is about exposing yourself to ideas; it’s about training and opportunities to grow and develop.

What advice can you give to prospective students thinking about an education and career in art, in sculpture?

The patented Raymond Persinger advice that I give to my students is that I would never advise anyone to become an artist, however, I can not imagine being anything else. It is a personal decision that requires serious thought and commitment.

What are the 5 best schools/department/programs in the world for aspiring sculptors?

Of course, I would put the Laguna College of Art & Design (LCAD)—formerly known as Art Institute of Southern California—at the top of the list. I have worked closely with the faculty and Deans, and I know first hand their commitment to the students, the quality of education they provide to the students and to art itself. The school has an outstanding curriculum for each of the areas of focus that are offered. We have a strong faculty, a great student-teacher ratio (10:1) and we are surrounded by a beautiful natural environment. Add to this that we are only 5 minutes from the beach and an hour from the LA art scene.

But instead of giving a list, I think that it is more important for prospective students to understand what they should look for or consider in selecting the school that is right for them. Obviously, you need to be certain about the school’s accreditation. They should investigate the school’s philosophy and be confident that it will support their educational goals. Consider the faculty, whether you like their work and their style of instruction. What is the faculty-to-student ratio. Finally, you must consider the pros and cons of a university versus an art college, including the more well-rounded aspect of the university versus the focus on art at an art college. You might have three-quaters of your classes directly related to art in an art college; this might be reversed at a university.

What type of curriculum should a student look for?

It is important that any art education includes the development of representational skills, even if the art student doesn’t feel that this is the type of art they will want to pursue after graduation. This type of training develops the skills necessary for the artist to truly understand and express their ideas and concepts. I know of artists who had more limiting educations, who feel their work has suffered for it.

When is it a good idea to go after a graduate degree in art?

It is an individual choice which should be based on your career goals (if you wish to become a college level instructor then you will need the degree).

When is a career art school best and when is a college degree in art the best?

It is always best to have a degree from a fully accredited school. The accreditation process was set up to insure that the students receive a comprehensive education. Other programs should be used only to augment your accredited training.

How do you feel that the educational system could be changed to better serve society?

I do wish that there were more support for high level representational curriculum available in this country for young artists. This would impact positively on the art of our culture and allow us the opportunity to communicate with each other in a way that respects and embraces what is is to be human.

Industry Trends

What are some trends that you see in the world of sculpture that might help prospective students?

There seems now to be more freedom for students to choose their own course of study. When I was a student, fine art was more exclusive of the figure than it is now, and it was even more difficult to receive a quality representational education. Obviously, representational skills are highly prized in the commercial world, but even the fine art venues are gradually coming to embrace figurative work (it is rather ironic that so called “Modernism” is now more than 100 years old, the exile of the human image in art is apparently now over!).

How has the popularity of the Internet affected your profession?

The Internet allows a large audience to see my work instantly and at any time. It also allows me to see the work of other sculptors and to communicate with them. Obviously, it is a great help in conducting business in a visual arena.

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