Michael Hazani, a software engineer and virtual reality designer had a dream. He wanted to work with marble. So, when his long term partner Tricia Katz, a software engineer and digital artist, came across this VAWAA with award winning Stone Sculptor Julio and Paola they knew that wherever in the world Julio and Paola were, they simply had to travel there to learn from them. A few months later, Michael and Tricia found themselves leaving their home in Seattle, and their cat Nyx, to travel to Zacualpan de Amilpas, Mexico to dedicate seven days to working with stone.
Tricia tells us, “Paola picked us up from the airport and drove us to Julio’s family house, so the very first introduction to Mexico was meeting Julio’s Mom. So, we had a good understanding of how he grew up, his inspirations. He had a lot of early stone work at his Mother’s house, in her garden and throughout her house. It was things he had made in the last thirty years. We had breakfast with Paola and his mother, which gave us a lot of comfort. He has an incredibly artful family, you look around his family house and you see drawings from his daughter, and you see things that Paola has created, and they all draw, they all sculpt, they all make things, it's really fascinating. So we went from there, and we went to a larger kind of stone exhibit where we first met Julio”.
Michael adds “It helps to be in a small town because we had some brilliant architectural tours and fun experiences in the town, but really, there's nothing to do there but it [carve stone], it was very distraction free. Julio said, ‘Look - I have a stone work studio, I have the assistants, come learn stone work for a week, I am giving this week to you, if you want to fill it with stone work there's no start or end time’. It’s just unlimited access to this incredible resource that we would never have had access to otherwise, and so I think it really lent itself to very intensive workdays. We definitely set out to do something overly ambitious for a week, and we all knew that. So we were all really incentivised to work a lot, but it never felt crunched. It always had the bliss of just doing a lot of really really fun, and good work”.
Michael and Tricia are both engineers and digital artists. For his day job Michael does a lot of work in virtual and augmented reality. His digital 3D experience really lent itself to concepting in stone. Using a gaming engine, he designed his stone sculpture prior to arriving in Zacualpan de Amilpas. Michael laughs, “I don’t know that it’s very common among stone artists, but I felt like it definitely helped me flesh out what I wanted to do, and helped us discuss it, and gave Julio an idea of what we wanted to do, and helped us reason about it”.
“We arrived with these preconceived notions, and Julio was pretty open to this, this was not a traditional process for stone at all, but Julio totally understood it, liked it and understood what we wanted to do from the beginning. Then, we started this iterative process of agreeing on dimensions and sizes and stone. Before tech I was a writer and producer for half a decade and I did a lot of collaborations. I know a good collaboration when I see it. This is one of the best collaborations I ever had. Julio was both so receptive to what we wanted to do, and so incredibly into the ideas he had that really played into it and made it better, it felt like a really rare collaboration, and with Tricia, not to underplay..I collaborate way more often with Tricia and she is my favorite collaborator…” (Tricia laughs).. “So she added an immense value in really fleshing out what arguably the centerpiece was going to be, the statue, which in a way was what this was all about and I couldn't be happier about this result”.
Tricia adds, “The fascinating thing about Julio and this piece is Julio's sculptures are very curvy. He likes rounded edges, and things that are very smooth..and Michael is very geometric. So I think Julio said ‘Listen I can get Tricia, I can understand, we have sort of the same design vibes’, but Michael I think, sort of challenged him, and he challenged Michael. So the really fun thing about it is I think we ended the week and we really thought it was three artists coming together vs. a mentor to people. We absolutely had the mentorship, and we all sort of took something away from this collaboration.”
Julio’s words “Stone is a kind material, stone will forgive you, and whatever you do can be fixed”. For first time stone sculptors, this approach allowed for room for creative freedom, confidence and the beauty of a ‘mistake’, becoming a part of the creative process.
“It’s interesting”, Tricia adds, “Two things can happen. You make a mistake, and you've got to sort of change your design, or sometimes you also just get a piece of stone that isn't the shape that you had in mind. I had a leftover piece of marble, and the marble had a really sharp sort of dagger into it. I was about to cut it off, and Julio said 'no no no don't cut it off, you shouldn’t cut it off, you should use it and make it part of the art'. He always has this belief that, one - sometimes you just mess up and that shape becomes a part of the design. Two - sometimes you just have to look at what the stone is telling you it has to be, and wants to be, and you have to go with that.
Demonstrating how his marble sculpture perhaps looks laser cut in photos, Michael points to a chipped corner, adding, “It reminds me a lot of Japanese wabi sabi, the aesthetic of embracing imperfection, and just because it’s marble, and marble has these connotations of ancient classical platonic ideal art, that’s not the case. Its stone, and stone is imperfect and the people making it are even more imperfect, and I think learning to embrace the imperfection in the process, in a way I didn't think I would ever have to do with stone, was a huge learning opportunity for me".