Two recent study visits to the Tate Modern have given me the opportunity to sketch some of the sculptures there. This first sketch is Agricola III, 1952 by David Smith, and American sculptor. Here he has taken old agricultural implements and hammered and welded them into a completely new form whilst retaining a feel of their original purpose and texture of worn metal. The piece is interestingly different from various angles and manages to be both open and solid at the same time, due to the solidity of the material used.
This partial study is of a completely contrasting work, Untitled (White Cravings), 1988, by Lee Bul. It is on a completely different scale, being six or seven feet high, and constructed mainly of material. With its twists and curves, it is organic to the point of feeling like a living creature, which is not surprising, given that it was designed to be worn as a costume, and still feels inhabited. It evokes a monstrous, distorted female body with bulges and tendrils. It includes hidden microphones which presumably picked up and transmitted the sounds the costume made as it moved so that the sculpture is move than just visual.
This is a very quick sketch of a bronze by Matisse executed in a couple of minutes as my study visit group paused in a gallery room. It is quite small piece and shows his pursuit of the abstraction of the female body. There is something quite magical about bronze as a medium. It has an almost velvety depth to the surface. In spite of its small-scale, this work has great presence due to the dense mass created by the chunkiness of the figure and the weight of the material. I was lucky enough to visit the exhibition ‘Bronze’ a couple of years ago at the RA, and sketched the large bronze panels which Matisse produced over a period of time, increasingly abstracting his female figure.
These are studies of works by Hepworth, both from the mid 1930s. ‘Ball, Plane and Hole’ speaks directly to the project on which I am currently working, inspired by the acoustic dishes of the war defenses. She has combined simple curved forms and examined the relation ship between them and the negative spaces created. The ball is present on the one plane, but absent in the other plane, in the form of the hole. Even the slight negative space created under the curved plinth has great importance. The material is polish hard wood of various sorts and it, like bronze, has a marvelous weight and patina with the addition of subtle grain.
‘Pierced Hemisphere |II’, 1937-38, by contrast, is carved in hard, textured stone and loosely suggests the form of a shell. The deceptively simple compound curves give a sense of completeness and the bulbous mass makes the sculpture feel eternal, like some fossil, lasting through the ages. Without doubt, Hepworth is the artist whose work most influences me, and persuaded me to study sculpture.
The final work I sketched was Henry Moore’s ‘Composition’, 1932. Again, this has solidity and complex curves, giving a satisfying completeness, but it doesn’t have the same sublime simplicity of the two Hepworth works. It is a little too complex, as if trying a little too hard. I am very drawn to his works inspired by bones or stones in the landscape. This pieces evokes, for me, a half melted jelly-like amoeba form, and I find it slightly repellant.
It was interesting to contrast these sculptures with others on display at the Tate Modern, for instance those by Donald Judd. His copper box ‘Untitled’ , its glowing depths you could imagine diving into, is fascinating for its use of materials and the effect produced by the simple form. However, drawing is a brutal test of the engaging quality of a work, and I had no compulsion to sketch any of his works; I could obsessively draw a single work by Hepworth all day.
Positioned about the new appartment development opposite the Tate Modern, are three sculptures by Emily Young whose work I first saw several years ago exibited at the Fine Art Society. Her monumental heads are reminiscent of classical Greek sculpture but she incorporates the texture and grain of the stone into the work in a way that suggests that the outcome is as much directed by the rhythm of the material as by her initial design. Often the side or back of the work is left apparently completely natural and unpolished. Stone is clearly selected for exciting crystal inclusions or pitted fossils. As you walk towards the Tate from the South, you would think that there was a lump of fabulously textured rock on a plinth and only as you walked past it, would you realise the presence of the huge face. This joyful response to medium seems to me an essence of great sculpture.