The famous sculptor Mrs Elizabeth MacQueen talks to My Kerkyra magazine about her life, art, her visit to Corfu and her future plans.
When was the first time you visited Corfu?
I was here three years ago, I came to celebrate my 60th birthday. I love it here, it’s magical.
How would you describe Corfu?
I will give you an example. Last night, we had dinner at Vidos island. The boats were passing by, but sometimes I was feeling that the island was a boat and we were moving and passing by. Corfu is magical for me.
Would you like to make a sculpture about Corfu?
Of course. All the parts of Greek history are fascinating. I have made two pieces. One that is called “Gaia” and my second one was “Persephone” and you can see them at my website. Now, I would like to make a third one which will be the woman of Wisdom.
Where are these sculptures?
I do limited editions, so there are in about 5 countries. It is hard work.
Is it difficult to be a sculptor?
Well, when I work it is not difficult. But beginning to work is difficult. You have to get the idea, you have to get where you are going to work. For example, right now I am working on a small model on a porch overlooking the Ipsos bay and I am thinking “Oh my God, look where I am working”. This is much better than being inside the studio. But you must have a foundry, so the foundry part is difficult. It is not like a painter who has a canvas and when you finish you roll it up and you take it to the gallery. For a sculpture you need a foundry, a fine art. There are 2 or 3 in Athens and I was excited.
What inspires you more?
Movement, human, the fragility of the
human being and also the best that a human being can be. Dignity, integrity, bodies, the movement of form. I work a lot with professional dancers, divas. Working with them is very inspiring because they understand the body and the movement and they are able to hold a pose. Mythology inspires me as well, Gaia, Persephone, Athina.
What about nature?
Well not really. I find nature inspiring in the environment, like now that I am working in Ipsos and looking at the clouds coming over, the mountains, the water. So the environment inspires in a way that is better to work there than in a factory. I just like to be somewhere in nature to work. Even in my studio I like to be able to work outdoors. Also, when I was in Italy for 10 years, in Tuscany in Pietrasanta, an international sculpting community, it was very inspirational to work around other artists. It didn’t matter what the work was like, we all had a common comradeship. We just worked hard. Being a sculptor is really physical. In one day I could put 800 pounds of clay on a piece and that’s a lot!
Is it difficult to be a sculptor in our days?
No, it is the same as it was before. It has always been difficult, it is not more difficult now, especially as a female. When I started sculpture 40 years ago there were only a few female artists and not many that were actually using a foundry where you have to make everything. People talk about the crisis right now and I am thinking what crisis? I have always lived this way. It is like everyone is starting now to live the way I am living my life, they are all starting to understand the value of all small beautiful things in life, art, beauty and nature. So I have always lived in a crisis period! Always wondering where all the money is coming from, how will I pay the foundry and then afterwards who I will sell to. Also, in how many galleries do I have a show or an exhibition coming up. That’s the business of art. In the States, it is big business, I don’t like that part but..
How do you feel when you make a sculpture? Does it feel different in the time that you make it than in the time it is ready?
When I am sculpting, as George Megoulas, your sculptor here has said as well, you go to another level. You don’t feel the earth, the air around you, you are in another world, or you are not, you just “are”, I call it ‘the zone’. It’s fantastic. I think the same happens to a professional runner or swimmer. And then, when I finish a piece and it’s in the site I go “Oh my God, did I made that?”. I say it. I am always astounded, still today. In other arts, like music, you can get satisfaction immediately but in sculpture, for the finished product, it can take from 3 months to 10 years. It’s delayed gratification.
Do you make sculptures yourself and then you sell them or can someone place an order to you?
Both. I take commissions and I also answer and compete in competitions. Sometimes I win, many times I don’t but that’s ok, I try again. It is like Sisyphus from mythology. Sometimes there is a site with a specific theme, for example the basketball players that I did which is 12 meters. So you make a maquette and if you win you are able to produce that. But you have guidelines you have to follow, like athletes, female, in a specific place etc. You take the parts they give you to create but you can be creative with those parts. If there are three sculptors competing, each three sculptors will be totally different with the same guidelines and one wins. I also do portraits of children and grand-children and I ask what they like to do, I take photographs and many more. For example, one girl was a tomboy, so I put her hat on backwards and her foot was on a soccer ball rolling it. Her sister was a ballet dancer so I did something much different. To get the personality of each one is really important and I never do the same faces like many other artists. I do a lot of research for pieces. I was on my way to Afganistan in March, I cut all my hair to wear a “burka” because I’m still making a commission to make a 12-meter monument for female veterans in the U.S. There are 12 millions and they have never been recognized. So I was on my way to Afganistan to interview some of the women.
Was there in you life a period that you preferred not to be a sculptor?
Oh God, yes. I still say “why not a painter”? It is so much lighter and sculpture is so heavy. But of course I love it. I love the body and the possibility of what it can do. It feels like I have no choice. I’m also a pilot and a teacher but sculpture is my life, my breath.
What are you plans for the future?
After here, I’ m going to Thailand with my little sculptures that I have been working on and I will make a limited edition of the small ones and a big one. It is a commission. I’m also in an exhibition right now in North Carolina with the National Sculpture Society in which I am a member. It is the oldest sculpting society in the U.S. My “Persephone” is there.
How do you describe Corfu? Would like to come again?
Yes, I love it here. I will be back. For me Corfu is like a dream and people are so happy. In Liston,
three years ago, I remember children and people where laughing and playing everywhere. There was no fear. I like the people and the environment so much. I have the best time here and feel like home.
Thank you very much.
About Elizabeth MacQueen
«To translate the language of the body into a three dimensional reality that symbolizes the real essence of movement, expression and human dignity.» has been MacQueen’s passion as a sculptor.
Leonard Brooks, 100 years, alpha painter, author, musician in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, states, “This is a great challenge that few meet, but she has managed to do so. This continues to be her artistic goal. Whatever Elizabeth does, she does with her love of her medium whether writing, sculpting, painting or design.”
Born in Mountain Brook, Alabama, a hop over Redmont Mountain in Birmingham, MacQueen grew up under the huge shadow cast by the 56 foot monumental sculpture, Vulcan, is the god of beneficial and hindering fire, representing the city’s steel industry in the last two centuries. She was regaled with haunting stories of her great grandfather who was one of the CEOs of the Sloss Sheffield Steel Mill.
Hidden in her DNA was primordial molten metal waiting to be discovered.
Involved in the arts of dance, set design, piano, choreography as well as being a champion athlete, Elizabeth’s mother decided to help her narrow these many talents into focus and took her to the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida, to see its art program. Looking at her first European life-size sculptures surrounding the grounds and atop the grand columns and arches, MacQueen expressed her overwhelming inspiration to her mother;
“If I can create just one of these then my life will have been worthwhile.”
What she did not understand then, but would come to realize a few short years later, is one was not enough.
After graduating from Los Angeles City College LACC, MacQueen aided by an academic scholarship went to the University of California at Los Angeles, UCLA, where she graduated with a degree from Dickson Art Center in Sculpture, Painting and Design. She continued on in UCLA’s Graduate School of Education. Feeling the graduate program was not addressing her goals and desires, she moved to the international sculpting community of Pietrasanta, Italy, snuggled at the base of the Alpininne Mountains where Michelangelo’s Marmo di Bianco Puro was quarried 500 years earlier for his Pieta and David. There she was privileged to work and break bread with the Italian artigiani and well known sculptor/artists such as Isamu Noguchi whom she hosted with Giorgio Angeli at his home and Labortorio while also sharing a studio with Noguchi during his creation of his La Biennale di Venezia pieces in 1986.
As a former ballet teacher and dancer, MacQueen chose models from the community of dance in each of the 8 countries in which she resided. “Dancers can hold a pose, don’t complain, know when to shake out their bodies and resume the position perfectly,” Through dance and the years of reflection in the mirror at the dance studio, MacQueen lived the understanding of human anatomy in movement. It is love of this uniqueness, revealed in each individuals body transferred into her sculptures, that excites and continues to fascinate Elizabeth MacQueen and her collectors.
Governors of her native Alabama have recognized MacQueen for influencing the cultural heritage of her cradle state. One Governor sought MacQueen’s talent for a Civil War Memorial. Wynton Blount, Post Master General under President Nixon, was introduced to MacQueen and recognized her unique talent and immediately commissioned her for a first life-size piece for the Alabama Shakespeare Theatre/Carolyn Blount Theatre in Montgomery, Alabama. She executed this piece, MUDRA, in Brussels while working with Maurice Bejart and his company, Ballet du XXieme Siecle as she sculpted Jorge Donn, principal dancer.
Monuments and various works by MacQueen are seen in France, Costa Rica, Italy, Germany, Canada, through out the USA, Mexico, Belgium and Tunisia.
Elizabeth MacQueen is listed in Women in California History from San Luis Obispo County. Photos and articles of her work have been placed in the San Luis Obispo, California Time Capsule, to be opened in 2100.