Tag Archives: henry moore

some thoughts on reality [working title]

Tuesday 2 August 2011

some days i get caught up in philosophical tangles, about notions of reality, about how reality might be the premise for some artistic creation but it isn’t the only impetus for making art. i know for example that my work seems rooted in my perceptions and experiences and it is not some abstract, poetic lyricism – and nor is it truly minimalist, where the absolute purity of form is in the ‘present’ overiding any need for narrative or subjectivity.

i find it puzzling that the single lens of the camera is deemed more useful an aid to an artist in depicting a unique sense of reality… that some painters have become dependent upon photography as a tool, that they have replaced the two sensitive lenses (their own eyes) for the clarity of the fixed and unemotional single-lens ‘reframed’ gaze of a non-thinking camera. i know it’s more complicated than that, and i am simplifying for the sake of creating an argument not to rely on the camera. there are many photographers and film-makers who convince me that it is an art, perhaps superseding painting as fine art.

is it the purpose of the painter to provide insight? a combination of response, thought, process and outcome, one that is not dependent on a photographic approximation of reality. i think this is why i am drawn to abstraction, because it feels closer to the heart of the matter, how things feel not just how they look. to work directly from photographs seems at once removed, little more than illustration…

but ‘abstraction’ in painting is a grey area, all too often misappropriated as an easy method of painting, and sometimes misunderstood as a ‘concept’, and it is often more difficult to discern its quality without an explicit sense of technical skill or competence – the ‘intuitive’ approach doesn’t always cover it.

thinking more… i think i create paintings which are based on a sense of reality but they do not depict that reality; they are separated, simplified, re-imagined, abstract reflections of ‘reality’, perhaps – a little bizarrely – how nature was interpreted in the arts & crafts movement, as a benign beautiful and safe substitute for the cruel ravages of nature.

i am most interested in the appearance of nature where it is least expected, appreciated or desired, when it is discreetly evident and in which there seems to be another meaning or significance, to see it separated from everyday reality, not related it to anything else in the absolute real sense…

i think sometimes (or most of the time) people will see what they want (or ‘will’) to see, what they are led to see. in plato’s republic (which i was first encouraged to read during teacher training – but i have not read it from cover to cover) there is the idea of the cave, a place in which a game of misplaced reality is played out based on what the human senses are given (or are deprived of). some prisoners are made to face a wall in which all they see are the projected shadows of the events happening behind them. they soon learn to see the shadows as their reality, but if one of them is set free they will then realise that it has been a confusing illusion. it seems to me that a lot of contemporary art functions like this.

the nature and meaning of the ‘overlooked’ and ‘abandoned’ has many personal resonances…

i still recall the time during my first art degree when i did work almost exclusively from my own narrative, my imagination, constructing figurative phantasmagoriccal or bawdy scenes on the pains and pleasures of an hedonistic lifesyle. i took some direction from seeing the paintings of brueghel and hieronymus bosch. a tutor also introduced me to the drawings of heath robinson, and i was hooked for a while on the surreal, ways of ‘invention’, and that imaginary aspect has perhaps stayed with me… it’s unfortunate that this old work, at the other end of the art spectrum, has no place here) and i am not sure i will ever get back to being that kind of artist again, it was different back then…

there is a locally published art book, ‘how artists see nature’, which naturally raises the question of what nature actually is? how the rural means of gentrification prettify the agricultural landscape, so that some of us can believe we are immersed in the humble beauty of nature! there are many private fishing lakes as havens for nature, i think this is where some farm workers go to unwind. i have read in the local media that there is a new initiative to regenerate impoverished rural areas – yes! they will develop ‘care farms’, where disengaged or disadvantaged people will help to work the land as one pathway to ‘social inclusion’. this is the strangeness of the rural and pastoral.

back to the local art book… i did not pay to be one of the ‘artists’ included in this art book, and now feel like an ‘unknown’ outsider artist. in light of my relative invisibility, i could instead write about (or review) the many local exhibitions i have attended… on how i failed to appreciate the heavy daubs of oil paint on a large canvas, so charged with impasto oil paint that vincent van gogh’s vigorous brushstrokes look thin and meagre in comparision. from the far side of the gallery, as the oilsome coagulation ‘clarified’, i could make out a local landscape.

or… perhaps i should write about another gallery visit, when the scratchy roughness of oil painting on canvas perfectly suited the narrative contained in its subject matter, how the rural landscape seems scarred and brutalised. or the other things which i saw in a mixed exhibition, in the controlled delicacy of a large pencil drawing, in the whimsical, surreal contraption of a non-working sculpture, or the tattered remains of a deflated football (a relic of our time, to be sure) – and how i was disappointed there was no introduction by the curators in the exhibition catalogue… or perhaps i should write about another exhibition where the work was worth the lunchtime perusal, even with over sixty works on display. there was a spacious and yet sparse feeling to this particular art showcase of drawings. however, time seems to pass by all too quickly and i am just an amateur art reporter in this regard.

perhaps i could instead, dear reader, relay the experience of visiting the house and studio of the famous british sculptor henry moore, and walking (in over-slippers) through his house ‘hoglands’ at perry green – how my concentration drifted away from the words of the tour guide to studying the titles of the books on the shelves, the many objects and primitive artefacts that were artfully displayed on a desk, a side cabinet, a coffee table, the paintings by vuillard and courbet, the shape of the sofa and the placement of cushions, the two oddly joining desks in the small office and the too many telephones, and how they placed fir cones on the chairs to dissuade any visitors from sitting down on them.

or the very small cooker in contast to henry’s monumental refrigerator – one of the first of its kind in a house in britain, american i think – how they could represent a man and his wife, or the shoes left on the floor in the scullery, and then the statuesque cacti in the lean-to greenhouse. or how, in one of henry moore’s art studios, we had a small insight into his creative thinking process (as if henry moore had briefly left the building, to return later) where a small fragment of bone was deftly attached to a flint with a blob of plasticine, and there within its miniscule reforming was the ‘idea’ for a large sculpture… and strolling all through the grounds of perry green, appreciating his concern for patina and surface working in unison with sinuous forms.

not all henry moore sculptures are shiny and smooth, except perhaps the ones lightly waxed and polished by some appreciative grazing sheep – and the pure joy in being able to touch sculptures – unlike at another sculpture exhibition i visited where i was reprimanded for daring to touch(!) a very shiny thing in the middle of the room. i made some quick drawings of some of the henry moore sculptures in my sketchbook…

it was an all-too-brief experience of a famous artist’s everyday creative reality. we like to peek into other artists’ studios, to see how things are done. henry moore was inquisitive, resourceful, very astute in managing his career as a ‘business’ …well-connected with the people that mattered.

my own studio is not a museum! it is invariably cluttered with collated fragments of things, things not yet properly started, barely begun or put aside for another time, but there a few things that show some promise. on the days when these ‘things’ are going well then i truly believe i was born to do this ‘art’ thing and nothing else. at other times i have to realistically abandon the development of my art and do something else (work) instead.

i have no pictures to share… it doesn’t seem useful (anymore) to write about or show things in progress

some large sculptures and a few small sketches

Sunday 30 May 2010

I took the opportunity this weekend to visit Snape Maltings by way of going to see a new exhibition by SOS artists Elizabeth James, Clare Rizzo, Carol Pask and Hilli Thompson in the Pond Gallery. It’s a mixed show, with paintings, prints, ceramics and textiles. It’s a good space to exhibit but the steep stairs make access difficult for the less physically able.

Whilst there, I also had a stroll around the outdoor sculptures at Snape… these images were taken with a mobile phone, around the moment the breeze picked up and it began to rain…


Three ‘figures’ from The Family of Man by Barbara Hepworth

Barbara Hepworth was a friend of the Suffolk-born composer Benjamin Britten and his partner, Peter Pears. She also stayed in Happisburgh in Norfolk in the 1930’s with the sculptor Henry Moore and the painter Ben Nicholson (who later became her second husband). These three totems were offered a gift to Britten (who established Snape Maltings as the main venue for the Aldeburgh Music Festival) in the 1970’s. I am sure there used to be a Henry Moore sculpture sited at Snape too, perhaps on the vacant plinth across from the main music hall…

There was a very good exhibition devoted to Hepworth, Moore and Nicholson and their connection to Norfolk at Norwich Castle in 2009. Both Hepworth and Moore were inspired by their beach finds at Happisburgh (pronounced haze-burrh), in the figurative forms of weathered flints, but more notably the sea-smoothed pebbles (which they collected and often carved). Hepworth, writing to Nicholson in 1931, tells of finding ‘a most beautiful stone […] I am so pleased with it I have packed it’;  in 1937 Moore writes in The Listener: ‘Pebbles show nature’s working of stone. Some of the pebbles I pick up have holes right through them.’ So there you have it, a shortcut key to British sculptural abstraction – truth to materials and derived from natural forms…


Migrant (2003) by Alison Wilding, located in a wide ditch before the expanse of the reed beds

Alison Wilding‘s installation ‘Migrant’ perhaps needs no further explanation (they are grounded and yet outcast), but I like how the two forms allude to hooded figures as much the steely vehicles in which they might secretly travel – and the surrounding vegetation will, over the course of the seasons, alternately reveal and then hide a sense of quiet movement in the landscape…


Perceval by Sarah Lucas (photographed looking east to accommodate the wider vista)

‘Perceval’ is a life size replica of a Shire horse in painted bronze (one of a edition of five), pulling a cart containing two supersized concrete marrows (making a connection to Lucas’s other work), a work that also replicates a familiar British, and now very kitsch, ornament. Perceval also makes an allusion to the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and so many other literary associations abound.

Sarah Lucas is one of the original YBAs (and old friend of Tracey Emin), and is known for subversive (and often lewd) mixed media works that mock cultural, social and gender stereotypes. This work seems very polished in comparison (with some irony) for Lucas, who is known for combining low-tech, crude objects and materials in her smaller sculptures (tights, kapok, wire, plaster). This sculpture is undeniably Duchampian in its conceptual influences, elevating the commonplace ‘trashy’ object into a more sophisticated artform, alluding to the British preoccupation with issues of class, taste, sentimentality, nostalgia and our relationship to the (pastoral) landscape. I could also mention Constable, but Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst come to mind instead…

I did some quick panoramic landscape sketches of the ‘greening’ Suffolk countryside this weekend …

Here are four of them (14cm x 40cm) in a very small sketchbook – and for some visual contrast, are shown with corresponding photographic snapshots of the same (or near as possible) ‘street view’ from Google Maps (I did not have a camera)…


[field, looking south west – graphite pencil on paper]


[same field, looking south – watercolour on paper]


[old airfield runway with rapeseed field and green wheat – watercolour and pencil on paper)


[road towards village with church and poplars – watercolour and graphite pencil on paper]

These images are courtesy of Google Maps, cropped to correspond to the above landscape drawings…

This is not exactly an awe inspiring landscape to draw, but a sense of distance clears the mind – the clear horizons and expansive skies compensate in contemplative terms…