London Art Fair 2015 – A Sculptural Narrative

pushing against the barrier - angela hunterbroderie anglais shoes sculpturefairy light in a jam-jar

The London Art Fair 2015 offers collectors the tantalizing possibility of owning important smaller scaled works by well-known twentieth-century sculptors – Reg Butler, Lynn Chadwick, Elisabeth Frink, Henry Moore, Eduardo Paolozzi – the latter being the subject of the keynote panel Conversation.

For those seeking momentum to their perspective, sculptures from the current generation of artists provide a varied narrative with a distinctly gentler curve. Works by Anna Gillespie, Christopher Marvell and Helen Sinclair reflect a variety of transitions progressing away from the abstract forms of the last century.

New works continue to be inspired by feminine forms. In silhouette, Angela Hunter’s bronze cast athletic female is Pushing Against the Barrier (2014), a pose which inspires intriguing interpretations. A strengthening of the mind, the body or both as the horizontal force of repellent pressure is palpably exerted. The arms are raised in parallel with the hands gestured to ‘halt’ defining the limit of tolerance.

The ethereal blue of Cathy Lewis’ slate jesmonite Broderie Anglais (2014) presents an infant poised between leaving her infant years and stepping, in her exquisite lace shoes, into her early childhood. Oriental teacups ornament the child’s tassel-tied hair and her jumpsuit ballons around her slender body. These impregnated textures are the tactile signature of this sculptor’s works.

An innovative mixed media video sculpture Multi-Fairy (2015) by Davy and Kristin McGuire is pure fantasy. Held within a wall mounted dark wooden box, a Duchamp referenced glass jar has a wired lid that rests upon an orange air-tight seal. Contained with are a series of Disney like butterfly-winged Tinkerbelles; each damsel deconstructs as pixelated fairy-dust at the tinkling sound of a bell, to be replaced by another of twenty five fluttering illusions.

Whether mixed media is strictly sculpture has been argued, yet such creativity does enhance capacity for pioneering collectors.

Richard Tuttle’s I Don’t Know – The Weave of Textile Language (2014)

i dont know by richard tuttlei dont know by richard tuttlei dont know by richard tuttlehorsehead nebula

The chasm of the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall becomes the fantastic other world of an unfathomable ocean, where a scaled whimsical seahorse rises and quivers almost imperceptibly within the hidden undercurrents of the depths.

Shafts of light ignite the blazing colours of swathed saffron wings and cerise body as its metamorphosis begins. Loose woven material is randomly pinned along the partially covered rigid aircraft span that propels this creature and, while the body binding appears haphazard, it shrouds the central core.

Engaging with the fundamental elements of the universe it may yet rise to soar beyond the earth and through the heavens until it reaches deep space where its shimmering silhouette rears, reincarnated, as the Horsehead Nebula.

The fabric of life is spun though our insatiable unanswered questions persist.

Exhibited:Tate Modern, United Kingdom,
14 October 2014 – 6 April 2015.
Photo:Horsehead Nebula ©

John Farnham’s Mayan Family (2014)

mayan family - john farnhammayan family - john farnham

Photos © John Farnham 2014
Soapstone, H25 cm x W34 cm x D20cm

Inspired by his extensive travels, John Farnham’s direct carvings originate from cultural images, absorbed then seemingly forgotten until they are transformed into compact compositions in stone. John re-interprets figurative imagery to create distinctive sculptures.

Mayan Family contrasts the masculinity and femininity of the historic peoples of Mesoamerica.

The semi-abstract heroic male head is covered with a polished helmet, bearing confident linear incisions which convey forward movement along the horizontal plane. The partial view of the upper face intensifies the determined outward gaze.

The female shields a young child cocooned tenderly beneath her bowed body. Her unbound hair cascades to conceal her emotions, though her left arm extends to embrace her own protector. The silhouette of their rounded forms resembles the ancient picture-writing that influenced this carving.

Though inextricably connected as a universal trinity, individual personalities and persuasions are implied by the differing proportional scale of each family member.

Exhibited:Walter Strachan Art Centre, Bishop Stortford College,
9 January 2015 – 27 March 2015.
Provenance:Purchased on 9 January 2015 for a private collection.

Elisabeth Frink’s Walking Madonna (1981)

walking madonna - elisabeth frinkwalking madonna - elisabeth frinkwalking madonna - elisabeth frink

In October 1981, the Dean of Salisbury Cathedral, Wiltshire, wrote to his parishioners to inform them that ‘a new resident will be observed in the Close.’1 The initially temporary figure subsequently became a permanent inhabitant of the genteel eighteenth-century Cathedral Close. At the centre of the Close is a sizable lawned square, surrounded by historic houses, including the Queen Anne period Mompesson House, which is now owned by the National Trust. Walking south towards the pale, pollution-tinged, Cathedral, along the east side of the Close, a substantial white painted gate stands ajar.

Within the Cathedral grounds, set on a truncated triangle of frayed and patch-worn grass, is the Walking Madonna. So slight that she is almost invisible – a mere shadow lost amongst the municipal clutter of four utility signs, the tall path light sited before the Cathedral porch and the apparently random rubble of large sandstone rocks on the east lawn. Her diminutive frame stands just less than 2 meters and is dominated by the scale of the Cathedral. Perhaps this tension of scale is a reference to humanity’s perceived insignificance against the presumed might of the Church. The dark patina of her bronze casting blends perfectly with the sombre gape of the huge perpendicular Gothic windows; her sun-tipped relief is lost in the reflected solar glint on the glass.

The tension of her suppressed anguish is visible in the slightest rise of her taut shoulders and grieving pinched-lip countenance; her modest demeanour echoes that of a nun, likened to Sister Raphael, the headmistress of the convent that Elisabeth Frink attended. The simplicity of the Madonna’s sackcloth textured clothing and waif-slender frame quietly proffers solace rather than chastisement for those who choose to meet her gaze or place their hand in her grasp-polished left hand. She is stilled by the depth of her thoughts, motionless, yet walking with resolute purpose. She strides forth into the Salisbury community, facing unexpectedly outwards, away from her spiritual home.

Recognising that Mary, the mother of Jesus, is conventionally considered to be a member of the community, the remarkable decision that Walking Madonna was to be placed ‘moving out from worship to be where human needs are to be met, not just in Salisbury but in the wide world’ was taken.2 In making this decision the parish elders, probably unknowingly, redefined the principle that traditional ecclesiastic sculptures were set apart from their brethren. Here the Walking Madonna integrates with the crowds, allowing her to gain the community’s acceptance. Viewers engage with her presence. Her face is aligned almost at eye level for an adult of average height and because she is plinth-less, her hand is often held; she stands within – rather than loftily above – the congregation as they arrive for and depart from services. Her siting does not detract from any sense of reverence, nor has she been vandalised. She simply exists beside the tourists, the worshipers and the locals who use the Cathedral pathways as a short-cut.

Those who take a moment to linger may appreciate this elderly lady’s grace; her slight form is powerfully engaging and, for the faithful, she may offer more than purely artistic appreciation.

  1. The Dean continued, ‘This figure symbolises … human dignity and creativity over militarism and totalitarian disregard for human dignity and rights.’ Stephen Gardiner, Frink (London: Harper Collins, 1998), pp.226-7.
  2. Ibid., p.227.