In a review of constructed sculpture of the 13 sculptors suggested by our course notes, I have tried to identify key themes and ideas, rather than a large historical review across all the artists. I have then chosen a few to look at in greater depth concentrating on a few particular works or techniques or materials. Comments about style and construction are not intended to be a considered survey of a sculptors complete oeuvre, but brief points about a few works relevant to my own current practice.
Constructivism as a movement came out of Russia in about 1919 with key artists, Gabo, Tatlin, Malevich, and Pevsner. They wanted art to be a mechanism of social change. They were inspired by engineering and the industrial, the technical. They wanted to use the new industrial, mass produced materials and avoid traditional scultpure materials such as bronze and marble. Their art was to be constructed rather than cast, carved or modeled. It was to be ‘without any representational intention’ (Read, 1964); to be an exploration of pure shape and relationship between shapes.
The first artists working in this was were deadly serious. Their art was going to change the world. Gradually, over the years, a greater playfulness crept in to constructed sculpture and artists felt less constrained to avoid organic shapes at any cost.
Gabo is interesting for his use of non traditional materials, plastic, wire. He explored themes of space and complex mathematical planes reminiscent to me of Riemann geometry, floating in space. ‘Construction in Space Two Cones’ looks like a model of the pressure waves created by a supernova. He uses linear and planar modern materials to create complex curves. Did his threaded wire influence Hepworth and Moore with their strung/wired sculptures? I am sure it must have. Pevsner, Gabo’s brother uses very similar themes but is less ethereal, more cubist.
A Bauhaus tutor, his works were ‘uncompromisingly abstract, entirely Constructivist in their calculated use of a small number of simple geometric elements’ (Whitford, 1984)
‘Everyone is equal before the machine….There is no tradition in technology.’ He departed from earlier practice at the Bauhaus by encouraging the use of modern mass produced materials over traditional craft materials.
An architect and sculptor, his counter reliefs used metal sheet, wood forms and wire . His works have a distinct architectural style and he designed ‘Monument to the third International’, a huge machine-like tower which was never built. He was the Pre-genitor of constructivism and his workwas consciously dehumanised and brutalistic.
Painting and sculpture based around the idea of the supreme, simple geometrical shape and pure feeling over representational art. Other Constructivists seemed to want to strip all human emotion from their work but he wanted to distill it.
Influenced by cubism, but his reliefs echo the landscape and natural forms reduced to the simplicity of geometric forms without the regularity. He combined simplicity with feeling and emotion. His plaster reliefs have evoke classical Greek architecture and do not evoke technology or the machine.
Gonzales specialised in welded metal sculptures influenced by cubism. His works were generally anthropomorphic, departing completely from Constructivist tenets.
Early relef sculptures used simple, often recycled materials. His ‘Still Life 1914’ in the Tate used wood and upholstery fringing. He left the materials deliberately obvious and unsmartened, seeking a rough immediacy in the work. He produced sculptures which reduced everyday objects to a series of planes and shapes reconstructed as sculpture. Picasso constantly invented new forms of expression and was pushing boundaries even in late life. His ‘Mujer’ for which I can’t find a date is a simple right angle folded and peirced metal sheet, a brilliantly simple construction.
His sculptures are simple planes juxtapositioned, lined up or suspended in space. There is a limited use of colour; black and red, but mainly white. Simple, relatively two dimensional materials are converted into three dimensions by careful placing relative to each there and the overall space occupied by the work.
Smith was drawn to sculpture (which he saw as being essentially the same as painting, in three dimensions) by seeing Picasso welded iron work in 1933 (Causey, 1998). He used industrial materials, mostly iron and steel creating linear forms with abstracted naturalistic shapes. Iron was celebrated as a medium.
His early works celebrated convexity, enclosure; things hidden, wrapped, enclosed, hinted at. Some works are constructed completely of metal bar. Later works are constructed from sheet metal but having an architectural solidity. The use of simple strip and bar materials is something to keep in mind for my work.
Caro worked in many materials, steel, bronze, ceramics, paper etc. He painted or weathered surfaces and celebrted rust. His 60s sculptures have an obvious influence of Constructivism, but later sculptures embrace the organic. His work becomes bulkier and more convex as time progresses.
Everyday items are suspended in space, reinvented by their juxtaposition or altered by being flattened or exploded. This is creation of sculpture as anarchistic event. I love the idea of recreating something by destruction of its original use.
Points I take away from this quick survey of sculptors and works:
- seek simplicity
- consider relationship of shapes to each other but also wider space and support
- materials and constructions do not need to be complex, indeed the more simple, the more direct the result
- work towards abstraction
- consider how materials can be altered; surface treatments, even destruction, melted, painted, distressed, sanded, incised.
Causey, A. (1996) Oxford History of Art: Sculpture Since 1945. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Read H. (1964) Modern Sculpture: A Concise History. Ed. London:Thames and Hutton
Whitford, F. (1994) Bauhaus. London: Thames and Hutton