“Stone is star-stuff of the ages,” writes Swedish-American sculptor Ulla Novina in the booklet accompanying her exhibition “Self and Stone” at Broadfoot & Broadfoot Gallery in Soho. And it’s with the ages Novina concerns herself; she tells stories through marble, onyx, travertine, and river stone, stories as old as the stone itself. “Secret Gate” (a piece in Italian marble) evokes ancient cities and forbidden paths, “Ancient Sign” (in Italian travertine) has mystical, religious undertones to it, and “Whispers from the Past II” (in gorgeous pink Portuguese marble) is a quiet, contemplative sculpture, like a memento from another era.
Ulla Novina was born in Lund in the south of Sweden, but grew up in Värmland, a district known for its lyric beauty and many poets and writers.
“My mother was an artist, so I was always surrounded by art, and interested in art,” Novina says. “Before I became a mother, I painted, and then I began working in clay.”
But it was stone she fell in love with, and stone has remained her material of choice for some thirty years now.
“A teacher I met said ‘Once you’ve finished a sculpture in stone, you really have something.’ And with that sentence he opened the door for me. I am inspired by old cultures and my attitude to life and the stone itself,” Novina says. “An abstraction in stone is a form which reflects the incentive within a human being, something emotionally charged.”
And just like humans have different personalities, Novina explains, different stones have different characters, and while working, she says she is always conscious of the stone’s character.
“Sometimes that character can be so strong, it overtakes my creative process. Perhaps you can call it a spontaneous creativity in stone.”
Though her work is typified as abstract, Novina doesn’t quite like that label. "Instead of abstract, it’s more like I am using what’s necessary only," she says. What’s not necessary is simply not there.
When asked how she would describe her work, Novina says “as the essence of things.” She’s lived in the U.S. since 1963, but feels the Swedish nature is deeply imbedded in her soul, and the Viking mythology is another source of inspiration for her.
“Just look at my sculptures ‘Ask & Embla’ and ‘Hugin’, and ‘Odin Stone’!”
Hung on the walls next to Novina’s art, are photographs taken by her sister Stina Kalle.
Ulla Novina: Self and Stone runs through June 30.
Broadfoot & Broadfoot Gallery
484 Broome Street, New York