Marsha Brook’s sculpture of Beatrice Wood

Marsha Brook has enjoyed a successful career as a sculptor, and she has dedicated the rest of her career to sculpting portraits of people who work to improve society. She’ll discuss this during an exclusive demonstration at the Plein Air Convention & Expo (PACE) next month in San Diego.

Brook will work on a portrait bust at PACE, under the auspices of the National Sculpture Society, a group that is making a new push to raise awareness about sculpture and reignite interest in the art form. “I’ll begin the bust before the demo and bring it with me and continue there with a live model,” Brook says. “I usually spend many hours before a sitting, working with photographs. Of course, the time at the convention to demo is limited, so I’ll bring it in semi-completed.”

Her work is currently on view at the WorldBeat Center’s gallery in Balboa Park in San Diego, in an exhibition titled “Portraits of Social Conscious and Activists.” It includes sculptures of Paul Robeson, Ben Vereen, Maya Angelou, and Harry Belafonte. “The focus there is on African-Americans who have made a contribution,” Brook says. “I came to the realization that if there is a sufficient number of us to hope that we can improve the situation in the world, then it will make a difference. I discovered that most people of this generation and back to my generation are not aware of the ‘heroes and sheroes,’ as Maya Angelou said. I decided to dedicate my life to doing as many portraits as possible of these heroes. It’s very important to have hope.”

Brook’s bas relief of Harry Belafonte
Brook’s bas relief of Harry Belafonte

She goes on, “The other thing that has motivated me so strongly at this point in my career is the realization that diversity has become an issue in our country, and diversity is the finest example of nature’s creativity. We have stayed alive as a species because of that diversity. Unfortunately, we have distorted this diversity. Artists are set upon to make the rest of the world aware of what it means to be human and appreciate the diversity.”

Brook says she is very glad that her art form is one that allows the blind to experience her expression. “My aim is to educate and create visual reminders to inspire,” she says. ‘With my busts and bas reliefs, the blind can touch the faces of these heroes and sheroes and come to know them as an inner vision. That’s my hope.”

Not many artists sculpt on location outdoors — not many at all. But careful attention to Brook’s artistic approach can enrich a plein air painter. Sculptors can use patina to add color to their work, but their primary tool is light, and how it creates values to make a picture out of the thoughtfully created planes of the sculpture. Additionally, a sculptor must think about how a piece looks from nearly every angle. Rotate a piece a few degrees, and you have a different experience. Understanding the impact of various planes in a subject matter can greatly enhance the sense of depth and veracity in a painting.

Brook’s sculpture of Ben Vereen
Brook’s sculpture of Ben Vereen
Another view of Brook’s sculpture of Ben Vereen
Another view of Brook’s sculpture of Ben Vereen

Brook is excited about the Plein Air Convention for the reason most participating artists are: It’s a chance to mingle with others working in art, but from different perspectives. “Being amongst artists of all genres is important,” she says. Those who chat with Brook or witness her demo will undoubtedly be enchanted by her connection with her subjects, and her dedication to expressing the human spirit. Her recent bas relief of Harry Belafonte had Brook thinking about her process and her subject’s significance.

“When I am preparing and engaged in the sculpture, I am touching Harry, touching the surface of his form,” Brook says. “I see the planes of light as they hit his face and I’m moved by his words. While I’m looking at all the photographs of him, I hear him —YouTube has been a wonderful resource. With YouTube, I can see my subjects moving and hear them, immersing myself in their words and thoughts and personality as best I can. I’m getting something out of it, and people can hopefully get that same thing from my sculpture.

“In the case of Harry Belafonte, I have a sense of him, of his wisdom and his age. He spent a lifetime as a magnificent artist and also a magnificent activist. I wanted to express Harry Belafonte as a very vigorous activist. I chose about age 85, so what I’m attempting with him is a bas relief that might not be identified as Harry Belafonte right away, because with age, things change. He is so much more than the man who sang ‘Day-O.’ I want people to hear his activism, and maybe they would be more likely to see that if I depict him as an older gentleman. I want them to see the wisdom and the sophistication and the handsomeness.”

Brook seems enormously pleased with her current path. She has plans to show activists of all backgrounds, and one can bet she will infuse all the sculptures with a sense of her own dedication. “The key to anyone’s life is having a purpose,” says Brook. “When you can do purposeful work, your life is good.”

Time is running out on the chance to join this amazing artist at the biggest gathering of plein air artists in the world. Brook will be teaching at the Plein Air Convention & Expo, which will be held April 24-28 in San Diego, California. Have you seen the list of faculty members who will be instructing participants? It also includes Jeremy Lipking, Quang Ho, James Gurney, Charlie Hunter, and dozens more. The convention is almost filled. Go here to learn more and to register for PACE.

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