Stone has a timeless quality to it that many people find not only interesting, but compelling as well. Stone etching is an art form that puts shapes and figures into a surface that will last the ages. This combining of art with stone isn't anything new; cultures have been doing it for centuries. It is really as old as art itself. Whether it be ancient Greek sculptures, Byzantine relics, Chinese engravings, or Olmec figures, stone is the medium of choice for many societies around the globe. When canvas, wood, plastics, and other perishable materials have long since departed, the works in stone will likely remain.
The timelessness of stone etching is probably one of the biggest reasons artists are drawn to it. But there are other reasons as well. In a recent conversation with artist Richard Bulman, of Bellingham, Washington, I learned that he prefers to work in stone because of its natural and varied surface. The textures and shapes in each stone surface are unique. Once the stone "speaks" to him, he commits to the figure or picture he has in mind, (or the one that reveals itself to him), to the surface. By etching along a natural line in the stone, or by shading here and there, he draws an image out of the stone, often with striking results.
I suppose there is a comfort in working with stone material, rather than forcing one's will upon it. Taking this gentler, more subtle approach elevates stone etching into a true art form. Anyone can grab a chisel and start hacking away at a rock. Even computerized sand blasting equipment or water jets are employed to etch in stone. But there is something unique and special about taking the personal and hands-on approach that Bulman prefers.
Being able to connect with the stone and really look at it allows the artist to discover its unique beauties and potential. Bulman is not frustrated if a certain piece of stone doesn't reveal itself to him immediately. Instead, he is content to set it aside and come back to it another day. Eventually, the stone will reveal its secrets and a stone etching can commence.
Bulman works primarily in slate. This is a permanent surface for his stone etching, and one that he prefers. I was especially struck with the way he elevates the human form by tastefully depicting it in his art. This does credit to not only our common humanity, but to the sensitivity and passion of this particular artist. Our society has become very good at debasing and objectifying the human body. Rather than going that route, Bulman skillfully etches each figure with love and skill. You can tell from each etching he does, that he really cares about his work.
My particular favorite Bulman stone etching piece is Atlas 1. This shows the classic male figure supporting a large round world on his left shoulder. It is a depiction of idealized perfection that captures the essence of my own vanity I suppose. The impact that the strength and power of the figure itself portrays, is second only to the way Bulman brings out the detail, depth, lighting, and presence of the slate itself. It is impressive to say the least, and I am glad it will be around forever.