Inspiration in lost wax

Martin Eichinger

Eichinger’s sculptures strike grand and fluid poses.<br>

Eichinger’s sculptures strike grand and fluid poses.

Martin Eichinger wants you. More specifically, he wants you to look at his art: Eichinger believes his work isn’t complete until it’s fulfilled its ultimate purpose of entering into a meaningful visual dialogue with the viewer.

“It’s a romantic, mythical narrative,” the Portland-based sculptor explains of his work, on display at Gallery DecorARTive. “It’s telling a story through sculpture.”

Eichinger studied design and anatomy at Ferris State University in Mich., and focused on sculpture with his post-graduate work at Michigan State University. Dissatisfied with the minimalist/ab-stract style popular when he opened a studio in the 1970s, Eichinger eventually grew into a more expressive and figurative style, concentrating on themes of motion and emotion.

Eichinger’s bronzes are made using the lost-wax casting method. The sculptor first models his sculptures in wax, then dips them in a ceramic slurry. The wax is melted away, leaving a hollow ceramic mold, from which the bronze is cast and assembled. Lastly, a patina is applied to the figure. The application of chemicals and heat creates variations in color and finish.

The result is a creamy, polished surface, more like marble than bronze. Subtle washes of color, though not immediately apparent, add depth and visual interest; a pearlescent finish lends each figures’ skin a luminous sheen. Eichinger intentionally exaggerates the anatomy and musculature of his subjects, sacrificing realism for the drama of captured motion.

The elegant bronzes may be reminiscent of classical themes—most notably in the celebration of the human form—but the artist resists labels like “mythological.” Even pieces such as “Gaia’s Breath,” from the Goddess Series, are intended less as a literal interpretation of myth than a study of the divine essence of creation within us.

“Gaia’s Breath” portrays a female figure rising from a textured, planetary sphere. Balanced in an outstretched hand is a smaller globe, still partially attached to her breast, as though pulled directly from her heart. Leaning forward, the goddess purses her lips, bringing her creation to life with breath. It’s a powerful statement about the physical and emotional bond between creator and creation.

“I start with a purpose in mind,” says Eichinger, “and the model is more or less after the fact.”

Outflung arms, tensed legs and curved torsos emphasize the grace and fluidity of the human form in action. The figures rise seamlessly from organically textured bases that recall stone outcrops or tree trunks and add a sense of tension or conflict to the work, hinting at man’s uneasy relationship with and dependence upon nature.

If Eichinger’s sculptures falter on any level, and it is hard to say that they do, it is in the detail and variety of their facial features. Eichinger does not rely on models when creating his pieces, and this is sometimes evident in their lacking expressions. From a distance, the figures are emotive, using sweeping gestures and dramatic poses to convey meaning. Up close, however, the faces are oddly sexless and generic, lacking humanity and expression. Men and women alike are given knife-blade noses and razor-blade cheekbones, their features crowded too tightly on disproportionately large heads. The faces are vaguely disturbing and not at all realistic; neither beautiful nor evocative, they seem almost perfunctory—a lost opportunity for conveying emotion on a more intimate scale.

In addition, the stylized, uniform faces create an unintentional visual overlap from piece to piece. When several different figures share the same set of features, it’s difficult to consider them as separate works with distinct meanings.

Nevertheless, the sculptor’s preoccupation with form and movement are evident, and generally successful. Figures recline on couches, twist in alarm or glance dreamily over their shoulders in contemplation. By gazing at their fluid, graceful bodies, we are reminded of the strength and beauty of our own. Don’t be surprised if you feel yourself standing a little straighter or gesturing a little more grandly after seeing Eichinger’s sculptures. That’s exactly what he wants you to do.