VIDEO: Cedar and the Saw with Ursula von Rydingsvard

BROOKLYN, NEW YORK — German-born sculpture artist Ursula von Rydingsvard openly champions the “soft, sensuous” qualities of cedar wood—a wood she uses almost exclusively in her practice. The 71-year-old has worked with the material for decades, spotlighting the ability to transform its surface, under the unique direction of her circular saw, into a nearly fabric-like material.

“Our use of the circular saw is very unorthodox. The way we cut is like nibbling. We nibble away almost as though it were an animal of sorts,” says von Rydingsvard, who now draws on the surface of the boards before passing them off to studio assistants. “It’s the way that I get the surfaces to look as organic as they look. I don’t think one will see a straight line in any of the cuts. We have just real acrobatics that we do with the circular saw.”

The soft-spoken sculptor has spent the last thirty years chipping away in her adopted home of Brooklyn. After leaving her Williamsburg studio on South 5th Street, she has been in Bushwick for more than a decade.

“Brooklyn has been a little bit like a rough mother that provided me with sanctuaries that were incredibly important for the making of my work, for the creating of my work,” she told Blouin ARTINFO during a recent visit to her studio.  

It’s fitting that her first permanent commission in the borough will be installed later this month outside of the very visible entrance to the new Barclays Center. “Ona,” a nearly 20-foot sculpture, was created to scale first in cedar, then cast in bronze. We were on hand as the craftspeople at Polich Tallix foundry in Rock Tavern, New York were working to complete the process. “Ona,” whose title, according to the artist, references the female form, was cast mostly in sand, leaving about twenty percent to be cast in a lost-wax process. It was then welded back together before von Rydingsvard finished the piece with a colorful, labor-intensive patina to bring life to the surface. 

“I feel really happy to be a permanent visible part on the outside of a portion of Brooklyn,” she says. “And, to have a sculpture that is made of bronze, it has a durability. They tell me it should last 2,000 years.” 

Up next, von Rydingsvard has an extensive exhibition opening at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in April, which will feature many indoor and outdoor sculptures outside of the UK museum. She will also have a large pounded-copper installation, comprised of more than 3,500 individual sections, outside of the new Andlinger research center at Princeton University.

You can read more about von Rydingsvard in the September 2013 issue of Modern Painters.