For the last couple of years I have been spending a lot of time thinking about and creating relief sculptures, both high and low. High relief, or alto relief, is one where the forms extend to at least half of their full depth from the background. I like to think of it as a relief that has undercuts, as compared to a low, or bas-relief. A bas-relief is one that is flatter and does not have any undercuts. We see examples of bas-relief every day in coins. There is also a third relief called mid-relief or half-relief, but the term isn’t used as often as bas and alto, perhaps because its more fun to say bas (pronounced bah, as in bah humbug) and alto. I think it would just confuse people putting things into thirds instead of halves.
Depending on what it is I’m trying to accomplish will dictate it if is to be high or low. For example, if there is some movement in the composition I tend to enjoy making a high relief. This kind of relief allows me to focus on anatomy, but seems to makes it harder to do a likeness well mostly because i am using just one photograph for reference. Low relief sculptures tend to take me a little less time to make, but I feel more confident if it’s more of a portrait I am after.
While I do not consider myself, by any means, a painter I get great satisfaction admiring a Royo or Lipking painting (two of my favorite contemporary artists). Sculpting in bas or alto relief is as close as we sculptors can get to the beauty of a painting. With todays’ patina techniques, we can introduce a variation of colors that add to the depth of the relief.