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Covington Sculptor Explains His Process as Show Opens this Weekend

Covington sculptor Robert Fry is attracted to negative space.

“What is not there, not said takes on a presence,” Fry explains. “You see it in music, in writing. What isn’t there allows people to fill in themselves.”

Fry creates what’s not there the hard way – in stone. He is one of three artists (with Marcia Alscher and Jennifer Grote) in The Clean Edge at the Brazee Street Studios’ C-Link Gallery in Oakley, opening Friday.

Curator Mary Heider says she calls the show The Clean Edge because it’s “a reminder that gallery spaces created from repurposed structures can, with care and thought, enhance artists’ works.  And reminds us how the eye enjoys an edge and how strongly delineated forms work with other visual elements in both art and architecture.”

Fry says, “I try to get to fundamental elements, to communicate with an efficiency of form, being as direct as possible. The sculptural forms I create are simple, with elements added to create contrast and complexity: texture, color, and line.”

Doesn’t sound hard, does it? Let’s take a close look at the creation of “Firmament,” a shiny, black stone disc with a small round hole near the base, and a carved line below it representing negative space.

It starts with a piece of found stone. Fry’s outdoor studio is in the backyard of his Greenup Street home. He works in wood, aluminum, clay, plaster and bronze. Stone, he acknowledges, is definitely “the most challenging.” Fry adds, “If it were too easy, I don’t know that I’d want to do it.”

When he began Firmament, the circle was a square. Carving it into art demands diamond edge and carbide tools.

Fry starts with a diamond saw, “cutting of as much as I can.” He places the circle. He makes cuts in half-inch rows, so when he begins handwork with the carbide chisels he can knock away more stone,

Then he takes an air hammer and lets it “dance around the surface.” At this point the stone is “getting closer to the finished shape.”

It isn’t Firmament yet – part of the idea for a sculpture comes from the stone, and Fry wanted “a pleasant shape” – and a clean edge. As he worked on it, it reminded him of the night sky.

And decided the small circular opening “could be interpreted as Earth.”

Firmament has a name.

To shape the piece, Fry places the stone at an angle and sets to work with a diamond wet grinding tool – water is running through which keeps the stone cool “and dampens the dust, which is toxic.”

It still looks gray – Fry starts polishing, at finer and finer grades – “80, 100, 500, 800, 1,200 – 3,000…”

The scratches from the sculpting tools begin to show, Fry keeps buffing till the scratches are gone.

It’s time-consuming and hard on the hands and body.

But Fry is as “enamored” of three-dimensional work as he was many years ago when he was studying at Thomas More College (one of his sculptures is installed on campus) and Northern Kentucky University.

“You can work on it all the way around – for some reason it first my personality.” And, as he likes to tell friends whose art is two-dimensional. “It’s not good art if you can’t stub your toe on it.”

The Clean Edge, May 8-June 4. Opening reception: 6-9 p.m. May 8. 4426 Brazee Street Studios C-Link Gallery. 4426 Brazee St., Oakley. 513-321-0206

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts

Photos provided

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