Go to Homepage   Clayburn Moore: The Shape of Passion

 
Clayburn Moore (photo courtesy Clayburn Moore)

The science fiction and fantasy art world long treated sculptors like the proverbial red-headed stepchild. Two-dimensional artists can get work beyond the art show and gallery circuit as illustrators or graphic designers. Sculptors usually find themselves limited to shows or galleries where only a few ever get to appreciate their work. But thanks to sculptors like Clayburn Moore, that attitude has started to change.

I first met Moore, one of the few sculptors exhibiting science fiction work in the Southwest, in the 'Eighties while running an art show in Dallas, Texas. It was his first convention art show, but everyone who saw his piece -- done in wax because he couldn't afford to cast it -- hoped it would not be his last. The piece won Best in Show and broke all existing show records for the price brought by a single piece. It thrilled the show's organizers to present a piece of such quality in the show, but it saddened us too, because we knew that a sculptor, even one with such obvious talent, couldn't survive in the science fiction field. Illustrators ruled the roost and most sculptors needed a day job. But Moore rewrote the rules, finding a way to combine sculpting and illustrating, and eventually founding two companies to distribute his bronzes, collectible resins and action figures around the world.

Teresa Patterson: When did you first decide to become an artist?

Clayburn Moore: Well, I grew up in an artistic family. There were a lot of kids -- nine of us. Five of us had artistic talent and went on to study art.

After all, Michelangelo is from Florence and the Academy is attached to the Gallery of the Academy

Teresa Patterson: So where did you study?

Clayburn Moore: I began my studies at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, but I found that it wasn't a real challenging or focused program. Then I went to the Kansas City Art Institute, where I decided to split my studies between sculpture and illustration. But their focus was not figurative, and I wanted to concentrate on the study of human figures.

I knew that Charles Umlauf was teaching at the University of Texas. He was one of the top figure artists -- figure sculptors in the country. So, I transferred to the University of Texas. But Charles Umlauf retired after I had only been at the University of Texas for a year. I was basically relegated to studying with non-figurative professors, which was frustrating.

So, after I got my degree, I decided I wanted to do an overseas program in Italy, where I knew I could get a more traditional, figurative approach. But in order to even apply for the program I had to learn how to speak Italian, have all my records and transcripts translated into Italian, get police records and recommendations and things, and then travel to Italy and spend weeks waiting to be accepted, with no guarantee of actually getting in.

Vampirella (all images of Clayburn Moore's sculptures courtesy of the artist)

Fortunately, I was accepted, and studied at the Academia delle Belle Arti in Florence.

Teresa Patterson: Do you think the European approach is different from the American approach to studying art and sculpture?

Clayburn Moore: My understanding is that it varies from academy to academy. For example, The Academy of Fine Arts in Milan is basically a design school. The Academia degli Belli Arti has a particular emphasis on painting and sculpture, and so my course of study was very traditional. After all, Michelangelo is from Florence, and the Academy is attached to the Gallery of the Academy, which is where the David is, as well as several of Michelangelo's other pieces. And then you have the Capella de Medici there and you have quite an emphasis on Michelangelo and Leonardo and the Greco-Roman sculptors. I also traveled quite often to France, where I had the opportunity to study more recent figurative sculptors, such as Dalou and Rodin.

The course of study was like a graduate program, but it was an informal program, so it wasn't formally set up -- which was fine with me. I already had my degree.

Teresa Patterson: The classical training is evident in all your fine art sculptures. Do you think that has helped you in your current work as an action and collectible figure designer?

So I strictly do a piece for myself, and if people choose to buy it, they're buying it for themselves.

Clayburn Moore: Well, yes. The first piece that I did when I started in this industry was Vampirella for Harris, under the Vampirella license. I sort of applied a fine-arts aesthetic. Though I wouldn't necessarily say it's a renaissance aesthetic, as much as it is a compilation drawn from the range of art history from Greco-Roman through Renaissance to modern times. I think its part of what's led to my success. It's a different approach. A distinctive look -- whether I'm doing a comic character or a movie character -- whatever it is. So, yes, it's something I bring stylistically to this industry.

Teresa Patterson: What drew you from classical art into science fiction and fantasy?

Clayburn Moore: I actually grew up with science fiction and fantasy. I read Lord of the Rings as a kid, and re-read the books as an adult. Gosh, I remember being excited about Star Trek before it even started. My brother and I were looking forward to this new show that was going to be about space. I didn't get into comics until I was 12 or 13 years old -- they were not allowed in my house. But I got into appreciating comic art through friends' comics, because I had artistic background. I had centered on sculpture, but I grew up in a family that was very focused on literature. I read Norse and Greek mythology and had grown up with that. So, it was natural for me to have a classical aesthetic, but also at the same time to be drawn to science fiction.

Of course, as a sculptor I don't want to be dictated to by what people want to buy. The average person is not into science fiction, fantasy, or mythology. They're interested in the here and now and what they know. So I strictly do a piece for myself, and if people choose to buy it, they're buying it for themselves. If I take a genre that I like, and I attract people from that genre, and they buy it, then that's all you can hope for.

Rupert Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) from Buffy the Vampire Slayer
I've done all kinds of non-science fiction pieces. I've done Native Americans, but not because everyone else is doing them. I've studied history. I think their lifestyle, the look of them, their culture is wonderful. Do I want to do a cowboy? Not necessarily. I'm also a military buff. I'm a history buff. I would like to eventually do figures from history. But right now, most of my figures are from the entertainment industry -- comics, science fiction and fantasy TV shows and films.

Teresa Patterson: Science fiction is dominated by two-dimensional artists, yet you have managed to carve out a respectable niche as a sculptor, building not one but two companies that specialize in genre related sculptures. Why two companies? What is the difference between them?

Clayburn Moore: Well, there's Moore Creations, which does the statues and pewters and snow globes as well as collectible busts and collectible statues. Moore Action Collectibles is action figures and toy-related products. The two main reasons the companies are separate revolve around differences in their respective markets and insurance issues -- toy vs. gift insurance.

I separate the two artistically, because I still feel an action figure is a toy, and as such, it should be packaged frontally, and have a certain level of poses that lend themselves to the mobility of the piece. This limits the choices for poses because a piece has to be frontal, and it can't have a spiral effect as much; otherwise it just becomes a plastic sculpture. If I want to do a sculpture, I would do that, as a higher quality piece, with Moore Creations.

If your subject matter just is not moving, you have to make a decision.

Teresa Patterson: What do you think is the secret of your success in this very competitive genre? What would you tell those sculptors and 3D artists who are struggling to compete?

Clayburn Moore: Well, thank you for saying that. Success is a relative term. I'm very proud of what we have accomplished. I have been approached by some artists who say, "Why don't you carry my work or carry my fine art on your Web site or promote my art with yours?" But ultimately, it's up to each artist to find his or her own path. I can only share the details of mine.

I think the decision that I made was to follow a path that would put my name out there more, so I compromised. I paid my dues by choosing a path that stopped me from really following my dream for a while. I had to give up the pure dream of sculpting my own fine art pieces. But only to a certain extent, because I really like what I'm doing, even though I am doing other people's characters.

I like the social part of working with artists that I admire, and working on bringing their creations to life. It has taken me out of the realm of doing some original work for a while. But its put my name out there and its been commercially successful.

Conan the Barbarian (based on the painting by Frank Frazetta)

The first thing an artist needs to do is to decide if they want to follow that same path. You don't have to. There are certainly plenty of fine artists who've done it by only doing only their own work. But I think that you have to be prepared to pay your dues by doing, at least some work-for-hire or licensing. It's also a trade off. If your subject matter just is not moving, you have to make a decision. Can you do work-for-hire or licensed work and still feel fulfilled? Or do you come to the realization that you are not going to compromise you values and what you want to do with your work? That's the difficult part.

You can also get a representative, and that helps, but a lot of it is common sense. I think a lot of artists aren't particularly good at where they put their money or at what they invest their money in. I try to be very careful.

Part of it, to tell you the truth, is also luck and timing. Image Comics was at its height when I started Moore Creations. When I was first contacted to do a sculpture of Vampirella, I knew who Vampirella was. I had read the comics, and so I thought this was great.

Teresa Patterson: Did they just pick your name out of a hat?

 

Clayburn Moore - Continued