Gormley – Human @ Forte Belvedere, Florence,
26 April – 27 September 2015

Gormley - Human 8 - head against wall - resized Gormley - Human 19 - 3 Blockworks Duomo - resized Gormley - Human 26 - bodies with view - resized Gormley - Human 28 - bodies close up - resized Gormley - Human 36 - line with trees - resized Gormley - Human 57 - two supplicants - resized Gormley - Human 58 - fallen from the sky - resized Gormley - Human 48 - sky gazer - resized

Receiving an invitation to exhibit in Florence, bestows artistic greatness and historic legacy upon the recipient; an honour previously extended to an Englishman when Henry Moore’s monumental works, and those of other artists, were placed at Forte Belvedere in 1972.

For the summer Antony Gormley has temporarily been given sole tenancy for a battalion of one hundred Human sculptures. Crafted from his own image these iron bodies are intended as a generic representation of society.

Sited high on a hilltop to the south of the Renaissance city, Forte Belvedere was built at the end of the sixteenth century, to the Medicis’ calculated exactitude as a bastion of their domination and repression; previous to their own expulsion.

Fear, faith and fidelity permeated the Forte’s star-shaped perimeter walls. Those within looking down upon a menaced community nestled in a valley of gently undulating terrain. Over the centuries humanism has now prevailed to replace creeds and deities with rational thought and scientific evidence.

As a commanding observation platform it now sets a unique cultural stage. Renovated and with renewed purpose the location re-opened as an art attraction with Zhang Huan’s exhibition in 2013, followed by Guiseppe Penone’s exhibition in 2014.

The installation of Gormley’s iron figures, curated by Segio Risaliti and Arabella Natalini, utilises the time-worn weather-beaten architecture of painted plaster, brick and stone to situate the fatigued metal of each form in apposition.

Yet it is the whole of this Tuscan vale – containing iconic Florentine buildings, rolling hills and drought resistant trees to punctuate an azure blue horizon – that generously defines the entirety of the exhibition; set to a soundtrack of pealing church bells, rasping scooters and selfie-posed chatter.

The life-sized scale of Gormley’s sculptures provide an identifiable context to an otherwise hostile environment fused by its vast spacial voids. Recycled from the intended location of a disused Viennese tram station, Gormley’s naturalistic Critical Mass II (1995) sculptures redefine contemporary citizenship as intense and interactive. While his Lego-brick pixelated formation of Blockwork bodies jolt a recollection of constructed and deconstructed ‘body-forms’ as genetic data.

Set singularly the dignity of each sculpture is evident. When crowded, identity is lost and the figures become commoditised, chaotic, and alarmingly disposable. The viewer is physically charged by this searing contrast of community.

Solo figures dispersed within and against the property convey leisure in witty yoga-like stances where the unfurnished interior rooms offer seclusion and elemental shelter, affording the luxury of unguarded moments.

The geometric precision of the sculptures’ outdoor placement heightens their psychological exaggeration. The apparent casualty of bodies fallen from steps, ramparts or even the sky is disconcerting. Constrained by un-scalable walls, roofless tunnels and prison-like vaults, emotional turmoil and tensions are suppressed.

Then the sweeping expanse of the gravelled palazzina reinvigorates an awareness of social scrutiny. The foetus unfurls in twelve basic postures, including crawling, kneeling, sitting and finally standing with confident head held high towards the sky. The backs of these sculptures turn against the heaped collision of humanity lying only meters away.

The aesthetic vogue for figurative sculpture which languished during the latter part of the last century triumphantly re-engages our attention to convey a compelling message of worth.

The success of Gormley’s landscape sculptures lies in the constant repetition of meeting ourselves in the familiarity of human form; Human personifies an urban aspiration to the urbane.

 

Barbara Hepworth: Sculpture for a Modern World
@ Tate Britain 24 June – 25 October 2015

Hepworth

It is difficult to recall the name of any other female sculptor of Hepworth’s generation, a testament to her tenacity and her talent. Her name is regularly listed with the best of the twentieth-century British based Modernists: Epstein and Moore.

For those familiar with Hepworth’s sculptures this exhibition will be a joyful reaquaintance with a dynamic artist and a vibrant period. For those to whom her name is vaguely familiar and her art almost unknown, this is a rare opportunity to see works of aesthetic beauty crafted with devotion to an exceptional career.

The men in Hepworth’s life – husbands and sculptors – offer a contextual introduction to the canon of Hepworth’s diligence. She left them when constrained. During her lifetime Hepworth’s artistic and international achievements were hesitantly recognised by her peers. Yet the purpose of this exhibition is to convince us of Hepworth’s contemporary international standing.

There are seven rooms in which Hepworth’s sculptures are measured through the evolutionary decades of her industry. Meticulously selected works and recently released archive images draw the eye along Hepworth’s aesthetic journey and the excitement of her environments from studio cocoon to international platform.

Her smaller scaled early Primitive works, including the dark nude female form of Contemplative Figure (1928), clearly demonstrate her growing skill and confidence in carving; this progresses through her studio work, towards the elegantly smooth purity of geometric International Modernism showing the clinical precision of works such as Three Forms (1935) representing her triplet children.

Developmentally, these smaller scaled sculptures reflect the vogue of the period and its people: organic forms, pierced and strung hollows, and increasing experimentalism with materials’ physical forms and its spiritual representations.

Of necessity for security reasons, in viewing these smaller works, many are sanitised by a protective veneer of Perspex which distorts their illumination and envelopes their mesmerising appeal.

The symbiotic artistry of her partnership with second husband Ben Nicholson inspired in Hepworth a clarity of focus and aesthetic fluidity that few of her peers went on to achieve. Her linear profile proliferates his displayed paintings, whilst the silhouette of her forms reflect shapes seen within his work. This room successfully conveys the resonance of their creative synergy.

As the frugal mother of four children, she balanced her domestic responsibilities with her irrepressible sculptural drive, though Hepworth’s post-war paradigm shift was amplified by the loss of her beloved eldest son in 1953. Her emotion is manifest in the disciplined control and chasm carved precision of her African Guarea woods. They command inspection of solid mass and white washed emptiness. Tactile yet untouchable, the warmth of the wood glows. Spatially displayed together these four pieces of Greek title define the quantum of Hepworth’s personal revolution.

International demand for Hepworth’s architectural work necessitated the practicality of casting her plaster sculptures in bronze, rather than fulfilling her preference for the slower delivery of carving. Bold in scale and statement, these huge outdoor works are represented by small photographic images, which perhaps lack grandeur, impact and a descriptive vocabulary of elemental energy.

By the 1960s, Hepworth drew more deeply upon her modelling skills and her intuitive ability to finesse a more feminine expression of contemporary and recollected landscapes. Visually these landscapes are brought into view through screened archived films to lift our gaze skyward across the moors, cliffs and seascapes that inspired Hepworth’s art.

In the final room, her graceful landscape sculptures such as Meridian (1958) are set against the extraordinary recreation of Gerrit Rietveld’s 1955 pavilion which seeks to replicate an external ambience, grounding both sculptures and sculptor in time and place.

Stepping outside, a singular Hepworth garden sculpture sits upon the lawn outside Tate Britain where it benefits immeasurably from the dappled, shifting light and shade of its open air placement.

Musing up Hepworth’s rightly acclaimed creativity, there is perhaps a lingering misperception of Hepworth’s work as domestic in focus, wholly unjust given the magnitude of her colossal sculptures and their prestigious international locations. Decoding this intimacy is however the tantalising essence of Hepworth’s visual communication.

FACE15 @ La Galleria Pall Mall 18 – 23 May 2015

Mick Davies - RodinAmina Ali - Susie ZamitJim Kempton - Oscar Nemon

Karen Hessenberg - Floral SunhatCreek Head - Laurence EdwardsProfessor Li Xiang-qun - Xiao Yu

Rarely are we able to gaze so intently upon the image of a stranger yet the spirited works, exhibited by the Society of Portrait Sculptors at FACE15, invite personal scrutiny.

Set on eye level plinths in an airy gallery, these are not the austere and intimidating heavy castings of history. They are vivacious renderings of personality and colour capturing the exploration of individuality.

Such a wide ranging and thought provoking selection of portrait sculptures defies outmoded expectations. Whilst aesthetically this is predominantly western art its subjects represent a diverse village of ethnicity.

This Annual Open Exhibition aims to encourage the perpetuation and quality of portrait sculptures with approximately a third of the sculptures exhibited shown by non-members who may offer their work for inclusion.

Each year a panel of seven society members selects approximately seventy works from hundreds of international submissions. The sculptures are initially shortlisted from photographs which are then selected for evaluation before the exhibits are curated for display.

Those awarding prizes have proved themselves to be progressive in their choices; they are not averse to the frisson of the contemporary.

Finger print indentations, the impression of tool incisions and the malleable contortions of metals are clearly visible in the textured appeal of these images. Having successful evoked the character of their subject, the sculptor must await the alchemy of the casting or firing process in pursuit of a surface finish that lies beyond their immediate influence.

Media have expanded beyond the traditions of bronze, plaster, stone and terracotta to include ceramics, ciment fondu, fibreglass resin, glass, jesmonite, steel, wax and the innovation of recycled tyres utilised to dramatic effect for Mick Davis’ silver sprayed Rodin.

Masterworks are included for which FACE15 has accessed sculptures by Émile-Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929): Head of Apollo (1900) and Krishnamurti (1927). In highlighting a number of the other sculptures on display, the society’s considered choices display a variety of aesthetic counter points.

Jim Kempton’s cast bronze of sculptor Oscar Nemon is diminutive and exquisitely rendered with pensive expression, whilst the other worldliness of Laurence Edwards’ matt finished Creek Head 3 oozes a raw subtle menace and distress; critically inspired by his son’s somersault accident.

Karin Hessenberg’s charming self portrait Floral Sunhat is enlivened by a muted palette of textiles and tousled blond hair. The refined elegance of Professor Li Xiang-qun’s smooth surfaced sculpture intensifies the conviction of dispassionate quiet of Xiao Yu whose poised bobbed head personifies the remoteness of youth.

Sounding an important note of political sensitivity is Suzie Zamit’s dignified portrayal of Amina Ali, a Nigerian school girl captured by Boko Haram in a timely and poignant reminder that the Our Girls campaign has not yet brought the children home.

FACE15 has been an exciting success with a three fold increase in attendance this year. This exhibition is set to become an increasingly important event in the art calendar reflecting nuanced shifts in the techniques of portrait sculpture as both well-known and previously unknown faces continue to fascinate.

Entry details for FACE16 will be posted in the Autumn on:
http://www.portrait-sculpture.org/annualopenex.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sculpture at the Chelsea Flower Show 2015

John O' Conner - Yoga poseChris Beardshaw gardenGirl

Simon GudgeonMichael Speller - concavedDavid Meredith - Shield HorseFemale health

Leading the eye towards a pleasing focal point has long been a subtle skill practised by the greatest landscape designers. Punctuating an inspired horticultural composition, sculpture defines the ambience of the environment, conveying meaning and moment.

Sculpture introduces an element of the unexpected and reveals itself with theatrical intent. When thoughtfully placed its balanced proportionality is staged to dramatic effect, evoking memory, emotion and visceral response.

Though the Chelsea Flower Show may have been challenged by the lack of financial sponsorship available for garden designers since the economic tremor of 2008, potentially empty plots have been filled by those offering complementary accessories.

This year the show offers avenues of glorious gardens together with the best works of exceptional contemporary English sculptors including: Anna Gillespie (favoured in Chris Beardshaw’s gardens), Simon Gudgeon, David Meredith, John O’Connor, Lucy Smith, Michael Speller and David Watkinson.

In doing so this venue offers a rare opportunity to compare and contrast subject, style and scale and, unlike works displayed in sculpture parks, many of the sculptures here propose a more familial intimate appeal.

These covetable works of art – many of figurative form – engage with our inclement weather to endlessly mesmerising focus.