Brother Ralph Bucci: “Closed Vessels, Dolmens, -scapes” Exhibit to Remain in O’Malley Library Until Thanksgiving

by Alexa Schmidt, A&E Editor & Managing Editor

You may have noticed the art installation in O’Malley Library and wondered who made the sculptures, or where they came from. Ralph Bucci, F.S.C., who works in the Center for Career Development, is the face behind “Closed Vessels, Dolmens, -scapes,” which arrived on Oct. 5 and will remain on view until Thanksgiving. 

Carefully arranged on pedestals or shelves, these sculptures were meaningfully made and displayed as an invitation for others to contemplate what the artworks mean to them.

“A good piece of art invites you to go back, and every time you go back, you’ll appreciate it more,” Br. Ralph said. “If you see what you didn’t see before, or it needs something else. It’s never a static interchange.”

Alongside the art, there are also informational texts that explain the artist’s intention and process, which provides a contextual background.

Br. Ralph has his Master of fine arts from George Washington University, with a specialty in ceramic arts and ceramics. Clay is his medium of choice because he appreciates the physicality of the material, and the ability to shape it and mold it with the motion of his hands and with the help of the occasional tools. 

“I’ve been working with clay on and off for a very long time and some years I was more active than other years, and there were a few years where I did next to nothing,” Br. Ralph said, “I worked at Manhattan from ‘05 to ‘09, did no clay work. At the end of that term I was able to have a sabbatical and I did a lot of claywork based on theology study.” 

Br. Ralph’s exhibit is based on themes, the first being the messenger form. Made of stone, a piece titled “Bound” is a much heavier material than clay. This angel form was among others which Br. Ralph worked on in graduate school. 

The clay pieces, “Alight” and “Seeing Double: Wings” rely on the viewer to interpret the meaning. Br. Ralph likes that they create a basis for discussion. 

“There’s a tension that I see, the struggle or the uncertainty or the pulls and repulsions that exist within the pieces,” Br. Ralph said. “Now, what is the tension in this? Is it taking off? Or is it landing? We don’t know there’s so there’s that ambiguity, which has you continue to look. Are there signals there that say it’s one, taking off, or two, that it might be landing. The shape of the hooded face kind of indicates this sense of humility. And these wings, they can’t fly. It’s just too heavy. So he’s kind of Earthbound, but his face is the resignation to be bound.“

Br. Ralph also created what he calls, “dolmens,” which are post and lintel structures, inspired by prehistoric periods. This theme invites viewers to pass through, but they are unable to physically and metaphorically because of the narrow opening. 

“The dolmens were entry-way structures into caves, hillsides, and I guess we’re not too sure what they used them for,” Br. Ralph said. “I was fascinated by the sense of stone in the structure, the size and so I started playing with that. This is kind of a resulting evolution. So there is the invitation, and the repulsion. It looks kind of stationary and it is more or less two dimensional because you can see it from either side, but the narrow side is also kind of interesting.”

Br. Ralph’s next theme is “Closed Vessels” which almost contradicts itself. Based on the silhouette, the vessel looks like it can hold objects, but the opening is closed off. These vessels interestingly enough, sit asymmetrically on a base.

“Asymmetry is very important to me, I don’t think anything is perfect,” Br. Ralph said. “This is balanced, but it’s not a symmetrical balance. Symmetrical balance I find is a little less interesting. It’s formal, what is on the right is on the left. If you look at the contour line, it is different from that contour line. It adds some tension to the piece and makes you wonder if it will lean over, or if it’s stationary.” 

The most recent of Br. Ralph’s creations have been what he titles, “-scapes,” which are based off landscapes, hills, scapes, and mountain scapes. He applied glaze, which produces a shiny finish. Some portions of the “-scapes” were painted with enamel spray, other “-scapes” have variations of spray paint, and one “-scape” was brush-painted with acrylics. All of these methods took place before the sawdust/smoke firing process.

During the technical process of sawdust/smoke firing, enough heat is generated to burn off the paint’s medium, which allows the paints’ coloring oxides to interact with the surface of the clay. The range of colors is predictable, and sometimes dramatic. The color variation is all due to the size of the sawdust, the type of wood, and the air-flow during the “smoldering” fire. The blackened areas are the result of carbon “flashing.” The clay absorbs some of the smoke (carbon) of the “dirty” burn.

Br. Ralph is fascinated with two things: the visual texture with the differentiation of color, and the actual texture, which is present throughout the whole show. To add some color, he used acrylic paint, and others he left alone. He likes the range of colors that can appear, especially after the clay pieces are fired in the kiln. 

“I’m interested in the feeling of things,” Br. Ralph said. “It’s the visual, and the actual texture. So that people get fascinated, they learn to look kind of at the skin of the exterior of the piece. You can spend a lot of time meditating … there can be some pleasure in terms of healing, it’s visually feeling it, in both the color and the actual connection, that happens with the texture.” 

Br. Ralph uses a variety of methods to construct his sculptures, one of the most crucial being scoring, which essentially consists of scratching the surface of the clay to add texture. 

“It’s part of the welding process,” Br. Ralph said. “You scratch the surface so one piece is going to stay attached to the coil or the other slab. So then I scratch it some more. Basically, the tool that I use the most is a fork. I use the tines to do the scratching here. I use the flat handle. There are all kinds of fancy tools and sometimes I use those.”

Br. Ralph compares sculpting to having a dialogue. He rarely draws anything beforehand because he knows what direction he wants the piece to go.

“But when I want to build, I begin the dialogue,” Br. Ralph said. “And I step back and see what it suggests that I do, so that there’s a dialogue. There are times when these signs might be coming out to make a cut, and reattach, or make it narrower.”

Many of the artworks were physically created in Rhode Island, where Br. Ralph is from. He also belongs to a Yonkers art studio. However, Br. Ralph hopes to get a studio space at the college, not just for his personal use but for students as well. 

“I’d like to offer this to students,” Br. Ralph said. “You know, if some students who like to work in clay, I’m going to be there. So you’re welcome to come, I’ll give you a little instruction. And then you can get started, like a small class.”

For Br. Ralph, art allows him to get his hands dirty. When he is not creating art, he finds enjoyment in the garden. 

“There’s some connection to making forms,” Br, Ralph said. “I enjoy it. I think it is beautiful. I think these lines are very sensuous, the invitation of the form, it helps me meditate. I just enjoy doing it. It gives me pleasure.” 

For many, art can be a way to escape from the world, a response to events happening in the surrounding environment, or can serve as an outlet for personal expression. With this, comes the decision to keep art private, or share with others. Br. Ralph decided to share his art with the rest of the college community, and put his creations on the line.

“I think artists are some of the bravest people around, because they’re willing to put something very personable, out for everybody else to see,” Br. Ralph said. “There’s going to be a wide variety of responses, but you put something that’s very intimate, out.  So you take the spectrum of responses. So there is a delicacy of one’s personality. But yet willingness to put it out there and let somebody else react to it.”