By Sandra Marshall
Patrick Imai carves stone bears.
His passion for art matches his enthusiasm for travel. He served 34 years with the Canadian Armed Forces and has been to all provinces of Canada. Having visited over 48 countries on five continents, so why does he specialize in stone bear carving?
While living in Rome, Patrick was moved by its great sculptures and was captured by Bernini’s and Michelangelo’s abilities to make stone come alive. In nearby Carrara he took a workshop in carving a new stone – marble.
Over his lifetime, he has experimented in many artistic media and all types of glasswork, but he has been hooked on carving stone bears – elegant or whimsey, depending on what the stone tells him it should become. It was in his youth that Patrick began to whittle wood as a pastime and developed his skill as a wood carver. A stampede theme of bronco riding tested his wood carving abilities while Calgary was home. Then In Quebec City, Patrick’s interest in stone carving was piqued by delightful Inuit soapstone dancing bears. He was intrigued by their liveliness and challenged himself to learn soapstone carving. By roaming the internet, he learned these techniques and enthusiastically explored that material before working in other soft stones. Patrick carved bears at first because they had drawn him to stonework. He loves the soft curves that make his stone sculpture so appealing. Carving bears is a passion that focuses his attention and takes him to an inner place. After trying to carve other subjects, he found the soft stone did not hold small details and he returned to carving bears with their smooth round forms. We often imbue animals with human characteristics. Building on this association, Patrick evokes human emotions and movement in some of his pieces.In others, he seeks to capture the grace and majesty of the bears. He has highlighted the tragedy of shrinking arctic ice and climate change in several works but does not see his artwork as a political statement. Patrick loves the process and thanks those who acquire his sculptures.
More recently in a cruise port in Alaska, a small bear carved in selenite was spied. Sunlight illuminated the little bear’s movement in the gleaming crystalline stone. Patrick was intrigued, so after the cruise, he searched for selenite pieces large enough to carve. Although it is a challenging stone to carve, its shimmering whiteness makes it a perfect material for carving polar bears.
Patrick’s work in many other mediums helps him to integrate them into his stone sculpture. Glass fish, Muskoka chairs and wooden kayak paddles have served as whimsical props for his humanised bears. He is always on the lookout for other materials to integrate into his sculptures.
Patrick has plenty of stone waiting to inspire him to carve. At times he has an idea and searches for the right stone. When idea and stone converge, carving begins. First, he rough cuts the stone with a hand saw or angle grinder, then hand files and rasps to shape the stone. The process requires a lot of sanding – first dry sanding, then wet sanding and polishing using different grits of abrasive. The final finish is usually a hot wax – Patrick oven heats the stone, and then applies paraffin wax to it. After cooling, he buffs with a soft cloth to give it a satiny finish. At any point in the process, even after waxing, if dissatisfied, Patrick may rework the carving and repeat the process. Until the work is signed, it is not finished.
Patrick’s favorite part of the process is the wet sanding- when the stone reveals its true colours and character. This is the point when the stone comes alive. The rough carving start is his least favorite activity. Although he is enthused to capture his original idea, he also sees other possibilities in the stone as he works.
Aficionados of his work may have tried their hands at these techniques during his many workshops, such as those as the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa. His carving workshop is also a popular event at the fall Sculpture Show of the National Capital Network of Sculptors at Lansdowne Park. His fans also appreciate his participation in the annual Canadian Stone Carving Festival which raises funds for the Ottawa Innercity Ministries.
His future plans include taking the challenge of tackling hard stone– jade, lapis lazuli and fluorite which involve messy wet grinding. He also looks toward making larger outdoor pieces in harder stone.
For people who may wish to take up sculpture, Patrick recommends workshops. He suggests trying different mediums to find a connection with your personal affinities. Workshops are a way to experience different mediums without the cost or burden of the tools or special equipment. You will also get insight and discover tricks of the trade from an experienced artist. All in all, you will have a better experience, saving time and frustration.
Join a group, like the National Capital Network of Sculptors, where there is a range of artists working in different mediums, using different techniques and are at different points in their artistic endeavours from hobby to professional.
Patrick Imai’s work can be seen on his website www.patrickimai.ca,
His Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/patrick.imai.1
The National Capital Network of Sculptors https://www.facebook.com/SculptureOttawa/
The Gordon Harrison Gallery http://gordonharrisongallery.com/artist/patrick-imai/#btn_readmore