Archive for category Subject: Sculpture

Shaping The World || Antony Gormley & Martin Gayford

Artists are not always the best people to talk about art. The creative process is intensely personal and can be driven by forces that even the practitioner does not fully understand. Equally, those who talk and write about it, are not themselves creators in visual media and have to tease the artist’s inner workings out of their own perceptions of the finished article.

However. There are times when these two worlds align, and Martin Gayford is usually one of the parties. He is one of the most cogent writers about art and the creative process there is and understands it in a way that few non-practitioners are able to. Even on his own, he is able to provide the reader with the sense of being an insider rather than simply a viewer – and this while that reader is looking at the page rather than the artwork.

Gayford is also a very effective collaborator and his conversations with David Hockney have illuminated works, the artist and the creative process all at the same time. This book takes the same approach: it is a discussion between Gormley and Gayford that covers three-dimensional work in stone, clay and metal from prehistoric times to the present day. Yes, it is substantial and it’s worth adding that the quality of production does full justice to the superb content.

If you asked a random member of the public to name a sculptor, the chances are that Antony Gormley would be the one they’d come up with. Not only will they know his name, but they’ll also be at least broadly familiar with his spare and idiosyncratic figures – the large public works such as The Angel Of The North that are impossible to ignore. We already know from other publications that Gormley can be eloquent on the creative method and he and Gayford here spark ideas off each other that are more illuminating than either of them writing alone.

A book such as this requires careful editing. All discussions include diversions and side-tracks that obscure the central point, but heavy-handed attempts to keep them at least appearing to be contiguous can easily leave the language stilted. Not so here and there’s a strong sense of a continuous narrative driven by shared enthusiasm and common, though not always parallel, ground.

This lands on you like a major work. It knows it is important, but it wears its learning lightly and, even though we probably expect it, it’s a pleasure to find that this is so.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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Sculpting In Wood || Peter Clothier

Wood sculptures are always attractive and we all get those, “I wish I could do that” moments. The big advantage of wood as a medium is that you’ll probably have a lot of the tools already and most of the others can be obtained readily at a DIY shop.

Peter Clothier begins with the basics, explaining how to make maquettes, where to find suitable wood (bought or found) and how to handle and maintain tools. This is sufficiently thorough that the book is half way through before you get to the projects. Normally, this would be a worry, but the in-depth approach of the early sections will prove invaluable later on and isn’t, like some other arts and crafts, widely covered elsewhere. There are four of these projects (a dancer, a rabbit, a shark and a tiger) which show different tools, techniques and materials in practice and which together make up an excellent primer.

Assuming that you are new to wood sculpting, this is a book which should enable you to get started and make worthwhile progress without being so complex as to put you off. Yes, a large degree of work and application will be required, but Black’s don’t do books for the dilettante, so stick with it and be rewarded.

A&C Black 2007

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