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 Saint Clair Cemin  (1951 - )

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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: decorative and figurative sculpture, design

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Saint Clair Cemin
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
"Monumental Sculpture"
An interview with Saint Clair Cemin
By Amy Chaiklin

Saint Clair Cemin is an artist who has fabricated sculptures out of bronze, plaster, marble, steel, and wood. As varied as the materials, so is the scale from table-top height to towering out-door fountains and statues. His interest in public sculpture started in the early nineteen-nineties with his first public-art commission Mercury Fountain(1990) for a town square in Reston, Virginia. In nineteen-ninety-six, the bronze version of Hood Ornament(1996) was purchased by Grounds for Sculpture for permanent installation at their museum and sculpture park in Hamilton, New Jersey.  Recently, three commissions for monumental scale bronze sculptures were installed in permanent out-door public sites around the world, Tree(2000) in Bergen, Norway, Spring(2000) in Bastad, Sweden, and Open(2000-2001) in Schamburg, Illinois.

When the town of Reston, Virginia desired a public fountain for the town square they organized a committee and invited artists to submit proposals to a jury.  Saint Clair Cemin, who is known for his bronze and marble sculptures that combine abstract and figurative elements, won the competition with his proposal, Mercury Fountain(1990), which stands twenty-seven-and-a-half feet tall.  A bronze classical statue depicting Mercury, the mythological winged-footed messenger, stands posed for flight atop a carved marble column.  Encircling the column are twelve decorative bronze elements resembling abstracted horns or seashells, from which water cascades into a 9 x 10 foot basin carved from a single piece of marble and then overflows into several levels of collecting pools at the base of the fountain.

When the hydrocal sculpture Hood Ornament(1995) was presented at Robert Miller Gallery in New York, it's grand scale of eleven-foot high by eleven-foot wide and four-feet in depth took up the entire floor space of the exhibition room.  Cemin had fabricated Hood Ornament out of cardboard triangles and squares affixed to a simple wooden armature and reinforced on the exterior with hydrocal.  Using the cardboard form as a mold, he cut it in half and cast the inside in white hydrocal.  All of the seams where the cardboard sections had been joined and even the tears in the cardboard material were visible.  When the piece was cast in bronze at Johnson Atelier, the many faceted surface caught and reflected light off the metal in an interesting way. The bronze version of Hood Ornament(1996) stands surrounded by a field of green grass at the out-door sculpture park at Grounds for Sculpture.

After the experience of casting Hood Ornament in bronze, Cemin was interested to continue to fabricate large scale out-door public artworks.  In nineteen-ninety-nine, the opportunity came in the form of three separate commissions.  Over the next two years, Cemin designed, had fabricated, and installed three bronze sculptures of the monumental scale, which were each destined for a different city around the world.  All three projects were realized by the artist at foundries in China.  For an artist who lives and works in New York, China is on the other side of the world. So why China?

Cemin clarifies that in nineteen-ninety-nine while visiting the Beijing Fine Art Institute in China, he met Li-Gang, a young artist who introduced him to the model-making studio and foundries that cast bronze sculptures of an epic proportion.  Cemin learned that for the last century China has had excellent experience in fabricating gigantic public monuments.  To this day, the Chinese foundries employ traditional model-making methods that were perfected in nineteenth-century France.  These techniques were passed from France to Russia and then onto China, arriving just after the Chinese Revolution.

Cemin, who already had the designs completed and approved for the two public art commissions for sites in Norway and Sweden, understood the value of fabricating his proposed large-scale sculptures in China.  He hired Li-Gang as his on-site assistant and translator, and began working immediately.  From the artist's specifications two models were started out of clay over a steel and wood structure.  As the project progressed over the next few months, Cemin made several visits over to China, twice to work on the clay models, and again to oversee the bronze finishing.

One commission was for the Telenor Corporation, in Bergen, Norway.  Through the Galerie Lars Bohman in Stockholm, which represents Cemin's work in Sweden, the artist was introduced to Claes Söderquist, who organized the connection to the Telenor Corporation. The Telenor commission was for a sculpture designed specifically for a twenty-five meter site on the grounds of the new Telenor building in Bergen, Norway.  When the artist visited the site in Bergen he was impressed by the surrounding view of pine trees.  In his design, Cemin considered the color, form, and scale of the sculpture to echo the Norwegian woods, and reference the World Tree, Yggdrasil of Norwegian mythology. Tree (2000), stands majestically tall, weights four-and-a-half tons, and the bronze is finished with a green patina.

Material and scale can greatly effect the feeling of an artwork.  For example, in 1998 Cemin completed a group of marble carving that were exhibited at Galerie Lars Bohman.  Included in this group were Tree and Woman (1998), both carvings are approximately thirty-eight inches in height. The marble Tree (1998) sits as a solid mass on a square base, with layer of leaves forming a crown-like shape. The out-door bronze sculpture Tree ( 2000) raises from a ten-foot base to a towering twenty-six-foot height. Reaching towards the sky the form twists and turns as it spirals up to a pinnacle.

The surface markings on the marble carving Woman (1998) seem to caress the statue from head to toe, while she stands perfectly still. Her whole body is formed from a single mass, with no definition of the arms, face, or legs.  A year later Cemin produced another sculpture of the female image, this time out of bronze, entitled Order and Progress (1999). I n the bronze a large woman carries a smaller woman atop her head. The features of the two woman are more defined and there is a more fluid movement to the body, as if caught in mid-stride. It seems that when translating from marble into bronze there comes a lighter and more elongated form.

A much larger version of Order and Progress (1999), was later fabricated in bronze and re-named Spring (2000) for Cemin's second public-art commission for the town of Bastad, Sweden.  The commission came about because the Swedish artist Peter Frie who lives in Bastad knew that there was to be a competition to design a public fountain for the town plaza.  Peter Frie recommended Cemin for the project.  Cemin proposed to enlarge the existing sculpture Order and Progress from forty-six inches to twelve-foot in height and transform the statue into a fountain by having a small stream of water emanate from the hand of the smaller woman who sits atop the larger woman.  From that height the water gently arches outward and forms a small pool just at the larger woman's feet.

When Cemin enlarged the figure from fourty-six inches to twelve-foot in height, he altered the texture and refined curtain details. There are rough marking all over the surface of Order and Progress giving the illusion that the fabric which drapes the larger figure is of the same material as the skin. In Spring, the women's skin is smoother and the fabric folds are deeper.  This allegorical statue stands with courage and strength in the center of the town of Bastad, as if Winter would be carrying Spring on it's shoulders.

Both Tree and Spring were being worked on at the same time in the Beijing model making studio.  At any given time there was a crew of fifteen people working on both projects. The photographs of Tree were taken at the foundry in China, showing the crew that worked on the casting.  When the finished clay models for both pieces were approved by Cemin, the second step was to make the plaster mold.  A plaster positive was cast and the clay model was destroyed.  The final model going to the foundry was a plaster sculpture, which was transported by truck four hours from the model studio in Beijing to the foundry in the Hebei province.

This particular foundry was an expert at bronze sand casting. Each detail meant a separate piece, resulting in over twenty sand molds just for the woman's head of Spring. The sand casting for both pieces took two months. Cemin went back to China to inspect the finished pieces which he found to be perfect, and then the sculptures were trucked to a port where each sculpture was sent on a boat, Tree to Norway, and Spring to Sweden.

Open (2000-2001), was the third sculpture to be fabricated in China.  Carrie Secrist Gallery of Chicago, Illinois arranged the meeting between the artist and the Motorola Corporation.  Cemin proposed an enormous bronze sculpture which stands eighteen-and-half feet high like a giant rectangular doorway or frame.  Within this framework are four cut-out shapes.  Fluid bronze ribbons surround open spaces which represent abstracted images of an antenna, bird, bridge, and a woman holding a shell to her ear. This five-and-a-half ton artwork was bronze cast in five pieces, welded together and then cut in half for transportation by boat from the foundry in China to the United States.  Once in Illinois the sculpture was welded back together and installed with local finishers from Chicago.

Saint Clair Cemin thinks seriously about perspective.  He realizes that large-scale public sculpture ideally is meant to be seen from a distance.  More often than not there are too many obstacles like automobiles, buildings, or trees, which get in the way of a clear long range view. As an artist fabricating monumental public art, Cemin is keenly aware of the fact that artworks seen in a public setting are often viewed from a foreshortened perspective.  Conscience of this fact, Cemin considers the sculpture from up-close, from a few feet away, and then again from twenty feet in the distance.  Most importantly to make sure that the image holds it's shape from any vantage point.


This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Sculptor Saint Clair Cemin works with an extensive range of materials and techniques- from carving to building mixed media- establishing a repertoire of effects from subtlety to overstatement.  A testimony to his reputation as a skilled creative designer is his commission in 2008, of being in charge of designing "all the new brozne fittings, light fixtures, stair rails and decorative panels for the reovate Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature in Paris."

A Brazilian artist who has spent much of his career in New York City, he does work that has been hailed as "refreshing in its lack of pretense."  Exhibition venues include Boston's Fogg Museum and the Center for Curatorial Studies at Bard College.

He was born in 1951 in Alta Cruz, Brazil, and he studied at the Ecole Nationale Superiore des Beaux Arts, in Paris, France.  Cemin uses a range of traditional materials: stone, iron, wood, bronze, marble and terra-cotta, with a variety of techniques that include direct carving, modeling and the creation of mixed-media works.  The scale of his semi-figurative/abstract sculptures explores table-top height to towering out-door fountains and statues.

His interest in public sculpture began in 1990 with his first public-art commission, Mercury Fountain, for a town square in Reston, Virginia.  In 1996, the bronze version of Hood Ornament was purchased by Grounds for Sculpture for permanent installation at their museum and sculpture park in Hamilton, New Jersey.  In 2000, three monumental bronze sculptures were installed in public sites: "Tree", in Bergen, Norway; Spring, in Bastad, Sweden; and Open, in Schamburg, Illinois.  All three projects were cast by foundries in China.

In 1999, Cemin, while visiting the Beijing Fine Art Institute in China, met Li-Gang, a young artist who introduced him to the model-making studio and foundries with century-long experience in monumental bronzes.  He hired Li-Gang as his on-site assistant and translator.  Two models were begun of clay over a steel and wood armature.  As these sculptures progressed, Cemin returned several times to China to work on the models and oversee the bronze finishing.

In 1995, he received the Biennial Award and Purchase Prize from the Ueno Royal Museum, Tokyo and the Hakone Open-Air Museum, Japan.

Some collections include:

Eli Broad Family Foundation, Los Angeles, CA
Emily Fisher Landau Collection, Long Island City, NY
Chase Manhattan Bank, NY
FNAC (Fonds National d'Art Contemporain), Paris, France
Museo de Arte Contemporaneo, Monterrey, Mexico
Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA
Reston Town Center, Reston, VA
Rooseum, Stockholm, Sweden
Hakone Open-Air Museum, Japan
Whitney Museum of American Art, NY

1995 The Ueno Royal Museum, Tokyo and the Hakone Open-Air Museum, Japan
1995 Biennial Award and Purchase Prize

Brook Adams, "After the Hunt", Art in America, February 2008, p. 131

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