‘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.

Being in the moment

Dogwalk 2008 Twigs, pins, paper

 

I’ve always felt the worst thing you can do is think. When I’m making I need to dissociate myself from everything and act automatically if the work is to be any good. Clearly this is not axiomatic, there is too much evidence to the contrary in my drawers.

 

 

 

Dogwalk 1 2008, Twigs, paper pins

 

When I moved to Doncaster I had limited space to work and certainly no space for sculpture. I continued a habit of collecting ‘stuff’ as I walked my dogs, twigs, bits of detritus, feathers, etc., and kept a bag full of it in the garage. Periodically I would spend time joining these bits together. The model for this activity for me was David Smith’s residency in Italy at Voltri in 1962.

 

 

Dogwalk 2 2008 pins, paper, twigs

 

Smith was invited to make two sculptures for the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, and given the choice of five abandoned welding factories around Genoa. He chose one in the small town of Voltri. Inspired by the wealth of material available he made 27 sculptures in 30 days. The Wall Street Journal has a good article here.

 

 

Voltri VII

David Smith Voltri VII, 1962 Photo: © The Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

 

Finding an array of parts, wheels, girders, tools and so on, Smith just built. I can imagine the energy generated by the sheer joy of combining these objects.

I adopted this approach when I discovered it because that kind of energy can only work when decisions become intuitive. I find that I work best when I have progressed beyond careful consideration into try and fail, try and fail, try and accept. I won’t say succeed.

 

 

Since then I have had a working practice, that I’m still tied to, that means I can work for an hour or so each day before I have to stop. The next day I need to be able to pick up the traces quickly, contemplation is not an option when time is limited. So I built small sculptures at a rapid rate, developing the ideas quickly, each responding to whatever I pulled out of the bag, and began to notice connections rather than engineering them. The ‘dogwalks’ maquettes, never to be realised as sculpture, are my effort at generating this kind of energy

 

Voltri VI

Voltri VI, 1962 Steel, 98 7/8 x 102 1/4 x 24 in. (251.1 x 259.7 x 61 cm.) Raymond and Patsy Nasher Collection, Dallas, Texas 1978.A.0 .

 

reference for Voltri VI

reference for Voltri VII




Woman Walking with Hand to Mouth

Four views of a work in progress.  This is four views of a single figure, about one metre tall, made from hardboard and fixed with a glue gun.  The figure is from Muybridge– ‘Woman walking with hand to her mouth’

Woman Walking Downstairs

The desire here is to get the kind of movement you find in Duchamp into the single figure, or to simply have the movement apparent in the static representation, so it’s very much a first version, and very much unfinished.

That may be a characteristic of my work on reflection, the ‘unfinished’ quality. I won’t claim it as deliberate, but then I do stop.

Duchamp - Nude Descending a Staircase

The process I try to follow when I work is to work without reference, to try to let the object dictate it’s own result.  There are some other examples here

Acknowledgements:

wikimedia commons Eadweard Muybridge

Nude Descending a Staircase No. 2 – wikipedia 21/04/12