Inside the Artist’s Studio with Muhammad I. Aslam

Muhammad’s artwork is on view in our juried exhibition “Small Works 2016”. His work is available for purchase in our Online Gallery Shop:
store.mainstreetartsgallery.com


I would like to take a moment to discuss my process as it relates to my imagery and use of symbolism. My work functions mostly on the allegorical level – the figure is used as an icon; the meaning often suggested through the use of additional parts, pose, as well as palette. The starting point for much of my work is with a single word or a phrase. Much like an author I employ word bubbles, branching off into synonyms  (a thesaurus is heavily employed in this phase). This is often where the title of a piece is locked down as the word that best encompasses the conceptual structure of a work emerges.

Muhammad Aslam, "Opacare I", cast resin, mixed media, 13" x 16" x 5", 2016.

Muhammad Aslam, “Opacare I”, cast resin, mixed media, 13″ x 16″ x 5″, 2016.

While the word bubbles develop the imagery begins to form in my head. In the case of “Opacare I” I began with the concept of “dusk”. That quickly moved to wanting to personify my perception of that particular point of day. Moving in to the symbolism of the word I formed a mental map of what the piece should encompass. Given that twilight is the fading of sunlight hours into the nocturnal it seemed most appropriate to represent elements of both within the work. To this end the bird skulls came into play.

The crow, a bird of the day, is given the central position just above the figure’s head. Here the skull is slightly enlarged as a nod to the prominence of day in the lives of most human beings. It is typically the hours where one is most active as well as feels the most secure. The owl, a bird of the night, takes the left side of the figure suspended in a configuration of three. Crows in addition to owls are often taken as icons of wisdom as well as change. Dusk can be taken as a time of competition, metaphorically this may represent the moment where the end of a phase (or the entirety) of one’s life yields insight.

To pull this together a bit more a headdress, very loosely referencing a dream catcher was constructed. This served a function purpose of giving the skulls a place to attach to but also gave the piece an air of the pseudo religious and regal, albeit the regality of the vanishingly small segment of time sunset represents. The headdress itself is attached in a rather unrealistic way, as is most of the head gear in my work, with the intent of heightening the surreal flavor of the piece.

Of course, at this point outside of some words, loose scribbles on scrap paper, and notions of varying focus in my head – none of the piece exists. This is the part of the process where a project often dies, my interest faded, or it is filed away to attempt later. In addition, while everything I have described thus far sounds rather specific, the final imagery almost always varies quite a bit from the original idea. What works well on paper does not translate well into three dimensions in many cases. Once I actually decide I would like to sculpt a piece it is simply a matter of deciding what the piece should be made of (oil or water based clays, Sculpey, etc…).

The very start of a sculpt. Loose, fast, not much care for anything else.

The very start of a sculpt. Loose, fast, not much care for anything else.

The choice is merely what is appropriate for the piece. For “Opacare I” I chose Monster Clay; an oil based clay with what I find to be excellent handling properties. Once the armature was constructed (a simple brass tube affixed to a base), sculpting begins in earnest. I prefer to start very fast, keeping a loose hand, not paying much attention to overall accuracy, nor using any tools. It is here where the feel of the piece as well as any immediate edits are established. I eventually slow down, introduce tools, and then gradually refine the piece.

Left: How much of the figure to use is experiment with. Right: The final composition is established. Refining starts in earnest.

Left: How much of the figure to use is experiment with. Right: The final composition is established. Refining starts in earnest.

Naturally, an oil based clay sculpture needs to be molded then cast if one intends to keep it.  was a fairly straight forward mold. The interest came from the resin selected to cast her in. A semi-translucent resin was my material of choice. The idea centered on the notion of layering up translucent airbrush colors over the surface to give the piece a depth in color that may otherwise turn out bit flat. With the first set of mostly successful casts the color palette was considered. I initially opted for a color scheme heavily favoring pinks, blues, and purples layered over a wash of violet then scarlet. Testing this on the seconds (castings not quite up to snuff), the pink proved a bit overpowering. The final piece introduced a bit more of a bone color while retaining the same scheme.

Left: Firs two pulls from a silicone mold. Right: Initial paint test, base, and headdress fitting using one of the seconds.

Left: First two pulls from a silicone mold. Right: Initial paint test, base, and headdress fitting using one of the seconds.

The seconds were then used to test fit and experiment with ways of attaching the headdress and skulls. The more or less final piece assembled, it appeared something was missing. Ultimately, I opted to construct two thin tree branches, both made of Sculpey (to save time on molding then casting), and attached them to the back of the figure. This unexpected addition provided the missing element to the work while providing a nice visual to further tie the figure to the natural element found in the bird skulls. Given that twilight, crows, and owls all also symbolize death in certain traditions the branches were given a white color.

Left: Final paint job, but something is missing. At this stage I had experimented with using feathers. Right: Near final piece.

Left: Final paint job, but something is missing. At this stage I had experimented with using feathers. Right: Near final piece.

Outside of some spot checking, a sculpture is finished at this stage. From the point it is presented on it, to some degree, ceases to be completely mine. As each viewer encounters the work it is liked, or disliked, and assigned meanings that often have nothing to do with anything I saw or intended for the piece. This phase it typically the most rewarding. On occasion one or two individuals may ask for the thought processes behind my art, or I may have the artist statement on hand, or write a blog, but I find I mostly prefer to stay silent and let the viewer take in the piece and converse with it on its own terms.

Gallery visitors view Muhammad's sculpture in Small Works 2016

Gallery visitors view Muhammad’s sculpture in Small Works 2016


Stop by Main Street Arts to see Muhammad’s work in our current exhibition “Small Works 2016” (juried by Bleu Cease, Executive Director/Curator of RoCo; exhibition runs through January 6th). Muhammad’s work is available in our Online Gallery Shop: store.mainstreetartsgallery.com. Visit his website at http://aslamfineart.tumblr.com and follow him on Instagram @miaslam_.

Take a look at our previous Inside the Artist’s Studio blog post by painter Stacey Rowe.

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