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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Sand Sculpture

The "Little Tramp" isn't so little any more, here depicted in
sand as the towering giant of silent films.
There was a time when, if one mentioned sculpture, the image brought to mind was that of Michelangelo patiently chipping away at his massive David. There was a time when going to the beach brought to mind children (of all ages) patiently packing petite pails to produce palaces made of sand. That was then, this is now. Very few sculptors carve marble anymore. And, while sand castles still rise from the sloping shores of our major oceanic swimming holes, very often sculptors that might otherwise be attacking solid rock now enjoy the much more malleable medium of shifting sands. There are even classes and contests conducted in promoting this old, but now revitalized, creative endeavor.

Building the bulwarks--
Concours de Châteaux de Sable,
Classes teach how to choose the best sand, methods of tamping it down, the dos and don't of carving and smoothing, lighting, using color, preserving your efforts, even the most creative methods for destroying your work. Most works have a theme, sometimes political or profound, sometimes puns, platitudes, and plays on words. Sand artists draw their inspiration from the classics, from the movies, from pop culture, from poetry, painting, architecture (naturally), marine life, and attempts to "get a life." Moreover, beach sculpture is not just an American phenomena. Sand sculpture competitions turn up in Italy, Canada, Portugal, Mexico, the Far East, Australia, and of course, here in the U.S., where sometimes prizes range into the thousands of dollars. Often winning works are family efforts. It's hard to pinpoint when sand art moved from castles to competitions, but many such contests have been around for more than 20 years. In Quebec, there's even a competition for purists, which limits entries only to castles, which sometimes threaten to become almost life-size.

The Big Three at Yalta, Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin from a 2010 Moscow competition.
The tiny village of Fiesa, Portugal, bills itself as having the largest sand sculpting festival in the world, where dozens of artists put to use over 35,000 tons of sand. 2012 marks the tenth anniversary of the festival with this year's theme being "idols." Works are preserved to semi-permanence and displayed outdoors for several months as a tourist attraction. And lest you think sand sculptors limit themselves to fantasies and flowers, they also do figures, even historic tableaus such as the Big Three at Yalta. Besides realism, styles include cubism, very abstract expressionism, Dada, surrealism, and Disney.
Cubism at a contest at
Federal Way, Washington

The King of Pop, adding color to the art.
Others memorialize famous celebrities such as Charlie Chaplin (top), Marilyn Monroe, or Michael Jackson. Some of the works reach towering heights and feature exquisite attention to details while others are simply displayed flat on the ground in low relief. Some such sculptures migrate from the beach to the art museum or shopping mall thanks to various polymer protective coatings. Whatever the case, in recalling such works of art, either from photos or from the beach, you'll never again pack another sand pail with quite the same carefree abandon. I wonder if Michelangelo could do his David in sand.

Besides "watercolors," color sometimes comes from various forms of illumination such as
this bas relief nativity from a competition in Jesolo (near Venice), Italy.

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