Henry Moore Gardens/studio – Research pt 1

Following my research into Brancusi’s use of generalised forms, and Calder’s approach to drawing through sculpture and singular lines, I was keen to go along to the Henry Moore studios and gardens before they close for the winter season.

On this visit, I encountered several of his bronze cast sculptures dotted around the estate where he used to live and work for the majority of his career, as well as the various studios he had there. There was also an exhibition being shown cataloguing his approach to drawing and how their role in his artistic practice changed over the years.

I was excited to discover the sculpture after being encouraged to get ‘hands-on’ with the outdoor ones and feel their texture when purchasing my entry ticket.

I found it really engaging to be encountering sculpture at such scale and so personally – it seemed an artform made for human observation and interaction. Many of them I could step into, and touch, and peer around. They offered interesting changing forms when you looked at different angles, as you walked around it. The sculptures themselves bear the marks of their making – the above piece is smoothed but also deliberately etched into.

The above piece shows clearly defined grooves that I believe have been made by the artist’s own hands – running my hand along it felt as though I were running it through carved wet clay.

The above work had intriguingly distinct forms from different angles.

The pieces I found less intriguing were perhaps the ones he is best known for, the reclining figures.

I found some of the forms here interesting, but I couldn’t get past the fact that these were staging the female nude as object. The figure is uniformly passive, and static. She is reduced to her ‘primary function’ as childbearer. This could only make the contorted forms and exaggerations of fertile hips etc seem exploitative for me.

John Berger’s ‘Ways of Seeing’ was released in 1972, ahead of all but one of the sculptures shown above, and in episode/chapter 2 he dealt with the problematic obsession with the female nude in art history. This feminist perspective may not have been taken seriously by Moore etc however, with contemporary reviews in the industry literature dismissing Berger as ‘a committed leftist who poses as the antagonist to all received knowledge about the arts’ (J.A.Robinson writing in the Journal of Aesthetic Education Oct 1974) – with no direct mention of the feminist argument he had been making. Indeed the modern movement was less under scrutiny here than mass media imagery for Berger, but that the passive female nude and mystification as the Great Mother could be still so primary to an influential artist like Moore at this time suggests perhaps it should have been.

The 2nd episode of John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, which first considered the problem of the male gaze in the convention of female nudes in Western art (1972, BBC)

This episode was aired just at the start of a great feminist movement in art history, which was kickstarted by Linda Nochlin’s article from the year prior ‘Why are there no great women artists?’. I am interested to read more into this subject and hope to start with some writings by Griselda Pollock.

Gained in Translation part 2 – my work

Following on from the cardboard structure I had created in the previous weeks (as a translation of the drawing I had made from my partner’s description of a plastic severed foot prop), we were tasked with further translating this into different materials – wood, and then clay moulding for a plaster cast.

My finished wooden piece

I enjoyed finding an even more generalised form for the wooden interpretation – I utilised some very strong timber (previously used as a wooden fencepost) as I wanted to evoke the solid and supportive role this object could take. Cutting and sanding this to smooth out a more organic form was hard going but I am pleased with the end result on the arch of the foot. The graining on this part also is very interesting, and unique to the material used – I think it adds a suggestion of movement and dynamism as well as materiality.

The most difficult was the concave jointing space that I cut out from the foot piece, to slot the cylinder within it. This was to replicate the joining mechanic I had used in cardboard, but it was too sharp a curve for the saw to do, so I had to cut straight towards the curve line and break off as many pieces as I could with the saw, before chiselling down by hand. This proved very hard work, and I did not quite achieve the finish I had wanted. I might find a different solution to this if I were to repeat this/look to produce a finished piece.

The cast plaster

I took quite a different approach with the clay/plaster sculpting – here rather than simplifying/generalising I explored detail that had featured in my cardboard structure, and some abstract forms. I first was interested in exploring the effect of depth and relief when carving the clay, though it was difficult to fully envisage what the finished result would be in the plaster reverse. I knew that I wanted to attempt a full standing foot like I had achieved in the other materials, so I doubled the depth of my clay to ensure I could achieve the height required. I’m not sure the generalised shape that I reproduced here is as effective with this material as the detail I captured, e.g. of the severed top of the foot in the bottom corner.

We were given instruction to prevent undercuts in our mould, which I tried to follow, but I think some of the finer detail in my design still meant clay was not easily removed from some of the crevices.

It’s interesting I think that here again we can see I am repeating the concentric circles/vortex motif that I have been exploring in survival!