By Bob Levine, Volunteer Docent at Grounds For Sculpture
I have always been a person who is attracted to the different and unusual. On one of my earliest visits to Grounds For Sculpture, I noticed a statue in the Water Garden of two male figures attached to opposite sides of a beam, parallel to the ground.
The sculpture, of course, is Relative, by G. Frederick Morante. On a recent tour of the Atelier for new(er) docents, I met Fred Morante, who conducted the part of the tour which covered the Digital Atelier. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until after the tour that I discovered that he was the sculptor of Relative, and others that I had also noticed at GFS. Fred was generous enough to spend a short time with me recently discussing his works, and I want to share what I learned with you.
Not being an especially creative person, I always wondered how a sculptor (or any artist) gets the specific inspiration that leads to creation of a work of art. In this situation, Fred had made the observation that frequently a person gets involved in a discussion with another person, but neither one really listens to what the other is saying. Each is so focused on presenting his/her own point of view, that they end up turning what should be a dialogue into a series of two monologues. Sometimes, in fact, each is trying to make the very same point, but doesn’t realize it.
This observation that people sometimes express opinions without really listening to the other, and that there are times when they even say the same thing differently, led Fred to the idea for Relative. While it may not be immediately obvious, the two nude figures are duplicates, rather than mirror images. This reinforces the idea of both saying the same thing.
He originally sketched out the sculpture with the supporting beam parallel to the ground and the two male figures one over the other. One day he happened to look at his sketchbook from the side, and immediately liked the different perspective, which is what we see today in the finished work. When you observe the sculpture from the front, the posture of the two figures is not readily apparent. If you move to the side, however, you immediately become aware that the figures are hunched somewhat forward, and therefore looking at each other. That is part of what he is trying to express in this sculpture – two people are looking at each other and conversing, but not really communicating.
The specific pose with the right hand on the right knee and the left arm crossed onto it, is a sign of insecurity. The result gives the impression that each is looking for approval from the other, but won’t get it because they are both saying the same thing, and neither one is listening to the other. The name for the sculpture came to him early in the process of creation, as his intent was to show that all things are relative.
As is his usual practice, he first created a half life-sized form of a man bent over in the pose that we see in Relative. After that was completed, he then had it reproduced digitally and enlarged to life size. This half life-sized original is currently outside his studio in the Motor Exhibit Building. Standing up on a pedestal, it is easy to see just how bent over the figure really is.
The visual impact on me of Relative is at least as great today as it was the first time that I saw it. Now that I know something of the background of the development of the sculpture, especially coming first hand from the sculptor himself, makes it even more meaningful to me – relatively speaking, of course.
The other sculpture that I discussed with Fred was Nude Descending the Stare Case, which we see on the upper right-hand corner of the Seward Johnson Center for the Arts. This sculpture is actually a second version – the first having been a half life-size version formerly in the Water Garden.
When he originally created and displayed this sculpture, the nude was actually hanging from a pedestal. Its inspiration was the three strong women in Fred’s life as a youngster – his mother and two older sisters. He started the sculpture with some sketches while in college, and completed the original version about seven years later.
I always try to find meaning in the title of a sculpture, and this one is quite simple. Fred considers himself a punster, and thus the nude figure is descending the “Stare Case.” In this case, the name came after the sculpture was completed.
Fred first came to the Johnson Atelier in 1977, and has been here ever since. He is currently a Department Coordinator in the Digital Atelier, and is the Head Modeler. I personally think that the latter title is perfect for a punster like Fred. He led us on a highly informative tour of the Digital Atelier when I first met him, and was very generous in spending some time with me recently. Best of all, Fred is a genuine RNG (Real Nice Guy).