‘But what does it all mean?’

I started a sculpture this summer, the first one I’ve done for a while, and posted an unfinished state in T’Art Club.
This prompted a question around the story, what’s it all about?

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When I build something I don’t necessarily start with a specific end in mind, finding that if I know what it’s going to be it becomes too difficult to achieve. Is that because my imagination outstrips my talent, or because I need the process to be a discovery? Picasso apparently said that if he knew what he was going to paint he needn’t bother with it. I suspect it’s a bit of both for me.

Meaning, narrative, even purpose are perhaps ingrained in process but remain undefined beyond completion, or the point at which you stop, and there is a sense in which they are unnecessary. But people need something to grab on to when they see a thing, a way in, to judge the success of a work there is a sense that you need to know what you’re supposed to think so that you can measure it against what you actually think. That measure is your judgement, does it work? Rather than do I like it?

I’ve never really got that, being too interested in the physicality of an object, how it uses space, how it ‘moves’, and how it’s formal elements, balance, proportion, rhythm, colour, work to activate it.

This work ‘Hexthorpe Park -the three graces’ is born of that motivation and no other. I started with the central tree, worked on for some hours but not transformed much, and worked towards an assemblage of forms that cut through the space I had predefined (in my mind). While working on it I walked the dogs in the park and, as I do, indulged my fascination with the way things grow, the random negative spaces generated by the intertwined branches of trees and shrubs, the way dead wood breaks off in storms and is held by chance for a time, before the next storm loosens it. Alongside this thinking of the three graces, Thalia, for abundance, blooming, the muse of comedy, Euphrosyne for Joy, Aglaea, for beauty and brilliance.

If there is a reason for the way the forms are combined here it’s because the muses are essentially the same, or aspects of the same feeling. There is a negative space made solid, a frame as a surface to be cut, a floor that is one of the muses and the space itself, holding them together. Then there is the colour, hopefully drawing the pieces together, providing some definition but essentially indicating a similarity of material.

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The sculpture is best described as a sketch, something impromptu and ephemeral, light and airy. It’s about happiness.

2 thoughts on “‘But what does it all mean?’

  1. This is where a good art critic can be really useful. Instead of expecting the artist to explain the work to the public, the critic can be that bridge. Which frees up the artist to concentrate on the process.
    Then again, this does depend on the critic’s competence, which can be a real problem.

    I can make art, and I can write, and I can even write about other people’s art, but talking about my own is like pulling teeth. I end up doing what you did, describing what I did while I was making it. It seems inadequate, but one is almost too close to one’s own work to be able to judge it in the same way a critic would.

    • Thanks for the comment M.K. I agree with you that writing about your own work is difficult. At the same time I work in an art department and we constantly tell people not to do what I do, instead to write about all the research you’ve done and how that explains the conclusions you’ve reached. I’m kind of in the middle myself, critics have their uses but the only one I’ve read who convincingly describes process is AGD. I’m writing in part to work out what it means.

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