There is a famous and almost certainly incorrect quote by Michelangelo that goes something like, “a statue exists inside every block of stone, and it is the artist’s task to find it.” While this process of discovery used to involve hammer and chisel, for New York sculptor Barry X Ball, it looks like a sprawling stoneyard, twin twenty ton bridge cranes, 3D scanners and modeling, computer-controlled milling and a diamond robot wire saw.
When we speak about Ball’s passion for preserving the medium, he tells me, “I think it’s strange that there’s a millennia-old tradition that has all but vanished.” How could this have happened? Barry doesn’t beat around the bush, “It’s a pain to work with.” He points me towards a time-lapse of one of his best known works, a reinterpretation of the 1562 statue Saint Bartholomew Flayed, done in stunning French Rouge du Roi marble. Between scanning, modeling, milling and polishing, with his team of twenty, Ball tells me, “this one took about ten thousand hours.” Through his state of the art artisanship, Ball has helped to breathe new life into the field of figurative sculpture.
Born in 1955 in Southern California, Ball moved to New York in his early twenties to pursue his career as a painter. It wasn’t until a decade later that technology started finding its way into his practice. “My former college buddy worked for Apple, and there was a program called Apple Seed where they were giving computers to a few artists and saying, ‘what can you do with them?’…[that’s when] I caught the digital wave.” This new passion led him to the Seward Johnson Atelier, who were creating a stone division for their world class art fabrication facility, eventually going on to explore this intersection of sculpture and tech in his own Greenpoint studio.
Ball’s latest body of work, a series of sculptural NFTs, minted in collaboration with LG, debuted at Frieze Los Angeles this past week. Where many artists have found it difficult to translate their work to the web3-something-or-other, Ball has managed to use the digital realm to push the boundaries of his practice. As he explains, “When I’m working in stone, I’m working from the outside of the block. I’m working on the exterior of a masse and [with this] I had the idea of building something from the core out…things I can’t do in the real world.” A new phase in Ball's practice, the project is an exciting look into the future of a field he has helped bring back into the spotlight.