Archive for category Medium: Sculpture

Tim Shaw || Indra Khanna, Don Jordan & Mark Hudson

Tim Shaw, says Mark Hudson in his introductory essay to this lavish survey of the artist’s work, is one of the great storytellers of British art. His pieces are certainly unsettling, questioning and often uncomfortable. It’s perhaps inevitable that the hooded Abu Ghraib figure of Casting A Dark Democracy features largely in it, maybe even to the extent that it appears to be what the book is about, rather than the many other figurative pieces with their distorted bodies and featureless faces. If it does, this is a shame, as Shaw’s work is more varied, both in style and location, than a rather heavily political piece implies.

The majority of the book is taken up with generously-sized and excellent quality photographs of Shaw’s pieces. These are often not just single images, but include close-ups as well as wider, contextualising shots – even when that context is an otherwise empty space. This helps to give a sense both of scale and impact – how sculpture occupies its location can be as important as where it occupies it, to the extent that it can be part of the work itself.

The text includes essays as well as an interview by the independent curator, Indra Khanna, with Tim Shaw that, while relatively short, examines some of his thought processes and creative intentions.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

Leave a comment

Antony Gormley on Sculpture || Antony Gormley and Mark Holborn

Everything about this book says “serious”. The simple it-is-what-it-is title printed in black and red using an architectural serif font and the taupe cloth binding immediately put it on the reference shelf. You can’t help handling it with reverence and its smallish format makes it easy to hold in both hands, rather like a Japanese businessman presenting his card.

I don’t mean that to sound as though I’m knocking the book’s pretentions; I’m not. However, if something demands to be taken seriously, it creates a level of expectation about its contents. Can it live up to its own billing? Well, the blurb tells me that the Gormley (as I think of him) “presents his work and artistic influences in his own words” (their bold italics). So, if this is the master’s voice, it wants you to know it. No ghost-writing here.

The first thing you notice on initial acquaintance is that it’s copiously illustrated. It’s all colour and there are no dodgy transparencies, no getting away with it because it’s an important subject and it was the best we could get. You’d expect no less, but you don’t always get it. Big tick there, then.

The blurb also describes Gormley as a “highly visible sculptor” and I know what it means. His works, especially The Angel of the North, are impossible to miss and are recognisable, even if abstracted, forms. Most of the general public would recognise the name, which is not a common thing, even in such a public art form as sculpture.

You may have noticed by now that I’m taking my time getting to the content. This is because I’m not sure how much is original to this book and how much it’s a compilation (an editor is also credited). Does this matter – after all, if you want the collected thoughts of a major living practitioner, wouldn’t you be glad to have it made accessible however it’s done? The book is divided into four main sections. Body Space and Body Time: Living in Sculpture explores the artist’s thoughts on the human form (as you’d expect, it’s his main theme) and looks at some of his major installations. Sculptors is adapted from a series of radio talks (this is where the known-to-be-rehashed material comes in) looking at influential pieces by Epstein, Brancusi, Giacometti and Beuys. In Mindfulness, Gormley discusses the influences of Buddhism and Jain on his work and a final chapter, Expansion considers some of his more recent pieces.

The one thing you may notice from that rather exhaustive listing is that this is, I think, more a book about Antony Gormley than it is about sculpture. True, the illustrations give a different picture and the text does indeed range wide and exhibit a great awareness of the world of sculpture as a whole. Remember, though, that this is the man who bases most of his figures on his own body. Nothing wrong with that – as I said earlier, his forms are abstracted and you have to start somewhere. Even so, there’s a lot about how other people have influenced Gormley rather than how they themselves have been influenced.

I’m maybe being a bit picky and, whatever the book is, Antony Gormley’s views will always be of major interest and importance. For all that, I can’t help thinking that it’s not, au fond the major survey of the history and practice of sculpture that the title and presentation would like you to think. Maybe Antony Gormley on Antony Gormley would sum it up better.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

Leave a comment

The Drawings of Barbara Hepworth || Alan Wilkinson

I had to remind myself several times as I went through this that Barbara Hepworth is a sculptor. And, yes, I also found myself using the present tense about her. There’s such a freshness here that this work simply doesn’t feel historical.

Of course sculptors draw, if only to sketch out the basic shape of a piece. What’s remarkable about Barbara Hepworth, though, is that she was able to capture shapes, and especially figures, as well in two dimensions as she was in three. I was also struck by the way her fluidity of line in sculpture is reflected on paper or canvas. You might rightly say that this is obvious but, where she works with recognisable subjects, you can see how she gets to the pure abstract. In very many ways, this book becomes the missing link and explains better than any appreciative piece how she gets from one to the other. If you wanted a primer in understanding Twentieth Century abstract sculpture, this would fit the bill very nicely.

Alongside the many, beautifully reproduced illustrations, Alan Wilkinson provides a commentary that supplies both context and chronology and underlines – if that were necessary – the importance of Hepworth’s work.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

Leave a comment

Lynn Chadwick || Michael Bird

Lynn Chadwick’s reputation took off after he won the International Prize for Sculpture at the 1956 Venice Biennale. Initially working with hand-forged iron, his favoured material turned, during the course of 1953, to sheaves of mild steel rods. Of his working process, he said, “a single weld may take an hour or more on a big thing, and you’re wringing wet at the end.”

Sculpture is always an intensely physical activity and brings the artist into greater contact with their material than many others, but this generation of workers was perhaps the most constructional there has been. This being the era of the Cold War, there was maybe a sense of both a plane of existence to preserve as well as a way of being to fight against and their pieces are never comfortable. The phrase, “forged in the white heat” is perhaps apposite.

This is a book which might well not have pleased Chadwick. Hostile to attempts to intellectualise art in general and his own work in particular, he maintained that “you improvise as you go along”, claiming to have no preconceived idea when a work started, how it was going to finish. Such statements can often be disingenuous. An artist may well not have a fixed idea of where a piece is going to finish, but they know their own working methods and which paths, when there is a branch in the road, they are likely to take. Even if they don’t have determined finishing point, they will generally have a starting one, even if it is only a state of mind. Disallowing the analysis of others is as often a way of preserving their own intellectual processes as it is of not wishing to see them diverted by others and having to argue with an outside assessment.

This substantial and well-written book is a thorough account of Chadwick’s working life and is comprehensively illustrated, his pieces being shown in studio as well as landscape settings. There are also personal photographs showing the artist both at work and relaxing.

Finally, did you want a justification of abstract sculpture? Try: “If you’re trying to make a thing like something else, it’s limiting.”

Click the picture to view on Amazon

Leave a comment

500 Figures in Clay volume 2 || Nan Smith

This is a big lump of a book that needs to be sat in your lap, but thankfully falls open easily (it’s a paperback) and the weight of its pages are not too much for the spine. This matters, because there’s no doubt that a book which feels good in the hands is always likely to make you feel better-disposed to the contents.

There’s barely any text here, apart from a brief introduction and captions to each of the illustrations that tell you the artist, title, size and basic construction. The organisation is simple, too: the contents lists Heads, Busts, Body Details, Figurines, etc, with page numbers. When you turn to the appropriate section, there are no breaks, no chapter heads. If you’re going through at random, the divisions are invisible. If there’s any further attempt at organisation, I’ve failed to find it. And I love that. I love the way things are seemingly just put in there as they come up, not with any attempt at classification so that you get like with like. You don’t, you get like with unlike and every turn of the page is going to be a surprise. I also love the fact that there’s no attempt at explanation: you make of this what you will. If it works, it works and if it doesn’t, well, there are 499 others.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

Leave a comment

Sculpture Parks and Trails of Britain and Ireland (2nd ed) || Alison Stace

This comprehensively illustrated guide provides both an idea of where you might want to go, how to get there and what to see when you do.

For the armchair traveller, the illustrations will provide a satisfying cornucopia in their own right, but the more adventurous will also want to keep it in the car (the Getting There directions don’t include public transport) as an essential vade mecum. I’m tempted to say the only way to resolve this dilemma is to buy two copies!

Organised by region, the book is easy to use for its intended purpose: as a guide for the traveller. The index, however, is only devoted to artists, so to find a particular place you either need to know where it is or work through the contents list. As there are only 66 parks listed (and I have no reason to believe this is in any way incomplete), this isn’t too much of an imposition. There are also handy maps at the beginning of each regional section.

This is a well thought-out and attractively-presented guide that should be of interest to the serious student or the curious traveller.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

Leave a comment

Sculpting in Copper || Jim Pratt & Sue White-Oakes

Copper was one of the earliest metals known to man and has been in use for over 4000 years.

Although this is part of a series called Basics of Sculpture, there is nothing elementary about the projects that make up the bulk of this book, although the instructions, explanations and illustrations are excellent and reasonably easy to follow. It would probably be advisable to have had some experience of metalworking before embarking on the rather beautiful owl that features in chapter 6! That said, the introduction to Materials, Methods and Tools is admirably clear and could almost certainly get you soldering, for example, with no other form of instruction. As heat, gas flames and quite heavy tools are involved, a small health and safety warning is probably desirable here – do please make sure you know what you’re doing and what you’re doing it with!

Blacks are absolute masters of this kind of thing and not afraid to price according to quality, which is quite the right thing in a book of this nature.

Click the picture to view on Amazon

Leave a comment

The Art of London || Ilpo Musto

“London”, it says here, “is a living art gallery”. And, you know what? It is. In fact, sculpture and statues are so prolific that most of us walk by dozens of them every day and hardly notice.

This delightful piece of serendipity features the familiar (I’ll choose Justice from the top of the Old Bailey) to the less-known. Hard to choose an example of the latter as what’s new to me (The Market Trader from Walbrook) will be something you bump into every day.

Anyone who lives in, visits or just loves London should have a copy of this. Beautifully photographed, it’s a work of art in its own right, but it’ll also open your eyes and make you smile at the same time, and we all need a bit of that, don’t we?

Buy it on Amazon

Leave a comment

Sculpting In Stone || John Valentine

This is an attractively produced book that’s likely to appeal to anyone who has an interest in sculpture, whether as a viewer, consumer or practitioner.

One tends to assume that a subject like this is not something that beginners learn from books, but the examples illustrated, the clarity of both the text and the colour photographs (easily up to Black’s usual high standard) just make you want to find some tools and have a go. The back-cover blurb announces this as part of a new series and, if subsequent volumes are anything like this, they could build up into a very handy reference library indeed. A variety of styles and subjects are included are there’s work from several different contemporary sculptors resulting in there being a great deal crammed into a mere 96 pages. At £19.99, it’s isn’t cheap, but Black’s don’t compromise quality for price and it’s worth every penny.

A&C Black 2007

Leave a comment

The Bible Of Sculpting Techniques || Claire Waite Brown

This is a well-designed series that’s established itself with other subjects and which offers an easy reference to a variety of techniques and a spiral binding that lays flat so that you can keep it open while both your hands are otherwise occupied.

All the other volumes in the series have gone down well and I have no reason to suppose that this one won’t as well, although I’m not really qualified to comment on sculpture. All I can say it that the illustrations are copious and clear and that it’s always apparent both what you’re looking at and what the accompanying text refers to. I suspect that the appeal is going to be to the beginner or to someone who’s just developing their skills rather than the more experienced practitioner and, if that person needs a handy reference manual, then this is undoubtedly it. The editors’ track record on other subjects bodes well and I’d say it’s definitely one to consider.

A&C Black 2007

Leave a comment

  • Archives

  • Categories