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Sculpture and casting in South Africa

                Week 27

              by Andries Loots


The beginning of professional sculpture in South Africa dates back to the 18th century,  when Anton Anreith ( 1754 - 1822 ) came to the Cape. It was however the second artist of note who  made people take note of sculpture as an art form in South Africa. Anton van Wouw arrived in South Africa in 1890 and in many ways has been called the father of South African Sculpture.

Sculpture is the form  of art which has to do with articulation and interaction of form in space. Unlike painting,   traditionally two-dimensional,  a sculpture displaces space,  either within  180 degrees like relief,  or 360 degrees as in free-standing sculpture.

The age old procedures of sculpting forms by carving them in wood,  stone or modeling them in wax or clay for casting,  have now been supplemented or replaced in some instances by modern processes like welding and construction of materials which were never used before.

Artists who worked in this three dimensional medium can be divided into three categories namely,  a) Carvers like Willem Hendrikz,   Michael Zondi,  Lucas Sithole,  Borbereki b) Modelers - Anton van Wouw,   Fanie Eloff,  Coert Steynberg,  Gerhard de Leeuw,  Sydney Kumalo,   Speelman Mahlangu and Ezrom Legae. c) Constuctor/Fabricators like Eduardo Villa,  David Brown ( father of the contemporary sculpture in South Africa ) The latter category can be further divided into the Pure constructors of Installations like Villa,  Neels Coetzee,  Bill Davis and later Willie Bester.        ( Art and Artists of South Africa,   Esme Berman,  P. 393,  ISBN 1 86812 3456 ) 

The Casting Process
@ Step 1.
The original sculpture is made out of wood,   plaster of paris,  clay or sculpting wax. During this process the artist is fully involved in the making . This  is the only original. The process can be terminated at this stage and this will result in an unique piece. To cover costs however, many artists prefer to have casts made from the original in a limited numbered edition.
tose1.jpg (6044 bytes)
tose2.jpg (10089 bytes)tose4.jpg (6240 bytes) @ Step 2.
Once the work is finished, a rubber or Latex mould is made from the original piece. The Latex comes in liquid form and is painted over the original,  layer upon layer. First on the one side and once it is dry, on the other side. The two halves are separated by a thin layer of oil which prevents the two halves from sticking together. On the outside,    to give the mould some stability a layer of Fiberglass is laid down. After drying the original can be removed from the mould. 
@ Step 3.
Molten wax is poured into the mould,  and after a few seconds poured out. This process is repeated until the desired thickness of the model is achieved. The mould with the wax inside is now put in a bath of cold water for the wax to cool down and to set properly. It is then removed from the mould.  This will leave the artist with a wax copy of the original sculpture.  Sometimes the artist will work in the wax again to make sure that all textures are satisfactory,  apply the signature and number.
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tose6.jpg (4753 bytes) @ Step 4.
Runners with a pouring cup ( all in wax ) are now attached to the model to assist the molten bronze to flow into the ceramic shell mould during the casting process. This whole " construction " is now dipped in Liquid ceramic and then rolled in sand and repeated twice or three times to ensure that the ceramic shell mould which is formed in this way, is strong enough to hold the bronze once it is poured. As soon as the shell has dried,  it is placed in an oven to melt out the wax inside. The shell is now ready for casting.
@ Step 5.
Bronze a mixture of copper and tin, is melted   to a temperature of 1000-1500 C  and is poured into the ceramic shell mould which is placed in a sand pit to stabilize it during the pour. Once the bronze has cooled ,  the ceramic shell is hammered away,   the runners  ground off and the sculpture is cleaned with a water-sandblasting technique. All holes or defects are soldered.
tose7.jpg (4442 bytes)
@ Step 6.
The final finishing and/or texturing is done with the necessary tools by either the artist or the craftsmen at the Foundry. The work can also be numbered during this stage if it was not done in the wax. Finally Patina is applied to achieve the required colour of the bronze as required by the artist. Patina is a mixture  of different chemicals which by mixing different substances creates specific colours. Hot patinas are applied and oxidized with a blow torch while others are brushed on cold . The sculpture is now polished and mounted on a stand to give it it's final appearance.

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