PLASTER, WOOD AND MARBLE HEADS ABOUND WHEN ONE EXAMINES HAIR LOSS IN THE ARTISTIC MEDIUM OF SCULPTURE.
If ever an art form would seem to lend itself to representations of bald men, sculpture would be it. After all, it’s a lot easier to take marble, wood or plaster and create a smooth, round dome than to create the intricate interweaving that is typical of a head of hair.
Despite the relative ease associated with sculpted depictions of bald heads, haired domes still predominate — a testament, perhaps, to the fact that dedicated sculptors are not daunted by the challenges presented by a full head of hair. More likely, however, it has to do with the subject matter of the pieces. Classical conceptions of beauty tend to run toward men with manes, and therefore many marble masterpieces follow that path.
Arguably, bald sculptures are more common in the extremes of time, that is, in the earlier days and in the more recent days. Many of the massive stone heads of Easter Island are not adorned with stone follicles. The famous bust of Queen Nefertiti seems hairless, a reasonable assumption given ancient Egyptian tendencies toward head shaving. There are quite a few African relics from early days that feature hairless men and gods.
3-dimensional art, human form and hair loss
In modern times the increased representation of hair-challenged men in three-dimensional art can be attributed to two factors: a trend away from representational figures toward more abstract expressions of the human form, on one hand, and a trend toward capturing less exalted, more everyday representations of humanity, on the other.
This is not to say that the past masters totally ignored the hairless. As long as the ancient Greeks were dealing with representations of their gods, they stuck to the ideal of big shoulders, strong visages and generous coverings of hair; but when dealing with living subjects, the ancients had a bit more leeway and receding hairlines and bald spots could make their way into artwork.
The association of hair with good looks continued to influence sculptors for centuries. Fortunately, Donatello, unarguably one of the world’s great sculptors, contributed a totally bald “Prophet Habakkuk” and “Zuccone,” which are regarded as among his finest. Each of these works conveys a deep spiritual intensity, which is somehow heightened by the austere look of the subjects’ bare pates. Both figures are remarkably dramatic, prime examples of Donatello’s ability to take stone and make one sense an inner, urgent life breaking forth from within the material.
Rodin, another of the masters, has a few pieces that feature bald or balding men, such as his bust of Clemenceau, as well as some figures in his monumental “Gates of Hell.” His plaster “Group of 3 Figures” features two seemingly bald women, which is decidedly unusual in his work.
The modern sculpture movement has embraced baldness
As indicated above, in the last 100 years or so there has been a substantial increase in bald sculptural representations. As artists began moving into areas that were more abstract and/or conceptual, bare heads became much more common. Sometimes they were intended to represent actual baldness, but more often they came about as sculptors tried to break images down to basic forms. A smooth, round, seemingly bald head has a nonspecificity to it that can be very appealing, allowing the viewer to project his or her own associations onto the piece and thereby enabling the work to take on a larger resonance. Henry Moore and Alberto Giacometti are among the more modern three-dimensional artists who have utilized bare heads in their work for this reason.
At the same time, many artists have also started looking toward the common man as the subject for works of art. This has become especially so as art has become increasingly concerned with depicting the state of society and the effect that modern issues have on the individual.
Quite a few figurative sculptors have embraced the realistic yet symbolic depiction of ordinary people, and many of these works feature bald men. David Segal and Duane Hanson are but two of the many artists who have looked to the clean pate for inspiration. Segal’s “Appalachian Farm Couple — 1936,” for example, places a plaster bald farmer and his wife in an austere wooden setting to suggest both courage and the melancholy life the couple face. His “Red Light” depicts a balding man crossing the street in front of a stopped car, the blandness of his life exemplified by his all-white plaster casting and contrasting with the promised excitement of consumer goods as exemplified by the fiery red car.
Hanson, who uses silicone rubber molds to make fiberglass sculptures that are painted to create a truly startling lifelike quality, also has favored bald men with his attention. His “The Tourists” is infinitely detailed, conveying quickly and accurately the history of the man and woman depicted. “Businessman” tells of the tired soul beneath a white-collar worker, and “Jogger,” with his receding hairline and bald spot, demonstrates the subject’s casual approach to looking good and keeping fit.
As in many works of art, baldness in sculpture is still used to make a comment, frequently in terms of a subject’s age, physical ability or desirability. Yet such artists as Segal and Hanson are among those who use baldness to make a statement about society, not about the implications of being bald.
In sculpture as in so many areas, there’s a long way to go before baldness is treated as equitably as it deserves to be, but progress is being made.