Newport News’s outdoor art gallery is growing, with more projects in various stages of development. Two will become realities very soon:
Man and Crocodile by Girolamo Ciulla
Born in the small city of Caltanissetta on the island of Sicily, Girolamo Ciulla began teaching himself to sculpt as a young man. Early on, he began specializing in travertine, a warmly colored kind of limestone formed in natural springs. In his twenties, he read about the northern Tuscan town of Pietrasanta, located down the mountain from the Carrara marble quarries and home to many working sculptors, and fell in love with the place. He has lived and worked there ever since.
Many artists make small models or drawings, and have artisans scale up the final work. Ciulla does his own carving. While he still primarily sculpts in travertine, he has also worked in marble, and Man and Crocodile is one of his only marble pieces. Travertine is a tricky stone to carve because it is so porous, which also means it would not fare well with our freeze and thaw cycle. Ciulla selected botticino marble for its similar warmth to travertine, and its ability to withstand Tidewater weather.
Ciulla creates a fantastic world of animals. Why? He doesn’t exactly know. “Animals suggest something to me.” he says. He saw a live crocodile for the first time in Egypt in 2002 and was fascinated by it. Saying he’s not the first to depict the crocodile, he nevertheless wanted to express something of the essence of the crocodile in his art.
Sicily was a Greek island until the Romans took it over, so the Sicilian fascination with the crocodile might go as far back as Greek Sicily. In the 5th century BC, Greek historian Herodotus wrote this (some true and some not) about the crocodile that was sure to capture the imagination of his Greek readers: “It has the eyes of a pig, teeth large and tusk-like, of a size proportioned to its frame; unlike any other animal, it is without a tongue; it cannot move its under-jaw, and in this respect too it is singular, being the only animal in the world which moves the upper-jaw but not the under.” During the 600-year Roman Period, Sicily was a connection point between Italy and Tunisia, and depictions of crocodiles, most likely imported for sports, are present in several Roman mosaics.
In Egypt, the crocodile was a sacred animal, linked to the cycles of the Nile River, which fertilized the land every year when it flooded. Sobek, an Egyptian God, was sometimes depicted with just the head of a crocodile, and sometimes a full crocodile body. Sobek was a god linked to cycles of nature, but hostile to humans. In the Western Christian world, the crocodile lost its positive connections to nature, becoming sly (ex. crocodile tears) and still dangerous.
In addition to the crocodile and other animals, Ciulla’s subject matter often includes references to myths (temples, goddesses) and the landscape of Sicily (Sicilian wheat). The look of his work, carved in travertine, with soft colors and a pitted, matte surface, evokes the ancient world, when man and mythology lived close to each other. This pairing of the human and the mythological emphasizes their interconnectedness, the attachment of humans to their mythologies.
Ciulla’s studio is in Pietrasanta, Italy, but he is known and respected well beyond his home base. His work has been shown in dozens of invitational and curated exhibitions from London to the Netherlands, South Korea to South Carolina, and he has been awarded commissions to create sculpture for public spaces.
Ciulla finds that his works are a result of what he sees. “I express what I manage to see, what is inside of myself. We’ll leave it to others to analyze it.”
La Luna by Lars Widenfalk
In partnership with the Newport News Green Foundation, the Newport News Public Art Foundation is excited to bring the sculpture La Luna, by Lars Widenfalk, to Chatham Trail, the Green Foundation’s park. A 6.87-acre green space in a bustling commercial district, Chatham Trail is also adjacent to an apartment complex with 250 units.
This oasis in the city provides a peaceful green space to connect with nature in the center of a busy environment. Chatham Trail’s large pond with a fountain is surrounded by a stone dust trail – a surface safe for all walkers – benches, signature landscaping, and a soon-to-be-planted rain garden. Installing La Luna will bring a museum-quality art experience to the park.
Swedish sculptor Lars Widenfalk has spent his life carving, starting as a very young boy making wooden figurines in northern Sweden on summer vacations. His brother the geologist and father the minister sparked dual interests in stone and religious ceremonies, interests which he consolidated in degrees in archaeology and art at Uppsala University in Sweden, and furthered with sculpture training at the Oslo National Academy of the Arts in Norway. Widenfalk’s archaeological interest is reflected in his work. He prefers to work in stone, a material that suits his subject matter best, as stone is a material that does not deteriorate. While he often carves in Swedish granite, La Luna was carved in Pietrasanta, Italy, out of Carrara marble, another place and material important to him. His sculptures themselves appear as recently excavated, ancient artifacts: pieces of ruins. Ruins suggest what might have been in the distant past, but do not provide concrete answers.
A similar quality of mystery and suggestion imbues Widenfalk’s work. La Luna’s eyes are closed but her face upturned, basking. The expression on her face is peaceful, the work itself slightly mysterious. Who is she? While “la luna” means moon in Italian, Widenfalk isn’t necessarily personifying the moon with this figure, but indicating a feminine, remote, and benevolent presence that seems timeless. This archaic Egyptian quality also appears in many of Widenfalk’s sculptures, a quality he was drawn to during his archaeological studies. The sculpture’s eyes often draw the viewer’s gaze first, even if they are carved as partially closed, their gaze far-reaching. In La Luna’s face, we see the characteristic line connecting the eyebrow and the nose, a feature in many of Widenfalk’s carved faces.
Lars Widenfalk has participated in over 100 solo and group exhibitions in Sweden, Bulgaria, China, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Great Britain and the United Arab Emirates. His work is in museums and public art collections throughout Scandinavia, including the Swedish State Art Council, Göteborgs Art museum, Sundsvalls Museum and House of Parliament in Sweden, the Norwegian Arts Council and Contemporary Modern Museum in Norway.
Click here for a fascinating video of Widenfalk at work.