Figures flow freely from carved stone
The Grants Pass Daily Courier
by Barbara Hahn

Smooth, sensual lines cut into the flat slate surface, revealing entwined human figures.

The polished rock creates a three-dimensional sculptural portrait, stylized art as opposed to realistic interpretation of the subjects, explains artist Christina Singh of Takilma.

“I prefer to call it stylized art because you can relate to what it is,” she says. It resembles a realistic interpretation of a subject, yet transcends that interpretation through imagination.

“To my way of thinking, if you just want to draw an oak leaf, for example, why don’t you just paste up an oak leaf,” she says. “My irises are not just irises, but a takeoff of an iris. It’s an imaginary flower.”

What is important, she adds, is how the image interacts with the unique medium of slate.

“It has to flow right,” she explains. “As long as it flows and grabs you, that’s the point.”

Singh began carving at a studio near her Illinois Valley home about 15 years ago. With a degree from the New York School of Visual Arts, she worked for 15 years in New York City as a commercial graphic artist.

Singh now works out of her recently completed studio near the Illinois River, and improvement over her last, dust-filled and dark studio. She works as a seasonal tree planter and firefighter to support her art.

Her slated designs begin with a paper sketch which Singh then transfers to stone. She has one machine to carve the heavy outline of the work, but the rest of the piece is carved with the specially-made chisels. As she bends over her work, hammering the chisels against the rock, she watches the colors and textures subtly change as the character of the rock is revealed.

“The hardest part is the middle part when the design is finished,” she says. Then comes the refining and smoothing of the lines and addition of details. Background textures also are carefully stamped into the stone.

Lastly comes the sanding with finer and finer grades of sandpaper to smooth the rock to a hand honed polish.

“Sanding is the commercial part that needs to be done,” Singh says. The laborious sanding, which can take days to complete, leaves the slate with a natural sheen.

To maintain the natural look, Singh doesn’t use lacquers or varnishes that protect the slate from the elements. But, she adds, fingerprints and other stains can easily be washed away with soap and water.

The process from design to finished work can be a lengthy one, which is why her works range from about $200 for the smaller slates to more than $1,000. Singh displays her work at Lithia Creek Arts, an Ashland gallery. She has sold her work throughout the country, with orders made fro brochures available at galleries.

Most of Singh’s work is meant for display as visual art, although she has also carved tabletops and cornerstones for buildings. Architectural work remains a favorite subject.

Over the years, Singh’s work has become more three-dimensional as she has learned to carve deeper, and take more mass away,” she says.

While Singh had previously done wood carvings, she looked to a new medium for her carvings. One reason, she explains, was there seemed to be plenty of wood carvers in the area. But there were other considerations, too.

“Stone carving is more mysterious than wood carving,” Singh says. “Or at least, that’s what I thought back then.”

Carving in stone “can be intimidating,” she says. As she carefully carves away at the layers, the slated seems to bend easily to her will, giving her the impression that her medium is closer to rubber than stone. But when she hits a flaw within the rock – a streak of iron that sends sparks when hit by the chisel – she is once again reminded of the rigidity of her canvas.

“Now,” she adds, “I know it’s just a rock.”

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