A Canadian jade sculptor recalls his life and work in this remarkable memoir by Sopel (Sopel: Alluring Presence, 2012).
There is a perceived esotericism surrounding the art of sculpture, particularly when it comes to gemstones. How did the sculptor go about acquiring the precious material? How did the artist "see" the finished work in the mother rock? This artist unique experience with his unforgiving medium, illustrates how misinterpreted the world of sculpting is. A Painter paints but a sculptor must be able to do drafting, interpret his vision on both paper or directly onto stone. And then be able to engineer all of the shapes with precision and mastery. In a world of digitization and instant results, the idea of one man dedicated to an art practice his whole life is a rare phenomena.
In this memoir, Sopel, whose work is collected by the Aga Khan and the Duke and Duchess of Westminster among others, explains his artistic practice and the journey that led him to become a world-class artist. The memoir opens at high octane, recalling the moment when Sopel jumped from a helicopter into a remote location in British Columbia. After discovering the jade mine he was searching for, he was immediately confronted by its owner and his shotgun. Attitudes changed when he revealed his identity as a jade sculptor from Vancouver. This dramatic opening sets the effervescent, enthralling tone for the memoir, which examines Sopel's early life and a battle with dyslexia, his gravitation towards artistic practices, his time in art school, and the events that motivated him to progress from being an artist selling in high-end tourist shops to one selling in very high-end galleries. This is a richly textured account—Sopel explored Europe as a young man and also traveled to Asia following his success. Moreover, this is a wonderfully forthright examination of what it means to be an artist. Sopel succinctly describes his connection with his work, in this instance, his sculpture of a Buddha: "You know how it is when you first fall in love? How it's utter joy just to see that person, just to be with them? They don't have to do anything; they don't have to be anything other than what they are. You just feel that love for them." It must also be noted that working on the Buddha almost killed him. Sopel's dedication to his art is palpable, and his direct, no-nonsense approach to writing proves inspirational: "Being an artist isn't an excuse for being poor, or laid back, or stoned. Being an artist is never an excuse for anything. An artist makes art. Period." Written with the transparent desire to encourage others to "celebrate their own nonverbal strengths," this is surely one of the most motivating, surprising, and utterly endearing memoirs written by a contemporary artist.
An absolute tour de force, and a must-read for any aspiring artist.