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Sculptor fights through pain to reach the light in new book about artistic creation

CostanzoLuigi Costanzo, author of Sculpting Towards the Light (Pottersfield Press; $19.95), muses on life, art and light while telling the story of creating this sculpture, called Sculpting Towards the Light. He launches the book Saturday, 6:30 p.m., Italian Canadian Cultural Association,  2629 Agricola St., Halifax, and at the Musquodoboit Public Library April 25.  (Sandor Fizli) 

Luigi “Lou” Costanzo hopes his book, Sculpting Towards the Light, gets people reflecting on their own creative journey.

His highly-readable, poetic and philosophical text is woven around his struggle to carve one work out of a 200-pound block of Carrara marble.

The sculptor suffers from pain in his hands and undergoes two knee operations during this creative journey. He meditates on the nature of life and death, gardening and art, as he cuts into stone and into the trees and shrubs of his topiary garden.

This book was inspired by his diary.  For 40 years Costanzo has kept a daily journal, first as part of his job as a psychotherapist, later to record his thoughts on art, nature and life.

Six years ago he read from the journal at an art presentation. “I was blown away by the response emotionally and introspectively,” he says. “People began to talk about themselves.

“I don’t want the book to be a teaching thing; I do hope it gets people to reflect on their own lives for sure.”

This book also came to life thanks to a friend who was Costanzo’s first tai chi teacher. One day they were having coffee.  “I said, ‘I think I have this story and it’s handwritten and I don’t type.’  She said, ‘I used to be a typing teacher and I can type 90 words a minute.’ She put it into a digital format and I started playing with that.”

The book begins in January 2015 as Costanzo seeks to carve a figurative, metaphoric piece, called Sculpting Towards the Light, based on two years of journal entries. He is examining the natural cycle of life, of change and of fear of change, and, as always, exploring light and shadow literally and spiritually.

He writes: “Sculpting connects me to the life-giving force of change and surprises me with its creativity.”

Costanzo’s beliefs as an artist and a gardener are grounded in his upbringing in Scranton, Pennsylvania, by a father and mother whose parents were all from southern Italy. Costanzo’s grandparents worked in coal mines and factories and used every inch of the little land they owned for gardening.

He is particularly inspired by his grandfather Luigi. “He was uneducated. He went up to the fifth grade. He couldn’t really write very well and reading, he struggled with. He taught himself to do mechanical work on cars. He had a house lot covered in grape vines and a garden of tomatoes and vegetables and peach trees and plum trees. It was always a wonderland.

“Living in Pennsylvania, it’s like Ontario, it’s cold. He’d take this fig tree he brought over from Italy and every winter he’d dig up the roots on one side and tilt the tree parallel to the ground and cover it in straw and bury it in dirt and in the spring he would pop it back up.”

Costanzo’s grandfather believed in reusing everything. “I never got a chance to ask him if he thought it was possible to recycle emotional situations and disturbing thoughts into sculpture,” Costanzo writes.

constanzo3Lawrencetown sculptor Luigi Costanzo, whose next exhibit will include the sculpture and  book, Sculpting Towards the Light. It is at the Lunenburg Art Gallery opening Oct. 2, 5 p.m. (Sandor Fizli)

Costanzo’s sculptures start with a thought or a social interaction, he says. Often he will listen to music to conjure images. “I can really see a picture when I listen to music.”

As he listens to music he starts drawing and then models in clay before he approaches the stone.

Costanzo began working in clay and wood in 1970. In 1984 went to the Rodin Museum in Paris. “When I saw Augustus Rodin’s Carrara marble sculpture The Kiss, the sun was illuminating the couple’s kissing lips. The light penetrating the marble added significance to the kissing gesture. I was hooked . . . .,” he writes.

In this book he is faced by a 200-pound hunk of Carrara marble, an expensive, highly-prized stone. It is only the second time he’s carved this marble in his career.

“It carves beautifully. Have you ever carved wood? (Reporter answers ‘no.’ )
“Well, you’ve certainly seen bird carving. Those are usually soft pieces of pine. Sometimes people use mahogany and these woods are equivalent to Carrara. It’s hard enough to be polished and soft enough to slice and carve.”

Costanzo doesn’t agree with Michelangelo who said,  “The sculptor’s hand can only break the spell/ To free the figures slumbering in the stone.” (https://www.brainyquote.com/authors/michelangelo-quotes)

“You get so much of that saying, ‘I just let the stone speak to me.’ I don’t relate to that concept. Yes, there is a part the stone plays but clearly I have an idea I’m trying to communicate. If I am quiet in my mind I begin to see what needs to be done.”

Costanzo gets pain in his hands from using powerful tools in pruning and sculpting. “I’m 73 and I’m still climbing trees with a chainsaw,” he says, happily.

As a psychotherapist, “when I was working with children and families pain control, emotional and physical, was part of what I talked about. I practice it and in the practice of that you don’t run away from it.

“You learn to sit with it and recognize it’s not constant. It goes up and down and sometimes it goes away. In learning to be sensitive to it, it’s helped me to be a gentle carver.

“When I am teaching students they want to do it hard and fast. Trying to teach gentleness seems counter-intuitive but pain taught me that.”

Costanzo believes everyone is creative. It frustrates him when people visit his stone-carving studio and say, “I could never do that.”

One day a neighbour whose business includes working with a backhoe and excavator came to work on Costanzo’s house. On a break Costanzo sat down with him for coffee and asked him what the differences were in using different machines.

“He said, ‘The backhoe, it’s powerful, it moves stuff quick, but when I get on the excavator it’s like I’m dancing. I can make it spin and move here and there.’ And I said, ‘That’s creativity.’”

“I think everybody can do it. It does require focus and patience and a belief in yourself.”

Costanzo2The other side of Sculpting Towards the Light. (photo by Sandor Fizli)



Categories: Uncategorized

1 reply

  1. Congratulations on the book and show Lu. We’d love to be there. All the very best to you and Mona. Larry and Mady


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