A beauty which transcends time
“The gift of art is that it allows anyone to express themselves in their own way.” – Richard Marcus
By Leonni Antono
Richard Marcus, the president of the Sculptor’s Society of BC, is one of the pioneering sculptors who works with mammoth ivory. With great artistic insight and creative vision, he draws on its exoticism to transform it from its discoloured and ancient state into modern masterpieces brimming with unique antiqueness. When working with this unusual type of ivory, Richard combines the use of semi-precious stones, gold alloy and exotic hardwood for embellishment, and the obsolete prehistoric material is reborn as inimitable mosaic artworks – beautiful syntheses of the past and the present.
Every day, Richard works up to sixteen hours in his cozy art studio to create an array of magnificent sculptures and artworks one after another, from porcelain-like plaques of breathtaking scale, to stylish aesthetic bracelets that are individually crafted. Stepping into Richard’s workplace and beholding his artworks, one would be overcome by a sense of awe inspired by the splendor they exude: each of them is unique like no other, an assembly of patterns of different shapes and sizes that bespeaks of its own artistic tale. Even to the untrained eye, it is obvious that they are exquisitely the product of immense effort and dedication.
One of the reasons for their uniqueness is perhaps the unusual type of ivory used – mammoth ivory – instead of the comparatively more common elephant ivory. Compared to elephant ivory, mastodon ivory are shattered and less consistent due to the weathering of time, and stained by the minerals in the soil in which they were buried in. As to why Richard chose the more ancient and unstable ivory, it is because using elephant ivory goes against his moral conviction of not involving endangered species. But more importantly, there was something magically charismatic about the old, tattered form that fueled his drive to work with this unique material. Driven by his artistic curiosity and passion for sculpting, Richard began exploring the ancient ivory, polishing his skills as a sculptor, leading him to gain complete mastery over it.
“I know my ivory,” Richard says at one point during the interview, with an air of nostalgic fondness as he describes his attachment to his mastodon ivory. And this is hardly surprising, considering that he spends sixteen hours on average every day in his studio, transforming what at first glance seems like unimpressive pieces of weathered mammoth tusks into breathtaking works of modern art.
When asked about his lifelong career as a sculptor, there is a glimmer in his eyes which conveys his passion for his work. He began sculpting from a very young age, polishing his artistic senses through perseverance and dedication.
“I experienced an emotional high that lasted for three days,” Richard chuckles lightly as he recalls the first human figure he carved as a child. “I felt like I was walking on air.”
Richard’s father was also an excellent sculptor and while this was how Richard was introduced to the art of sculpting, it was ultimately the immense satisfaction of creation and of breathing lively features to inanimate materials which fascinated him as a child, compelling him to pursue this form of artistry and to later evolve as an artist who places great emphasis on quality. Following high school education, Richard enrolled into the arts program at St. George Williams University where he took various art courses.
“But it didn’t clicked, so I dropped out of school and moved from Montreal to Vancouver in 1975,” Richard confesses. But it was a decision he did not regret, for it was then that he discovered mammoth ivory and began to use it as his primary material for his sculptures. And his relationship with the ancient ivory became one that cannot be severed; after years of honing his skills and techniques, sculpting has become second nature to him, and utilizing his breadth of experience and expertise, he currently aims to create even more astounding artworks of breathtaking scales.
“It starts with a vague concept,” says Richard, on the art of sculpting. “The ivory will stimulate the creation; the artist is merely the medium. If you do it often enough, you will become proficient and the results will become better as you keep on pushing for quality.”
The very idea of venturing into the unknown is thrilling for Richard, who draws inspiration from the material itself. The process is often characterized by a spontaneity which instigates excitement, for every piece of ivory are one of its own kind with its unique colouration. Of course, the making of sculptures and artwork of such high caliber is no easy feat. There are times when the characteristic, temperament and stability of the material remains unknown, necessitating the somewhat frustrating rounds of trial and error. But at the end of the day, according to Richard, the most important thing to bear in mind is to “have fun”. This positive mindset has helped Richard approach sculpting innovatively, and eventually become proficient in the craft.
As a sculptor who uses delicate material like mastodon ivory, Richard has to constantly think about the sophisticated mechanical procedures as sculpting is a restrictive and expensive form of art with many logistical problems.
“Sometimes you get really frustrated when things don’t work out, but you still need to continue and think constantly of the next mechanical step,” Richard expresses. “So it’s basically problem solving all the time when it comes to sculpting and it’s about learning new things and discovering innovative methods of doing art.” Despite all the challenges, it never once deterred Richard from sculpting. Even until now, he still remains as passionate as ever to create masterpieces of even better quality.
Richard’s success as a sculptor is largely due to his dedication and passion. But the key to achieve it is constant creation, that is, to never stop doing what you are passionate about.
“I will never retire,” he says. There is no end to artistic forms and no boundaries for improvement. And now, as the president of the Sculptor’s Society of BC, Richard aims to elevate it to a professional level, becoming an organization that is recognized locally, provincially, nationally and internationally, creating a platform for artists to share their passion and talents with the world. He firmly believes that as long as one have the enthusiasm and perseverance to continually improve their artistic skills, a path leading to success and recognition would definitely open up for them. However, when pursuing art, there is one important principle to bear in mind: that is, to have fun and enjoy the process of breathing life into your imaginations.
“Do what you love to do. Don’t stop for anyone. Just do it, and everything will fall into place.”