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Painting with Stone

Solace in Black and White by James Bassett

"Solace in Black and White" by James C. Bassett. Slate, alabaster, ebony, mahogany

James C. Bassett is a sculptor and furniture craftsman who is one of the featured artists in the Slate as Muse National Exhibition I organized and curated for the Slate Valley Museum. As a fellow sculptor, I was intrigued by how, as a sculptor, Bassett seemed to “paint with stone.”

Both of Bassett’s pieces in the exhibition were from his Solace series which was created in response to his own need for solace after immersing himself in a series of emotionally challenging pieces entitled Games of Pain and Sorrow. “I needed to create something calm and restorative for my own peace of mind,” says the artist.

He began to experiment with painting, but found it frustrating as he had always worked primarily in stone. “I wished I could paint with stone, because I understand how to work stone,” says Bassett. “Later, I found myself wondering just what ‘painting in stone’ would be.” He created Solace in Black and White as an exploration of that concept.

Slate seemed like a natural choice for this series — the soft palette, the opacity, the shimmer, all reminded the artist of a Seattle sky in winter, which is where the artist was living at the time. “That may seem like an odd thing for solace,” says Bassett, “as it is cold and dark and drizzly — but solace is not necessarily a happy state; rather it is a somewhat dark place of respite from suffering, an absence of pain, a void that gives you the space you need to create happiness. Seattle’s skies, and by extension my Solace pieces, promote (at least for me) a withdrawal, an introspection that can lead to a very private place of healing.”

Solace of a Wounded Heart I was the first piece where Bassett began incorporating natural twigs into the Solace series. “I was immediately drawn to the contrast of the rectangular pieces of slate and the wild, natural wood,” says the artist. “I think the element of wildness, the randomness inherent in the growth of a twig, adds far more to these pieces than I could ever create on my own, and it is closer to my original concept for Solace, which was to create something calm and restorative for my own peace of mind.”

Solace of a Wounded Heart I by James C. Bassett

"Solace of a Wounded Heart I" by James C. Bassett. Slate, hawthorn twig, mahogany, brass

The first pieces of slate for this series were leftovers from a home renovation project. “I used them up quickly,” says Bassett. “Between the saw kerf and what I discarded after trimming pieces to length so they fit together, more than half of the slate I started with ended up as wastage! I later started buying more from flooring specialty stores as they have a much better range of colors, textures, and patterns than the big-box home improvement stores. The slate costs more there, but it’s worth it to be able to get such a beautiful selection of stone.”

“Slate is certainly not what comes to mind when most people think of stone sculpture,” says the artist, “but many artists have used it, perhaps most notably Isamu Noguchi. I have always preferred working in stone because it is so hard and unyielding; it creates a real dialogue in the way it asserts itself, unlike clay or paint or even wood. Slate is very different from alabaster or marble, but in its own way it demands even more attention and care because it is relatively fragile (especially when cutting it into small pieces) – it crumbles, it delaminates. It is easy to get into a rhythm when carving marble and start working on autopilot, letting your mind drift, but because of slate’s delicacy you have to give it your full attention the entire time you are working with it.

For more information on James Bassett and his work, visit his website at: James C. Bassett



Slate as Muse is a 5-month national exhibition at the Slate Valley Museum, curated by Serena Kovalosky and organized by Artful Vagabond Productions. The exhibition challenged artists from throughout the United States to push the boundaries of how slate is perceived today. Nineteen artists present twenty-seven works of art not only in sculpture, but in painting, photography and mixed media.

Slate as Muse will continue at the museum through November 7, 2014 and the public is invited to the Closing Reception and Awards Ceremony. Since the show’s opening in June, visitors have cast their votes for their favorite artwork and an Awards Ceremony will announce the winners of the People’s Choice and the Slate as Muse awards. Many of the Slate as Muse artists will be available to answer questions and share their insights into their work.

Slate Valley Museum
17 Water Street
Granville, New York

To read more from this series on the Slate as Muse Exhibition,

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