Category: The story behind the sculptures.

10 Aug 2017

Physical to Digital (03.1): My first Italian experience, some maps, stories and images.

  1. Susan-Side
  2. Susan-Head-On

This is my very first marble carving.  “Susan” was created in a piece of fantastic pure white statuary marble.  It’s volume is approximately 27 by 8 by 12 cm. It eventually became a gift to my best friend for his wedding.

I have so far found  images for only two other sculptures created at this time.

The first map gives an idea of where I was living in Carrara and working in Avenza.  While the second underlines two amazing travel experiences I had on my Lambretta.  The first was discovering the ruins of Luni.  Especially the amphitheater, which in those times you could almost take your bike to center stage, now it’s underlocks and gates.At the time I envisioned it as an amazing movie location.  I have returned many times to this stie and it’s museum.  A wonderful place. Folkloare say that it was here Michealango, while examining the ruins of some marble sculptures that he got a sense of scale for his “David”.


The other Lambretta experience that is etched in my memory is the ride from Carrara to Lerici via Montemarcello.  I was first knocked out by the first sights of Lerici as you approach by this road.  The fortress, the bay and the harbour where Byron swam.  He described his stay here as that of   “a stranger in paradise”. A though that comes back often, though not as much of late.  Then on the way back you are rewarded with another great bonus,  the most amazing view of the Apian Mountains and the extensive marble quarries as they rise above theMagra river and it’s flood plain.  Look at the map, Luni was a harbour in its time!   This is another “local” trip I love repeating.


For more stories about this period click here.

10 Aug 2017

Physical to Digital (03): My First Italian Experience

My first experience with carving marble happen in Carrara, Italy in 1973

The above photograph is an image on myself in the back yard of a marble factory in Avenza Carrara, Italy. In the foreground are some of my first marble sculptures. This photograph was taken late March, or early April 1973 by the Canadian sculptor Bart Uchida. I am twenty-three years old and six or eight weeks later I shall be robbed and my first “expedition” to Italy will be shortly over.

An expedition that in my mind’s eye forty-five years later is mostly fogged fragments. But I clearly remember Bruce Garner telling me in that if I really wanted to learn how to carve stone or marble I had to go to Carrara Italy and hopefully his friend Bart Uchida would still be there. Bruce was a sculptor that lived and worked predominately in the Ottawa River valley. I worked as his assistant for the last three months of 1972 in Ottawa.

My father was a Colonel in the Canadian Air Force. He, and most of my family members, had been recently transferred from Ottawa to Brussels to work as Director for NATO. Being entitled to a family visit for Christmas, myself and my brother Thomas were flown from the Canadian Air Force base in Trenton to Heathrow (?) by jet around the 18th of December 1972. My first view of Europe is English roof tops and geometric plots of land in the early morning grey. The second step of our journey was totally different.  We were flown by military transport, four propellers, and we were strapped to a seat that was part of a row along the side of the aircraft.  A Jeep and a few other personnel were flying in the plane with us.  I am not sure where we arrived from London, possibly Chievres Air Base, Belgium.

As part of the holiday celebrations my parents decided to take the family for a ski vacation at Zermatt in Switzerland. We celebrated the New Years there and then they returned to Brussels by car as I took a train to Carrara. It was the last time that I skied. I did not know if Bart was still  there, but I did have his last mailing address. The train arrived at Carrara early in the morning. I found a taxi and produced the written address. This resulted in being brought to a house somewhere in the hills around Carrara. Knock, knock and the door opens. Bart is not here says Janos Stryk, a 40 year old, large and distinguished Hungarian sculptor and owner of the house. He invites me in for breakfast. Slightly bemused with my desire to become a sculptor we and then go searching for Bart.

For more background on Janos

We find Bart in the back yard of a marble factory in Avenza, a part of Carrara that is below the Aurelia and before Marina di Carrara. He was working on a large marble sculpture for an Art Collector in Milan. He too seems bemused by my intention, and is very helpful in getting me settled, as he helps he find an apartment, convinces the owners of the marble factory to let me “work” in their back yard and even loans me an old Lambretta scooter for transportation.

What I remember most about this period was being caught up in a “puritan” work ethic that found me working for two to three weeks in a row before taking a half-day off. The mantra at the time was to carve the “block” of marble into the sculpture- direct carving.  However I still remember vividly tone Sunday scooter ride where I went from Carrara to Lerici by “the back mountain road” and being totally taken by its stunning beauty, and another Sunday visit to Luni.

My wrists were not strong enough to control the pneumatic hammers; so all my carving was done with hand tools and a small disc grinder. At first my hand eye coordination was not as good as I thought, and although the swings were timid the marble hammer was unforgiving. The base of my left thumb was getting hit and skin taken off. I had learned that the marble dust, with all its calcium, helps to coagulate the blood. One day, after another good thumb smashing I found myself witnessing a dialogue between my left and right. The left arm immediately swung up and threw down the chisel and then emphatically informed the right arm had to either get it right or pass the hammer to the left arm. And the left and right became coordinated and confident.

There was a community of foreign sculptors working and living in and around Carrara. I meet some of them mostly through the occasional noon meal in a local trattoria or during dinners at Bart’s apartment or Janos’s house. I couple of the sculptors I meet then still work in the Carrara area.

My budget was student and the Canadian dollar keep dropping so I decided to cash most of my precious travellers cheques and hid the money in my apartment closet. When the landlord next came to pick up the rent money I went to the hiding place and found it empty, and realized a jacket and a couple of ties were missing too. Although my Italian was very primitive the landlord realized that I had been robbed and called the police. My first Italian experience was coming to an abrupt end.

I returned to Ottawa and began to work again with Bruce Garner. I became his assistant to finish his commission of ceremonial bronze doors for the Canadian Government Conference Centre in Ottawa’s former train station. My crate of sculptures eventually arrived. I managed to sell several of them and began plotting how to get back to Italy.

These were taken in a photo booth in Genova on my way, by train, to a Canadian Airforce base near Baden-Baden Germany for the flight home.  The blue “artist beret ”  I lost in Ottawa, my hair along the way.



Pietrasanta, August 10, 2017

My very first marble sculpture.  Entitled “Susan” it was a piece of pure white statuary marble.  The dimensions were approxinately 27 cm. by 8 cm. by 12 cm.  I gave it to my best friend as a wedding gift.

  1. Susan-Side
  2. Susan-Head-On
28 Jul 2017

PHYSICAL to DIGITAL (02) – My first amendment!

A couple of days after having posted “Physical to Digital” (part 01) I realized that I had forgotten to include several fragments of my life. One large time gap concerns a series of sculptures made between late 1985 and early 1987.

In September of 1985 “Open Sea” had been installed and my life on several levels was changing. In February we celebrated the birth of our first daughter, Beatrice, and now after the sculpture installation  in September I had the luxury of time.

Pietrasanta was still basically a sculptor’s town and a wonderful place to work and to live. There was a strong component of skilled artisans covering any aspect of the art, from marble carving, casting bronze, creating Venetian mosaics, making enlargements of models, moulds of these models, the crates to ship them. Then added to the mix was a great band of artists from different countries and various ages.  Strong friendships were created between the artisans and the artists.  Though an outsider you felt to be a part of the town.

Then as a bonus the world’s two best producers of sculpting tools at that time were to be found less than two hours from town. One was in a beautiful mountain setting where to reach the factory you walked through this ancient town and then on a narrow path through woods.  As you drew near ones ears heard the sound of many hammers at work.  They built some very useful tools that i designed for myself.

The next 14 months were dedicated to the creation of a new series of sculptures. The sculptures I wanted to create were too big for my studio in town. Claudio Mariani, the foundries owner, kindly let me develop my ideas in the same foundry studio I had used to create the head and tail of  “Open Sea”. The springing point for the sculptures was to be the figurative part of the “Files” sculpture, shown below, that I had created for my solo 1983 exhibition at the Canadian Cultural Center in Rome.

  1. Files-Roma-I
  2. CACI-Invite

Before “Files” was presented to Pietrasanta’s Plaster Museum I created a plaster piece mould of the figurative part of the sculpture. With this plaster piece mould I began to create a series of works, which I nicked named, for obvious reasons “Buttons”. For me the belly-button/navel is a perfect human symbol. We all have one, it’s our “roots” and by itself is gender neutral. So I created this series of sculptures around the navel, at times mixing the body form with image content.

After having developed these original ideas in plaster we than moved to Toronto for approximately eight months as I went searching for someone to help produce them. Unfortunately this search was of no avail. However I received an offer to create a life-size sculpture, with his owner as rider, of a World Champion cutting horse in action. I accepted this challenge to create my first horse (this story in a subsequent blogs). Hence, the “Buttons” were put on hold and an almost three year journey of work began.

Below, in chronological order of development, are the major sculptures created during this period.  Looking at these images thirty plus years late I  find it true that good art tis timeless.  These are  valid sculptural ideas that need to be transformed into their intended materials of cast bronze or carved marbles.  They could act as maquettes for really monumental sculptures or be produced in their current size.  All interested producers are most welcome!



Pietrasanta, July 28, 2017

  1. mother-button
  2. mother-button-blue

This is the original “Files”.  I used it to design the shapes I was going to create.  The whole series is on view.  The image underneath shows you the outline for “Untitled Egyptian”.  Below in chronological order are  the sculptures.

  1. Shelding-Sepia
  2. Shelding-Sepia-A

“Shielding Sepia” (W,D,H) 60cmx10cmx165cm   was included in the exhibition “9 Sculpteurs Canadiens en Toscane” at the Centre Culturel Canadien, Paris 1987.  The front image was taken by Stefano Sabella (the local “go to photographer of sculpture”) while the second by myself.  The seaside is a few kilometers from Pietrasanta.  The idea of the shape came from that of a sepia bone, which were found readily on the beach, with that of a shield.  On a very windy, dramatic day, I went to Stefano’s store in Tofano (a part of Marina di Pietrasanta), found him and then we walked to the beach to take the shot.  Striking difference between our photographs.

  1. Pancia-Front
  2. Pancia-Side

“Pancia” (W,D,H) 111cmx43cmx174cm  There was to be a relief on the inside.  I left the mould lines visible.  Sculptors often part of the technique to become part of the form.  Auguste Rodin was a master at this.

  1. Untitled-Sun
  2. Untitled-Sun-Under

“Untitled Sun”  (W,D,H)

  1. Untitled-Mirror
  2. Searching

“Untitled Mirror” (W,D,H) 48cmx10x83cm  I was planning to have a mirror or highly polished material on the other side.

  1. Untitled-Egyptain-BW
  2. Untitled-Egyptain-colour

“Untitled Egyptian”  (W,D,H) 118cmx60cmx145cm  These photographs do not really “explain” the depth of the sculpture.  The one underneath does give a feeling for what the sculpture would be like on a monumental size.

  1. Cloud-Colour
  2. Cloud-BW

“Untitled Cloud” (W,D,H) 133cmx68cmx118cm  In 1987 it was rare that one owned a camera, let alone a cell phone with a camera & cloud. Special effects were pretty well limited to backgrounds and lighting.  This image has me trying a live special effect with a bit of shredded wood packing material being light up behind the sculpture.  The underneath image you can see part of a bench that Mike Davis, a Canadian sculptor from Toronto taking some sabbatical time off,  is standing on to helping me holding up the red curtain. On the right one can see some of the wood material we were burning.  We certainly smoke the studio out and the big doors had to be opened.  More found images of the event .

  1. Totem
  2. Totem-Head-1

“Totem” (W,D,H) 114cmx25cmx195cm  There were to be landscapes as reliefs on the other side.  I was working off my experience of building most of the inside of the whales mouth in wood and wax.    Love how this sculpture, using the tensile characteristics of bronze, stretches it’s self .  It has less physical material with a greater volume.

  1. Group-shot-Front
  2. Group-Yellow

Here is a bit of a group shot which helps give one a better idea of perspective and size.  The one with the yellow outline was abandoned and destroyed.  The flow was not right.

19 Jul 2017

Physical to Digital

From Physical to Digital-My life making sculpture and other arts

Part One


My name is Robin Bell. I am a sculptor living in Pietrasanta, Italy. I first travelled to Italy in 1973 to learn now to carve marble. I have remained pretty well there since then as my artistic career has evolved to Commissioned Artist, with cast bronze being the requested material.

I am an “old school” type of Artist who creates the scale and full size model, retouches their waxes and does the final finishing of the bronze before the patina. I have been using the services of Fonderia Artistica Mariani of Pietrasanta since 1974.

This Blog is being created to provide images, stories and thoughts on my art. I think “Physical to Digital” is a good title as it truly reflects our times. It express the idea of handcrafted Three Dimensional art works becoming binary expressions, but also by having begun my career before the Digital Divide (in the sense of Era Digital, era Pre Digital) I have to find and physically scan these images for this blog. Another thread to this theme is the fact of how I began to use the computer as a tool, a very helpful tool in the creation of my art.  Another physical to digital is this blog is a binary scrapbook and journal.

The blogs will not be chronological, nor precise it its publication date. Some periods will have minimal visual coverage that I hope to slowly eradicate as I continue my intercontinental search for images from the past. Below are images of me at work from 1973 forwards.

  1. first-marbles-carrara-73
  2. Susan-Side

My first marble sculptures, Carrara 1973.  Underneath is “Susan” my first marble sculpture.

  1. R-working-Guardian
  2. Guardian

Working at the foundry Mariani on Guardian 1/3 in the Spring of 1976.  The sculpture is part of my second Solo Exhibition with the Marianne Friedland Gallery in Toronto.

  1. R-Last-wax
  2. Last

Working on Last 3/3 circa 1977, while the image underneath is of Last 1/3 just before it is put into it’s crate to be shipped to Toronto Canada as part of my second Marianne Friedland show.  Below the show’s announcement.

  1. Celtic-Clay-me
  2. Celtic-Magazine

Working on Celtic 1/3.  It will be first shown at my third solo exhibition in Toronto.  This time at the Bau-xi Gallery in 1978.

  1. Robin-Sault-Coll-Trophy
  2. Robin-Sault-Coll-TV

My Bau-XI exhibition received some nice reviews and but limited press.  At the same  time of the exhibition Toronto was involved with a massive conference on Sculpture, A month of various gallery openings and events.  More drastically there were few sales and while looking for work I discovered a competition to become Artist in Residence at the Sault Saint Maria Institute of Science and Technology.  It had a small art department whose artist in residence position had become vacant.  I was selected and spent the next 14 to 16 months in Northern Ontario! In this image, taken in early 1979, I am working on the clay original for Trophy.  the sculpture will be eventually cast and included in my exhibition at the Canadian Cultural Center in Rome in 1983.

  1. Running-In-Clay-Me
  2. Running-In-Full

Here I am working, in early 1981, on the 33% larger than life size clay model for “Running In”.  It was comissioned by the Triple Five Corporation as the center piece for Phase One of The West Edmonton Mall, in Edmonton , Alberta, Canada.

  1. Dryden-Clay-finished
  2. Goalie-HO

This photograph celebrates finishing the life-size clay model for “The Goalie”.  It was taken the spring of 1984.  The sculpture, commissioned by Cambridge Leaseholds Ltd. for Place Vertu’ in Montreal to celebrate a true Canadian ikon, Mr. Ken Dryden.

  1. Robin-Measure-whale-head
  2. Open-Sea-Top-View

Summer 1984 and Open Sea begins.  I have found a complete set of Right Whale bones at the University of Pisa. They had been attached to a ceiling, 12 meters in the air for about 150 years. It was then decided to move them to a new Natural History Museum. This happened two weeks before I came looking for them!

They were invaluable as they helped to establish measurements like the distance between the eyes. I made a scale model of the bones and then fleshed them out with plastacine. The intermediate and final model were made in clay.

Because of size I had to make the maquette and then an intermediate model before developing the full size original.

  1. Robin-CC-Start
  2. CC-Little-Boy

Fall 1987, the beginning of “Chunky Cutting”.  I had never made a horse before so I set up a studio at a local stable and made a life size study model.This was an amazing project. It was also my longest. Due to financial reasons it was created in two parts. First phase was creating the horse and rider, second phase the calf. The horse and rider were portraits of Charles “Chunky” Woodward and his 1967 NCHA Champion Cutting Horse Peppy San.

  1. Me-Teemer
  2. Teeming-again

June 1990 and I am nearly finished one of the three 40% larger than life size figures for “Teeming”, a sculpture ordered by Stadium Corp. for Meadowhall in Sheffield, England. Meadowhall was on the grounds of two abandoned steel foundries. Research brought me to the nexus of Sheffield steel: “teeming”, the pouring of crucible steel. This process had a 250-year history that ended in the 1950’s.
The sculpture was created during a 20 month period between 1989-90. It is the first sculpture portraying the art of “teeming”. In the early 2000’s it was voted “favourite sculpture” by the citizens of Sheffield.

  1. Me-working-Wallscape
  2. Wallscape-HK

Summer 1979 working on the bottom section, plaster (with some carving) and wax.  The top section was built with wood and wax.  “Wallscape” is my first sculptural project that is a relief rather than free standing. It is also the first project where I combine cast bronze with Venetian mosaic.  This four meter by seven meter relief was placed in the business entrance to the building complex at 9 Queen’s Road, Central, Hong Kong. This was the third time that Hongkong Land was building on the same site, also the last as they later sold the site.

  1. Ninja-Wall-Me-Start
  2. Ninja-Wall-Rool-Ov

“Ninja Wall” 1993-94 Commissioned by Playmates Properties Limited for 100 Canton Street, Kowloon, Hong Kong.  In the picture I am working the first of the full size Ninja’s, circa December 93-early February 1994.

Another relief with bronze and mosaic. This time the bronze relief was much higher and marble and stone were included with the Venetian glass. These new materials heightened the underground tonality of NYC sewers. The wall space was curved. The “Boys” are depicted discovering their genesis- The Canister of Ooze.

  1. Cutters-C-Clay-hands
  2. Cutters-choice-bio

“Cutter’s Choice”  was a life size calf was created to complete my “Chunky Cutting” sculpture. For this project I created a one third life-size study model with a live model. Then I created a one third life-size maquette, before building the original life-size model in clay. This image was taken circa March 1998.

  1. R-work-Circle-Caring
  2. Searching

“The Circle of Caring” was commissioned for the Maycourt Hospice in Ottawa.  It’s March 2000 and I am working on one of the portraits.

  1. C-Pine-me-Wax
  2. Casons-Pine-Bio

Spring 2000, I am with the nearly finished  full size wax for “Casson’s Pine”.  The work was too complicated to make moulds so it will be a direct casting of the wax model.  This means that there can be no armature and all materials used must be burnable.  Hence the external strings that act as an armature.

  1. Robin-Crumb-Bronze-A
  2. Crumb-Bio-A

“R. Crumb” was my first sculpture for Felix Dennis’s  “Garden of Heroes & Villains”  in Dorsington, England.  It’s early summer 2003 and I have nearly completed my finishing of the bronze.  Spurred on by the success of “Casson’s Pine” I take mould only of the figures head and hands and the portrait on the desk.  The rest, made of wood wax and paper, is directly cast into bronze.

  1. R-working-Arcus-wax
  2. Arcus-bio

“Arcus” was commissioned by Mr. S. Jolliffe for his private residence in Toronto, Ontario.  The commission is the elaboration of an earlier sculpture entitled “Spalla” which was created for my third solo exhibition in Toronto at the Bau-Xi Gallery in 1978.  The shoulders have been enlarged to include the back.  The sculpture is mounted upon a black granite base.  It can rotate and then lock into position.  Inside the shoulders one finds a series of mountain ranges and the inscription:  Mountains are the shoulders of the world.  In the photograph I am working directly in the wax to create the mountain ranges.  Image circa February 2005.

  1. Churchill-Me-clay
  2. Churchill-Bio

“Churchill” was commissioned by Felix Dennis for his “Garden of Heroes & Villains” in Dorsington, England.  This 10% larger than life-size sculpture was to depict Winston Churchill the day after the first bombings by the Germans of London.  The figure is made of clay.  The bricks are made of wax and wood.  They will be more defined in the foundries wax room and then cast directly. Photo taken circa May 2006.

  1. Robin-Eagles-Nest-Model
  2. Eagles-Nest-Bio

March 2007 and I am getting closer to finishing part of the full size model for “Eagles’ Nest”.  The sculpture was commissioned by Mr. E.D. Healy for his private residence in Quinta do Lago, Portugal.  My first avian sculpture was greatly helped by the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.  The construction of the twice life-size model was again a combination process.  This time the  eagle’s body and most of the feathers were made in clay, while the primary, secondary and tail feathers are made in wood and wax.  This wood and wax technique provided thin feathers with a natural overlap when place in their final position.

  1. Robin-Ulysses-Bronze
  2. Ulysses-Bio

May 2014 and I have almost completed my final finishing of the bronze.  “Ulysses” was third commissioned sculpture for Felix Dennis’s “Garden of Heroes & Villains” in Dorsington, England. Felix wanted me to portray the moment Ulysses is tied to the mast to hear the songs of the Sirens. I read and listened to several versions of Homer’s classic, and thanks to the curator of Queen Elizabeth’s model ship collection I discovered how a Greek vessel in 900 BC attached its mast and the type of rope used. There was also research into clothing’s, and patterns. Symbols for the Goddess Athena ( Ulysses’ protector) were used for the toga’s broach and the finger ring.