Disregarding for now his somewhat problematic subject matter, it was interesting to explore his studios and the Perry Green estate to get an insight into the practice of this prolific artist.
What I found particularly interesting to discover was his incorporation of found objects (bone, stone, shells etc) in his experimental miniature casts that would then be scaled up in working models and final pieces. Knowing this now, and seeing the examples e.g. of whale vertebrae dotted around his various studios, I can now reflect on how the forms of these organic and geological objects informed his work. ‘The metamorphosis of natural objects into human forms’ is how they put this in the exhibition notes.
It was interesting too to get a greater understanding of the technical approach he took to sculpting, both carving and in plasterwork. That he would cover his working medium-sized plaster model in a grid system to enable it to be exactly scaled up and then cast in bronze at a foundry.
I was also surprised how natural light was important to his practice – something that I had only previously considered would be the case for colourwork – and gaining a sense of the environment. His use of scalable plastic temporary studios (a bit like greenhouses) was quite novel.
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.
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.