Rarely does a criticism/review/comment on one’s work give one food for thought which goes to the heart of one’s aims, concerns and intentions, let alone results in the actual piece(s).
The contribution to the Abcrit debate (Discussion on Abstract Sculpture, 27th June), from Tony Smart, achieved exactly this for me in relation to the sculpture series “Bridge of Echoes’ (I) as illustrated then. As a result of Tony’s remarks I was obliged to think much more clearly about the relationship of material (choice of) to the resulting building (of the piece) and its visual and physical effect (though this is always a prime concern for sculptors). In this case I had previously experimented with the use of sheet card, both in itself and mixed with plywood. It became clear (from Tony) that the compacted, dense, movemented relationships of the cut, folded stacked and glued pieces or shards of the material made a particular visual and spatial/physical impression, quite different to that which had previously resulted in steel or other materials that I had used. This ‘impression’, that Tony termed “pressure”, delighted me; I realised it was giving me something of extreme interest in terms of contributing to the sculpture’s total wholeness in and of space; avoiding what he so aptly called: “…a gentlemanly dialogue between space and material…”
Despite the advantages mentioned above, it was equally obvious that in terms of permanency, the material, as used, would not survive for very long and that some other method of achieving the same plastic result would become necessary if the pieces were not to be merely ephemeral.
For some time, as a by-product of no longer being able to work, for several disparate reasons, as formerly, in forged and welded steel, I had taken to working in sheet plywood, sawn and laminated, in various formats. It now seemed that a logical way of tackling the paper / card problem would be to ‘translate’ the ‘Bridge of Echoes’ techniques into this material (also sheet; also laminated and cut.), and therefore containing a certain parallel character though physically different.
The two new pieces illustrated are among several attempts to achieve this resulting ‘translation’ Of course, it immediately became apparent, in order not to get ‘lost in translation’, that working the plywood was not the same as working the card. I found that I had to use larger and comparatively clumsier ‘units’ of material and cut them in differing ways. It was impossible to realise the delicacy of some of the card relationships and combinations of form, but at least retain something of the density. The plywood demanded its own formats and physical combinations of parts and the laminating had to be far bolder in technique,. The scale of the parts in relation to the whole also had to be re-thought. Merely expanding the overall size by enlarging the proportions of individual elements of the card into something other in plywood would have been false. In other words the plywood sculptures were going to become different sculptures despite applying the same aims in conception; primarily, to create a sculpture in which the material (form) and space give birth to each other – physically – in a state of tension and movement – (“pressure”).
In another piece of correspondence, Tony raised the crucial issue (for abstract constructed sculpture) of the ‘ends’ – pieces of material projecting into space and going nowhere; not engaging with the space around but merely occupying it instead of, as he put it : “…swallowing back into the mix…” (and thereby engaging with space, internal and external. So the question is, can this new material function along the same lines as that of the sculpture Tony remarked upon ?
Modern sculptors in particular have expressed the opinion that it does not really matter what materials are used in the making of a piece of sculpture; it is the aim and intention and consequent result that counts, which of course, is indisputable. It is, however, also a fact that the speaker of one language may find that he cannot express the same sentiment in another one in quite the same way.
This is the comment Tim refers to, posted by Tony Smart on https://abcrit.org/2016/06/19/36-tim-scott-and-robin-greenwood-discuss-abstract-sculpture/ , 27th June 2016:
On “Bridge of Echoes 1”
This piece could have been interpreted by me as the least articulate and interesting in its extremities but for the following reasons, and after much peering into the photo I like it the most.
I see pressure, not the pressure of elongation but of piece on piece of paper moving in so many different ways against one another and in such large numbers and coming from all directions with a multitude of attitudes. This squashes the space which was there out and in the squashing and squeezing and the alternations piece on piece building to larger direction changes and movements through the piece the space becomes a memory. It is not contained or described space but a physical memory as the pressure is piled on. There would appear to be a purpose to the shape of the whole .Not something opening to the world as physical material but of the space leaving the sculpture. This is not a gentlemanly dialogue between space and material looking for unity but the one moving the other to the margins only to be squeezed back in. So, there is no ambiguity on the margins between the space of the sculpture and the space around the sculpture as I perceive it.
Put another way, it’s like squeezing wet clay in your hands and out from your fingers but alas clay being inert you have to bring it back again. The sculpture on the other hand appears to be able to not only keep this going but the sculpture which is being continually rebuilt is rebuilt in an entirely new way.
This is Tim’s paper sculpture, “Bridge of Echoes 1”, that Tony refers to:
More views of the two new plywood sculptures:
P.S. By coincidence, Tony Smart’s new work has just been posted here: https://branchron.com/2017/09/10/brancaster-chronicle-no-50-anthony-smart-sculptures/
I am wondering if the plywood sculptures are a similar size to the paper ones?
From the photographs it is relatively easy to see the ‘pressure’ Tony was talking about in the paper pieces and how that kind of pressure appears to be lacking in the plywood sculptures. They seem to be more open?
The directional forces in the paper works feel bonded together and multi faceted, whereas the shapes in the plywood pieces feel more individually supportive. Not sure I have expressed that very clearly.
I was wondering if the plywood work had been much larger, using the same number of separate pieces as in the paper sculptures, would there have been the same pressure? Is that what you tried to do?
I can really see parallels to painting in as much as if one tries to replicate something in a different medium things change completely. Making things larger needs bigger everything too.
Ps. the paper one feels more ‘ multi-wafer-like’ rather than multi faceted, very impressive, and seems to have movement and rhythm.
The plywood pieces are roughly twice to two and a half times the size of the paper/card ones. As I said, it was impossible to reproduce the delicacy and fineness of the paper in the plywood without directly ‘imitating\ it which I felt would be a false move.
Sorry Tim, yes you did make that clear, I think I may have read your piece too quickly at first, thank you.
Let’s be clear about one thing
What we see in the photographs of these sculptures and how they would be for real does not bare comparison. The beautiful rhythmical flat wall behind the sculptures will always be that.
Photographs cannot convey three dimensionality at this level. But, there are clues if we ‘lock in ‘ to the “thought built” nature of true plastic and spatial three dimensionality.
It is necessary to use our own imagination to release the image from its freeze frame stiffness.
Once in to these pieces I know I am looking at continuums of material, seemingly fully integrated in and across space.They make the space of the sculpture and by their myriad permutations continue to divide and reorganise that space whilst never returning to the first impression of the photograph. You just know they are not a series of views. You begin to feel their continuity expressed as feeling of material and space.
And, it would seem just the right amount of material as the fluidity of the structure ,its looseness throughout is able to continually represent the same material in an ever changing interplay of constantly evolving and new formations, always pulling your ‘minds eye’ in every direction because of the reinvention of this same material coaxed into new unities whilst never seemingly losing the feel of a whole sculpture.
It is a beautiful and photogenic wall but the sculptures in front of it can overcome this photogenic world with mind and eye and recreate this unique world of abstract sculpture.
For anyone wondering what all this talk about ‘new sculpture’ amounted to, here it is again,looking great, a manifestation of what the ‘new sculpture’ can achieve.
Thank you Tony; what more can I say, photographs not withstanding unfortunately. Glad you liked the wall as well !
It would be good to have some comments on the plywood’s lack of ‘flexibility and plasticity’ as a material and whether that is a limitation that needs to be overcome somehow (vis a vis the paper/card pieces.
Tim asked me for a reaction to these new works, and this is what I replied to him.
Without seeing them in the flesh it is really not possible to comment further, especially as they look so different from different angles. And as Noela has asked, they seem to be much bigger in reality than they look on screen. I like what Tony said about the paper ones. It seems to me that they are more supple and “plastic” than the plywood ones, inevitably given the nature of plywood, more rigid. It would be hard for them to rival the work in paper without laminating thin plywood in curves. And as Tucker said, there is no material that exists or could conceivably exist that does not have physical properties that determine what is physically possible for that material to assume. Could you not cast the paper ones in bronze? Technically very difficult and horrendously expensive I know. But they would look great.
There is something of a synergy with what Mark Skilton is doing. I like his aluminium piece and the other one on the table in his latest Chronicle.
Tim has given an interesting response to this, which I hope he will repeat here.
Personally, I’d hate to see the paper works cast in bronze. I think they’d look phoney, because they would be. There is nothing wrong with the paper ones as they are.
What I’d say about the plywood works (again, I’ve not seen them) is that though they appear at the moment to be perhaps less “plastic” than the paper sculptures, there remains plenty of scope to take things further with this particular material. If you compare these new works with the plywood sculptures Tim showed at Poussin in 2011, you will see how far things have moved. They can go further, but playing to the supposed inherent qualities or properties of the material is the opposite of the way to go, in my opinion, and will only limit them. Sculptural thinking, the investing in three-dimensionality, should be the thing that drives the “reinvention” of the material. It looks like it could cope with yet more.
I do not think that plywood is the issue at all.
I took it as material and mostly in the manner you deliver it. That manner has a richness of usage because as you have put it yourself the “part to part”, part to whole” inventions are clear and all knowing of the whole.
Can a flat material be supple ,bending to pressure? I have already said that it can in the minds eye. Interactions and manipulations and the ‘sense’ that is made create the implied meanings. I bend my steel a lot, but all of that bending which is literal has to be countered and contradicted physically and spatially to rid it somehow of any narrative.That in itself has a great deal of mileage for me and is a different approach to these two sculptures.
The forces in abstract sculpture are not real and the material in any of these sculptures cannot just ‘be’ and any interaction with movement or pressure or whatever needs to be abstract in their independence of any equivalent in the real world.
Therefore I took it that in the world of imaginative three dimensionality is a world where hopefully ‘meaning’, the result of all of the things going on in the sculpture, the plywood would be ‘felt’ as bending and in all manner of ways and in accord with the sculpture when in fact no such things actually take place.
You seem determined to ignore the bleedin’ obvious. Of course plywood has severe limitations as a material due to it’s rigidity, especially compared to steel, as Tim is very much aware. But there is no doubt a way round it. These seem to be less frontal than the paper ones, but how “spatial” they are is hard to tell from photos. But have it your own way.
Nice touch to put “thought built” in quotes. It’s Frank Lloyd Wright of course, dilating on the need for an Organic architecture, and in the nature of materials, which is not quite the same as “truth to materials”. Just to show how far back plastic and spatial, physicality etc. goes.
I am very glad that a debate has got going, it is exactly what sculpture needs.
Here is the response to Alan’s remarks he asked to be repeated:
“…the ‘suppleness’ and ‘plasticity’ of the paper is exactly what I found to be impossible to emulate in the plywood. I did try to use thin sheets which were bent into curves etc., but I realised very quickly that the very nature of plywood is something quite different. After all, it was invented to produce rigidity and compressive strength and only marginally, flexibility. Lamination is in itself a compressive act, so what I have concentrated on (tried to) is the density and compression (along with directional movement)., What I hope has survived (from the paper) is the interaction between the material and the space, the aim being to make the one responsible for the other (both ways round)….”(whatever the material)
I agree with Robin that there is plenty of room to take (plywood) things further and I hope to.
Tony’s point about ‘imagining’ physical conditions is an interesting one; all good sculpture ‘suggests’ things, physically, spatially, in ‘movement’, direction and so on.The only part material (any) plays is to ‘suggest’ within the limits and confines of that material’s own physicality.
So am I using the mundane word ‘suggest’ instead of FLW’s grand ‘thought built , or Tony’s ‘imaginative release’ ?
In both plywood sculptures, the photographs suggest “side-on” views that mainly show faces of the ply; and “end-on” views that mainly show edges of ply. Whether the sculpture has these views, only you know at the moment, Tim. If it is true, it means for me a slightly architectural aspect to the space of the sculpture, which is not there at all in the paper. But I still think this is not a demonstration of plywood’s limitations, so much as an issue with sculptural organisation and the three-dimensionality of how the material is thought about and used. I think in the paper sculptures you have demonstrably worked with a strong sculptural intent in quite a liberated way, going perhaps to somewhere near the limits of that material. I repeat what I said before – the paper works are real things, by the looks of it, not maquettes. Perhaps because you are working out of the paper into plywood (not sure I understand this) the sculptural imperative is somehow a little compromised.
Alan..Regarding Tim’s question.
Why is it a problem to suggest that by using flat,stiff and rigid elements putting them together in some sort of sequence, say, you would create tension and its necessary opposite, resistance.?
Tim has actually achieved his , I simply tried to describe what I saw . My suggestion is that what he already has could be seen in another way. And, seen as way forward in its own right.
Only the last view “Echoes IV” would fit your description for me.I could go with what you say but there is a terrific twisting compression from from to back and I am very taken with the element on the far right and the spaces? created by the elements that perhaps are in your view too edgy.So sorry Robin I was rather getting off on those edgy edges. I feel there is plenty of continuity through the three views.
So it boils down to how we see things at the time.i refer to my first comment we must really make the effort …”to use our own imagination to release the image from its freeze frame stiffness”.
Fair enough, but I’m not sure I want to use my imagination in that way on photographs.
Of course, it depends upon how far you want to take this thing of “suggestion”. That’s a big question.
With regard to the rigidity of the plywood, I am particularly taken by the lightness of feel of the plywood planes which give them in places a sort of floatiness, squeezed out by the laminations and verticals.This seems to blend quite well with the spatial ness, creating a whole rather expansive kind of feel. The big advantage of this for me is that it shows a way of developing visually dense sculpture away from the lumpiness which has characterised a lot of the metal sculpture we have seen this summer, my own work included.
To take Robin’s points::
I actualliy took tjhirty to forty pictures of each sculpture to primarily demonstrate that there was no ‘view’; no side, no front, no back, no ‘flats’ , no ‘edges. Alll these are, or shoiuld (by intention anyway) be. the result of the sculptures own internal movements and directions in and with space. The trouble as you rightly point out with ‘freeze frame’ picturea is that they tend to bastardise these intentions for the viewer.
I would certainly hope that the “sculptural organisation” is the prime motivator and engine of the work’s feeling.
As a matter of fact, I had made quite a few plywood and plywood plus paper pieces before the ‘Bridge of Echos’ ones. It was largely dissatisfaction with these experiments that led to the all paper works. Having made those, as I think I mentioned above, I was worried that as a material it would not survive for long and needed a rethink accordingly .So actually I was not working OUT of paper into plywood, but replacing it
Tony, your comment on the last view of ‘Echos IV’ would, I am sure, have been changed had he been able to move around the sculpture by an inch or two either way. We are up against photos again and “releasing our imaginations”.
Tim, if it were practicable and affordable, would you have the paper ones cast in bronze or otherwise reproduced in some other more durable and practical material?
Answer: No. I think it would be false in feeling.(But I have in the past cast sculptures of a totally different character, by the ceramic shell process, into bronze and once into cast iron). They sere conceived, however, much as a clay sculpture is conceived, for casting.
To Tony. There is not really a problem. Implied movement can be created even with an intractable material as you describe it eloquently. Tim has been doing exactly that for many years, along with his innate “architectural” abilities, the two together, with which I for one have no problem. After all,it was Tim who picked up on Rodin’s account of how movement is created in the static art of sculpture. It is not just to be imaginatively projected into the sequences, it has to be “thought built” into them too. We are all guessing as to how three dimensional these works are. But it’s looking good for them.
But before we enter into another wrangle, the whole question of the “illusory” nature or otherwise of movement in sculpture, all this has been discussed at great length already in the 153 comments on my article on Katherine Gili some months back on abcrit. I do sometimes wonder whether anyone bothers to reread this stuff and pick up on it.
You mean we should keep re-reading it until we agree with you?
I am very interested in what you say but I would like to know more of what you are seeing in the overall shape of Tim’s sculptures and some clarification as to what you mean by ‘lump’.?
There were lots of contributors besides me, muppet
Really poppet. One hardly noticed.
Mark (and Tony) I too would very much like you to expand on what you have said about “lightness”, “floatiness”, “lumpiness” etc..
I would also very much appreciate more on the subject of the “overall shape” of the sculpture.
For Example, there is obviously a significant differences in the ‘compact’ format of the plywood sculptures as shown, and many of the ‘Brancaster’ ones which have a distinctly spreading out, enveloping format.
Where are the occupying spatial limits of abstract sculpture ? I touched on this in the discussion with Robin on sculptural v architectural space.
In trying to make spatial, three dimensional sculpture, I have become aware of how important density is especially when working with steel which can become bogged down in its own literal density. In response I have tried to make steel elements feel lighter in order to create a more visual density. In these sculptures the floatiness refers mainly to the horizontal elements which seem to be energised by the denser verticals. There seems to be a definite advantage in making visually dense sculpture from physically light material as it allows the space to flow along with the material. So often with steel the space gets lost in the darkness as it gets denser. This has allowed your sculptures to avoid becoming lumpy and in turn let their form be determined by the content.
Tim and Mark
I have responded to you and to Richard Ward on the Brancaster Chronicles
There is movement when the autumn wind rustles through leaves, or, my favourite, when a murmuration of starlings carries out one of their amazing synchronised ballets, subject to some radar or force field effect between them without touching. But sculpture is not concerned with force fields (or not yet). In scculpture the elements out of which it is built have to touch one another. David Smith introduced the idea that there could be touching without the implication of physical pressure (I do not touch, I touch with the eye) although he often contradicted it in practice. With the old magic blue of welding, even if the point of contact is minimal, there is a fusion at the join which does imply a kind of pressure from one element to another.
The kinds of pressure that sculptors have usually been interested in do imply a physical pressure and counter pressure (reciprocal pressure), and when that happens there is a domino effect that carries on through the “structure”. That’s where the question of coherence comes in. Too much complexity compromises and can obfuscate coherence or “lucidity”. Of course these pressures are “suggested” rather than real in a mechanical sense, but they can be suggested emphatically or subtly, with “percussive clarity” (Barenboim on Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas) which rings out in the room,or not. This is what “physicality” means. Sculpture does not have an “attack” as such, being at a greater remove from the action of the body ( or does it?), but it can create great power through physicality plus clarity.
When it comes to the spatial limits, again we are not talking about the literal amount of space taken up by the hardware of the sculpture. Quite small sculptures can ring out in the room by the way they energise the spaces and interactions with space that they have managed to create. But there is a tendency towards impaction, contraction and density in some of the “new” work, a sort of Rubics cube equalising of the twisting and turning which the desire for three dimensionality from all angles of view has induced. Someone has said that Tony’s new ones do expand and contract. I hope they are correct, but it is impossible to tell from the photos. It is even impossible (for me) to tell which of the still photos relates to which work being discussed.
Also impossible to really see Tim’s, but Mark’s remark about getting away from “lumpiness” is significant. I think he is talking about the overall character of sculpture as an object, in spite of the fact that it may be transparent in some respects, and here is talking less of Tony’s than his own. It looks as if Tim’s do not turn around on themselves as much, and are more open to the surrounding spaces, as one would expect, given his history. But this is to generalise too much. There are no doubt exceptions in everyone’s output to date.
That’s the great paradox for sculpture isn’t it. That the body is physically engaged to a much greater degree than in painting or music in bringing the stuff into being, moving it around, and yet the outcome does not transmit this bodily action as directly as it does in painting. The element of “thought built” is uppermost. That’s what I mean by distance, at a remove.
You could say that Tim’s channel the space rather than enfold it.
If Mark is talking about “the overall character of sculpture as an object”, then he’s talking about a figurative way of looking at the work. As far as I can see, he is wrong to characterise any of the new work as lumpen, as are you to say it has “a tendency towards impaction, contraction and density” that is like a Rubik’s cube, an object which has no spatiality at all (and neither does a lump).
Tony gives a very credible explanation of why the new work does not “go out on a limb” over on Brancaster, and how and why the meshing together of material and space is proceeding as it is. I’d also point to Mark’s opening remarks on Tony’s film, to the effect that it is pointless to look AT the work, but one should look INTO it.
If the material and the space are compacted in their interwoven proximity in some of the new sculpture, and if it is a genuine problem (which it may not be), it will work itself out, and does not require criticising from an outmoded point of view. Perhaps Tim’s work provides some sort of possibility for expansion, perhaps not. But the fact that the new sculpture IS new means it needs looking at in a new way.
There appears to be a kind of lightness and almost weightlessness to the plywood pieces as if one part is ‘growing’ out of another, not in an organic way particularly. I am wondering if that could be due to the apparent lack of visible connecting elements such as pins etc. It feels that by using glue (if that is the case) you have created a flow within the work whilst using a material that has a rigid and difficult to manipulate character.
Do you think that our ambition “for three dimensionality from all angles” is flawed.?
“…there is a tendency towards impaction, contraction and density in some of the new work…” (Alan, above).
What is visible is that the ‘given’ nature of a material is unavoidable, and only suppressed when the sculptor’s feeling and command is intense enough to overcome it.
Plywood, bent and twisted strip steel, steel scrap or junk parts, factory steel, wood or composite materials, stone, clay; on and on; all have their dominant physicality of existence which has to be accepted, but then transformed by sculptural intent.
If the ‘intentions’ to which the sculptor puts his material to sculptural use are in any way compromised by the material’s dominance, then other characteristics (than intensity of sculptural feeling) will emerge. That is a problem for ‘new’ sculpture as much as it has always been for old.
Sculptural space is now a material too.
Mark: I understand your concerns with steel and its weightiness and density (which at the time was n asset); from long struggles of my own. You have possibly suggested one type of solution yourself, which is to cut the material in such a way as to have a ‘flat’ and an ‘edge’. Forging might do it if cutting won’t. I await a steel solution with great interest.
I don’t see a problem. Steel can be light and delicate, or whatever. The best of Tony Smart’s new work is not lumpen or too dense. In fact, neither is the worst of it. Alan and Mark should point to exactly what they are talking about.
“Sculptural space is now a material too.” Yay, but boy, that took a long time to get there. I wonder if we yet understand what this means, though.
“Criticising from an outmoded point of view”. You wish. That’s certainly not what you got when I came to see your hanging sculptures not so long ago.
On three dimensionality from every angle, all I suggest is that such an ambition is related to the tendency for the work to acquire what in relation to Gili I called the Giambologna effect, an equalised contraposto, or the danger of such. Tim’s new work avoids that by being marginally more centripetal in channelling space. But as you well know, I can’t say more , not being in front of the work, and probably shouldn’t even have said that much.
Further, there is nothing “figurative” in Mark’s way of discussing the work. That is an idea fixe of Robin’s. It’s about time he gave it up. And on Rubik’s cube, I was referring to the way it is twisted and turned in the hands, not to its lumpenness.
The Giambologna effect is a rising spiral, and as such, is quite a strong configurational restraint. The new business of three-dimensionality from every direction is quite a different ambition, and nothing to do with an equalising of compositional balance – probably its opposite.
The works from Poussin had thinner plywood which was bent and curved (I really enjoyed them then though maybe felt at times they had a bit too many small tweaking parts added) These have more rigid (18 – 22mm?) pieces as well as some thinner ones and very different in nature; they shunt along and I see them as coming from “in to out” – setting up their own logic which – although they are placed as such – is unlike work arrived at through considerations of viewpoint.
They accumulate their meaning as they are built and make no claims upon our taste for how they should look – in fact they seek to turn their back on such things (whereas much assembled sculpture post Smith / Caro would place such demands upon us).
What intrigues me is their “aromatic” relationship to architecture which I felt the paper ones (from screen views) had too; not due to the planarity of the parts but in how they ‘accept’ the horizontal and move over it, standing off it. These planar parts have a really pleasing chunkiness to them and the ‘drawing’ never gets too fussy – this I would suggest is due to the specificity and surety prevalent in the responses to the demands of making them in a confident (non tasteful) way. The ambition will surely increase as these demands further reveal themselves. Tony’s remark : …”constantly evolving and new formations, always pulling your ‘minds eye’ in every direction because of the reinvention of this same material coaxed into new unities whilst never seemingly losing the feel of a whole sculpture.”
Realising what can be achieved with the flatness of the pieces has entailed that the ‘actions’ happen on the limits – where the cutting occurs. As in the paper which is folded or butted the ‘restraint’ in the process is used to force a ‘pressure’ into the invention. For example one could start hacking at the edges with another tool or abrade the surfaces but they would then move things into surface and the meaning would rapidly collapse and artifice set in. I think the ‘eccentricity’ (decisions unique to an individual) of the drawing is where to go. For that is what will explore how parts relate and sit in space, to make space. I notice how Tony is doing this also in his – equally economic – handling of flat sheet steel; adding curves and bends whilst seeking to avoid the pitfall of them lapsing into issues of materiality, and also Mark’s remarks on steel (read wood) and space working as one. (i.e. not being lumpen) make sense in relation to them. One could say that the parts are team players so to speak rather than allowing any prima donnas their place in the sun (difficult to hold on to this approach though when your skills start to match your ambition – which I think Tony touched upon – albeit obliquely – in his recent “Chronicle”). The drawing must always serve the overall character, determine it – without ‘drawing’ attention to itself; you must not notice it. An artist must have a disinterestedness to their work. Scale will be at its optimum when the drawing is confident with no displays of bravado.
I do not know what sculpture holds for the future but it feels like a really good time to be watching it develop
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As I have said before, a totally three dimensional form would be a sphere; which is why God created them for the universe ?
Emyr, your comments are pertinent and helpful. I wanted to move on from the thin sheet (plywood) pieces (at Poussin), because I felt that they were still using and occupying space in a ‘traditional’ manner instead of, as I wanted to achieve, the material creating the space and vice versa.
I am not quite sure what an ‘aromatic’ relationship is but it sounds very good !
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Yes Tim, a totally three-dimensional singular “form” might well be a sphere, but a totally three-dimensional complex and compound sculpture with an interaction of material and space is an entirely different matter, and is going to end up somewhere else entirely. I for one think it is a great ambition.
Always a pleasure to read and hear your fresh and original viewpoint, Emyr, uncluttered as it is with all the baggage of abstract nouns and hair splitting which the sculptors seem to revel in. Although over on Branchron 50 on Smart, a kind of lucidity seems to be breaking out, in the form of words, terminology and ambitions for what I agree are exciting developments. However I have never in my lifetime encountered such a plethora of verbal explanation and justification for what should be a vegetative semi-unconscious process, the “foul rag and bone shop of the heart” left in abeyance. Does this work really need all the talking up that accompanies it.?
It’s hilarious that Robin teases me about the 153 comments on Gili’s article, many of which are his own, whilst simultaneously adding to the hour long Chronicle on Tony Smart with essay length additions. Clarifications they may be, but in a context already over-analytical and semantics heavy. Enough already!
What’s really hilarious is your belated agreement that developments on Brancaster are exciting. You probably think, in your fantastical conceit, that it’s down to your occasional interventions, putting us back on the straight and narrow. You probably think it has happened in spite of, not because of, the long hours of discussion and thought and travel that we have all put in, and of course the hard graft in the studios. It’s amazing, isn’t it Alan, that we have managed to make any progress at all whilst ignoring your periodic prejudiced outpourings of scorn and your siren inducements to a life of ease and expansiveness.
Enough already? A return to a “vegetative semi-unconscious process”, you potato!
Maybe you are right, though. Maybe that is enough, and now the sites have practically merged it’s time to shut down Abcrit so we can focus on Brancaster.
Abcrit is one of the most independent and focused platforms for writing on abstract art right now. I know it must be time consuming keeping it going but I think it would be a real shame to close it down.
That was supposed to be irony, Robin !!!
Bur instead of shutting down , how about trying to get wider viewpoints ?
The irony is lost on me at the moment, Tim. Were we, as sculptors, to take some of Alan’s recent advice, we would be making semi-figurative and flat sculptures now, and have no interest in pursuing more three-dimensionality or making more abstract work. And we would have packed in Brancaster a long time ago, and so certainly not made the progress he now rather grudgingly acknowledges. There’s irony for you! He will never admit he is wrong, and takes the liberty of abusing me and the other participants of Brancaster when we state our case. He even has the cheek to suggest that we don’t take enough notice of his profound words of wisdom, when in fact he is the one who will not listen or take new ideas on board. He owes us all on Brancaster a profound apology for the rubbish he has put our way. It will never come.
Sad, because it could be very different, as Anne Smart suggested in her recent exchanges with Alan, all of which fell on stony ground.
To answer your point, Tim – from whom would we get a wider viewpoint?
To answer John B’s point – that’s all very well, and I don’t begrudge the time, which is minimal. But all arguments seem to return to Brancaster anyway. That’s not so much of a surprise, since it is the only game-changer in town. In some ways it might be said to be MORE focused and independent.
Abcrit is focused on abstract art but diverse enough to cover many different aspects- whether that be polemics and history or reviews of contemporary shows etc. Very different to Brancaster which is about a small bunch of artists doing crits together in studios.
Ignoring that tirade of hysterical abuse —- When a sequence of pressures and resistances extends beyond a certain point it acquires weight (physical and perceptual); it is no longer just sculptural structure; it also simultaneously is a physical structure requiring support by a counter weighting at other parts of the structure (and hanging from the ceiling is not a long term solution – it just transfers the problem to the overhead structure of the building) — (or you could turn it into a drone perhaps).
“Legs” are taboo, which is why the new sculpture is tending towards the character of a cluster with the weighting towards the bottom, and has difficulty with extension and cantilever. Even Mark has moved in this direction, away from his larger works. Pressure implies that one thing has acted on another. But pressure and resistance are not the only forms of coalescing in space, or the only way of reading a work. The elements may seem to collide in a dense cluster like some event in nuclear fusion, and disperse and expand accordingly, or be shot through with an invading force.
What we have is the “suggestion” of physical forces, but the hardware of the sculpture still creates physical weight or mass, however attenuated.
Can there be such a thing as “abstract” pressure, “abstract” resistance? Or “abstract ” colliding? It seems to me that the word “abstract” is redundant in this context.
Until you exercise your own knowledge of sculpture in front of the pieces themselves, I well believe the Order you describe will prevail for you. Seen from your perspective of course, it does make perfect sense.
But, when you look at a sculpture of today there should be an expectation of some challenging of existing understandings.
The problems of cantilevering, or even of the “tracking” of material, part to part, is in the linearity of such movements in the material. The problem with linearity is that it is not fully three-dimensional in its relations. The ambition for greater three-dimensionality is key to the multi-directional expansion of relations at all points of the sculpture, and the attempt, which is new, to make the building outward of material include and incorporate the returning resistance to that expansion of the spatiality of the sculpture, which can work against it. That is perhaps a more abstract version of resistance and pressure.
That is one reason why previous sculptural thinking put so much of the emphasis on physicality and some kind of objecthood (including the body) – because it was essentially linear, and to do with only the material, and not the three-dimensional interaction of material with spatiality.
P.S. I knew for sure you would ignore my comments, Alan, but answer me one thing – why is it OK for you to go on at length about Brancaster sculpture, but no one else?
What exactly do you mean by “linearity” ? The parts of a (good) sculpture progress in multiple ‘directions’ (which are. or should be. intentional); and by doing so create ‘movement’ and these are of course ‘physical’; and hopefully, induce a sense of physicality. But why should they be classified as “linear” if they are not, and move in space three dimensionally ? That is not to do with any new search for a fusion of sculptural material and sculptural space, iti is merely an existing quality of good sculpture achieving what at the time was perceivable as possible.
You cannot NOT “do with the material”, otherwise go and be a poet or sing.
I agree that “cantilevering and “extension” are fundamental aspects of the physicality of sculpture making, and whether they are of particular concern or not at the moment is academic.
Oh dear! The link with Brancaster was initiated at the top of the article by referring us to Tony’s Chronicle No 50. I did not go on at length about it. After a number of attempts to respond to Tim’s work, I made a remark about impaction or contraction, and all hell broke loose. I was later irritated by the comment about an ” outmoded way of looking” or some such.
It is a shame that what began as a healthy discussion of Tim’s work has once again slid into a promo for the unparalleled achievements of Brancaster, “the only game in town”. Are Tim’s new works at least as interesting as anything the Brancastrian sculptors are doing, or are they not? Are they too “outmoded”.?
Robin has been trying to depict me as an outdated reactionary figure, and by implication of himself as revolutionary, ever since he began to conflate abcrit with Brancaster, (of which this latest coincidence is a shining example). I hope objective observers will recognise this as without any discernible evidence, ( any that I in my egomania can see at least.)
His tactic is to ignore the substance of what I have to say in order to pounce on a single phrase that he can subject to his own inimitable brand of ridicule. Why this defensiveness? (Though his latest comments offer some hope).
It is obvious to me now that whatever I say will not only be misconstrued as arrogance, but will not make a blind bit of difference to this ongoing self definition.
To Tony — of course I need to see the work. That’s why I refrained from commenting except in general terms about both yours and Tim’s. But when I do see them, I will not be using any different form of seeing than with anyone else’s work, or concern myself with how you would like them to be looked at or into. I will use my “mind’s eye” just as you do. And I do not prescribe any order. Who do you think I am, Mussolini?
Finally, it would be a shame if abcrit was replaced by Brancaster. That would make the latter even more niche than it already is, and isolate it from a wider debate as to the status of Abstraction in the modern world. Pounce on that too!
“the only game-changer in town”, actually.
How tickled I am this fine morning not to have brought down upon myself another torrent. It’s getting to be a bit like Groundhog Day all over again, if you think back to the David Sweet article on Sam’s show, and the Gillian Ayres one, as well as The Katherine Gili.
To try to answer some of your criticisms — Haughtiness is the role you’ve cast me in, and I’m having to play up to it. It’s a literary haughtiness, and has no relation to the real me. I admit my comment on Emyr’s post of 15 th Sept. was naughty and provocative, and acted as a red rag to a bull, for which I apologise.
There is really no difference in your, Tony’s and my definition of what constitutes Abstraction, as recently announced on Branchron 50. We would all like definitions to be just that, definitive, watertight, foolproof. However, certainly in music and painting it is just not true that parts, phrases, or elements have no expressive content until subsumed in the whole.
In Beethoven’s Les Adieux Sonata for instance (Tony will be familiar) after a momentary harmonic scene setting, the percussive octave leap of the first motif has a marked expressive character in its own right, which is then repeated, differently coloured in different settings throughout the movement. Only an analyst in retrospect would claim that all this has been fully integrated. It was that striking leaping phrase that was discovered first, as it often is in Beethoven, and then it was integrated into a larger complex.
In Constable’s full scale study for The Leaping Horse, the rotting timbers of the lock gate and the vegetation beside the water have an expressive quality of their own even before their inclusion in the bigger picture. (You will say that is why the finished version is better, but is it?)
And in Cezanne’s great Bathers at Rest 1875-76 (Barnes Foundation) the cloud shapes rhymed with the modelling of the fictional mountain have an expressive force all of their own. Sacrilege to would be absolutists, Cezanne once again confounds. Rationalists would like these reciprocal pressures to be watertight and subsumed in the whole, but art, great art does not always obey the rules (I’m sure we can agree on that).
Perhaps that’s why some of the more “advanced” painting and music have in the past century tended to aspire to the condition of sculpture, envying its structural and physical clarity of form at its best.
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Sorry to have missed a whole day’s insults, but rest assured I will do my level best to make up for it. I was busy spending the day at YET ANOTHER Brancaster Chronicle (yes, those events that you insisted should have ceased after the first year), this time looking at the sculpture of Alex Harley and the work of one of your favourite Brancaster painters, the very excellent and conceit-free John Pollard. Good it was too, and it struck me how completely the discussions of the chronicles, and indeed the work of those taking part, are geared up for evolution and change, where every new contribution seeks to make a difference. I’ll leave to your own imagination any comparisons…
The double irony of answering at length on Abcrit a comment I made on Brancaster, after castigating me for the “plethora of verbal explanation”, is I’m sure lost somewhere in the great echo chamber of your “literary haughtiness” (LOL). If you really do think that the “percussive octave leap” in Les Adieux is expressive in itself, try listening to it on loop for twenty minutes. Of course, they have a “character”, so too the rotting timbers of Constable, but you wouldn’t want that character anywhere near to being the expressive content of the musical piece or painting. So too the twisted piece of metal in a Tony Smart.
Perhaps you could you say which sculptures have been aspired to by “advanced” painting and music? I’m baffled. I can only think of sculpture that has rather sadly aspired to the pictorialism of modernist painting.
Meanwhile, keep taking the happy drugs and go easy on the others.
An outside observer reading an account of about Tim Scott’s new sculptures and trying to understand why the Brancaster sculptures are “game-changers” might be somewhat confused.
Judging by the photographs at least (no one here apart from Scott has seen his IRL) these are very similar sculptures. There are differences in handling of material and structure and in the emphasis of the overall result, as there are between the individual sculptors at Brancaster. Perhaps Scott sits slightly to one side (and the architecture Robin has mentioned seems likely to be a part of this, as is Scott’s use of plywood – which seems to have pushed him further into architecture – and which is for me currently unresolved in comparison with the paper works), but overall the similarities are much more developed than the differences: complex internal relations, that work from the inside outward (and so can result in a sometimes slightly neglected, or at least not declarative overall configuration); a sense of structure that is always multiple, and bound up with movement and change; a sense (albeit to very differing degrees and in differing ways) of the organic.
Rather than a game-changer, isn’t the work at Brancaster overall most accurately characterized as a continuation and – for the individuals involved – intensification of the work that began in the late 70s at St Martin’s, of which Scott’s own welded steel sculpture – through the 80s and 90s and until the 2000s – remains the most sophisticated, wide-ranging and fully resolved outcome. Katherine Gili should also be mentioned here.
The most obvious difference from Scott’s (and Gili’s) steel sculpture is the rejection of forging: it would be interesting to read why Robin, Mark and Tony have done this (I think there are both gains and losses here): in the work of a few years ago it seemed to be about enabling more flexible, open, larger scaled sculpture, but as the Brancaster sculpture generally becomes more compact this seems less clear. It seems plausible that for Mark and Robin part to part construction is partially a way of countering the endeavour’s underlying organic tendencies (which Robin’s work throws off to the greatest extent); Tony’s recent work – which I understand is bent and cut sheet metal – comes closer to forging, and in this and other ways I think Tony seems closer to Gili and Scott than he does to Robin and Mark: it is interesting that Scott begins with Tony’s praise of his work, as perhaps Tony’s work in steel shows up the difficulties Scott is having in plywood and paper.
The work that is going on is obviously commendable and has ramped up the production and achievement of dedicated, serious abstract artists working in an indifferent (much worse than the hostile one of the late 70, early 80s in which the work begun) situation: but it has continued rather than changing the game, as such it is a conservative, rather than a radical enterprise (I don’t see conservative as simply pejorative – in some ways the whole of high modernism was conservative – and it is arguably a reasonable response to the current art-world). Within this, the different characters and obsessions of the artists are becoming clearer. I reckon some of the work could stand-up to much more acclaimed and visible work that developed from post-war modernism – that is praise BTW – but I still think it broadly belongs in that context: for example – and I think this is not superficial – wouldn’t these works of Tony’s look great against a late painterly Olitski? Thinking as a curator – and I think the work deserves to be seen properly – I would want to show the Brancaster sculpture within other contexts, the very close one of Gili and Scott (and Robert Persey), the larger one of high modernism; and perhaps against work that is in some senses is oppositional.
Sorry about the weird mix of first and second names. I can’t be bothered to change it now!
A very interesting comment that deserves some attention, and will get it. But meantime Sam, have you taken on board this new kind of three-dimensionality in sculpture that we are striving for, or do you think it is of no account?
I’ll wait for the longer response, I think…
Actually Sam I havnt stopped using forging. But I have stopped using forging to build the whole sculpture, the reason being that I was finding that forging was compressing the space within the steel, sealing it off from the space around it, isolating the content of the work within the material presence rather than in a spatial presence. However I do construct using a variety of worked pieces some of them forged, which you would have noticed if you had come to look at my recent work before catagorizing it.
Sorry for the error. I did know that the work included forging – I think that was also the case in some of the sculptures I saw of yours when I was last down: I should have included that qualification. However I don’t think it changes my overall point a huge amount – even if you did not totally reject forging you did quite strongly move away from it. The idea of not sealing the space off is, I think, still roughly in line with my remark about “about enabling more flexible, open, larger scaled sculpture”, isn’t it? I saw your sculpture in the Greenwich group show.
Would it be considered heinous to question the ultimate effectiveness of the use of plywood? Of course I can’t comment on work I haven’t seen, although I did take note of Tim’s plywood sculptures back at the Poussin some little while back. I presume any artist hopes for their work to be, eventually, loved. I notice in painting that acrylic can sometimes be used in a way that makes it look brittle and harsh or overly milky etc., and some abstract painters ignore the surface qualities, the nap for example, of their canvases. In order to persuade even an educated public to look at (and into) the work, it has in some sense to be seduced, even if it is by the pleasure of coming across “une jolie-laide”. Only then may it be persuaded to invest the effort to look and think.
I don’t know of many materials that I cannot come to like; is this difficulty with the visual qualities of plywood not a pertinent issue? I don’t see any other references to the aesthetic qualities of the material, but certainly at the Poussin pv I was not alone. Tell me I’m wrong.
I don’t know if this is relevant Peter? https://www.vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/plywood-material-of-the-modern-world#objects
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Sam, thanks for the link which is relevant, and Tim for your reply. In fact the the Eames 1942 chair rather amplifies my point. Should the exact same body of the chair be made of moulded “plastic” type of material rather than the steamed shaped plywood, it would be attractive. And yet the chair would be supportive of the body in exactly the same way. So, interestingly, why the difference in my response?
Tim, having put all your work and thought into these sculptures I can understand your irritation with my observation, and your recourse to quoting the classic philistine. Please rest assured that I have from the beginning found it easy to appreciate Caro’s and Hide’s use of girders, and have from the earlier 70’s on enjoyed your work in a variety of materials. Many of us have come to enjoy, for example Schoenberg, eventually, through the gradual education of our sensibilities. May your own work continue to make inroads into the minds of the viewers. However I think it important to recognise the larger point I’m attempting to make. If I find plywood as naked as a baked bean upon a plate it may be for a supportable reason. Cover it in tomato sauce, it is edible, (I eat them myself), and nutritious, much as the plywood chair effectively supports the body. However neither has quite the appeal that alternative dishes offer. I don’t think this is trivial, And in the past I have been accused by post-modernists of old of making “value-judgements”, indeed. There are important biological reasons for attraction and repulsion to certain foodstuffs, or creatures (the slug ?) Perhaps the Brancastrians in pursuit of the absolute fail to see the total “is-ness” (I don’t have a German term for this) of the object produced. It interests me that in pieces of sculpture (not yours) performing, or “doing” very similar things I can prefer an aluminium piece to one in which my instincts shy clear of the particular use of steel in that instance.Tim, I’m sure you don’t want to get into a Brancastrian Tango, tango, tango of misreadings and apologies, any more than I do. Be assured, my wife Caroline Hislam, has on occasion retweeted images of your work, and that I have no prejudice against the uses of non traditional materials. Finally I suppose I am suggesting that one’s instincts, or taste, have sound reasons to be taken note of.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Is stone more beautiful than wood ? Brass more than copper ? With due respect Pete, your comment reminds me of the “oh no, not another pile of rusty old scrap iron” that we steel sculptors used to get all the time in the past; something like the equivalent, for painters, of the “my three year old could do better than that”.
I stand by the dictum that any material used for sculpture making has to be transformed by the sculptural intent infused into it, or it dies; it remains just – material . In other words, if, in my case, you are reading ‘plywood’, then the sculpture has failed, and you are justified in your disappointment.
Having said that, it is undoubtedly equally true that a plywood sculpture will not ‘look’ the same as a steel sculpture , or a wood sculpture, or a clay sculpture. The material that a sculpture is made of imposes limits on what the sculptor can do with it, not the least of which is the ‘nature’ of that material itself. If that’ ‘nature’ is dislikeable as you suggest, then the sculptor has indeed a harder task ahead of him/her to convince sculpturally.
It is sad for me that others share your migivings, I do agree that plywood has a very strong ‘limitation’ of character, it is mostly associated with a sort of DIY aesthetic that many people will find obtrusive in another context such as this one,
There was a time when all sculpture would be made in a ‘noble’ material: stone or wood or clay/bronze, but I am sure you are not demanding a return to that ?! since ‘new’ material will be ‘enobled’ by the context of its usage.
Tim, my reply to you have gone in with my comments to Sam, above.
Pete, I could not get Sam’s link for some reason, but I am very familiar with the Eames chair.
Funnily enough, proving how aesthetic tastes can differ, despite serious underlying knowledge of the subject; I actually think the Eames plywood is MORE elegant than it would have been in some “moulded plastic material”. But , rest assured, Eames had nothing to do with my uptake of the use of this material.
From your work, I would not for one moment suppose that you were in any way ignorant of, or do not appreciate, the use of ‘modern’ materials in sculpture. I am with you entirely on the need for ‘sauce’.
In your comment on the ‘taste’ differences between similar (in other respects) sculptures, the one in steel and the other in aluminium; are you sure that the ‘difference’ is not actually to do with the relative ability of the materials to carry the sculptural decisions, rather than your imposition of an aesthetic choice ?
Whatever the reason, I hope that increasing familiarity in time with the dreaded plywood (in sculpture) will gradually sway your reactions !
Sam, my reply:
You recently tweeted, with your customary brio, comparison photos of a Tony Caro from 1965 and a Sarah Oppenheimer from 2017, as usual without commentary on the juxtaposition. https://twitter.com/abstractsculp/status/908375127422902272. You don’t say one is better than the other, or different, you just think it is clever to note some recurring modernist trope. You do this a lot. You pick and choose and jam together from the history of modernism things that pique your fancy. You once tweeted two artworks together because they both had a bit of blue in them. You tweeted one of my hanging sculptures with pictures of a Calder mobile, a Richard Smith kite painting and a Louise Bourgois hanging penis https://twitter.com/abstractsculp/status/873789031812935680. I loved Emyr’s riposte to this – that Salvador Dali hung his paintings! So funny that I forgot to hate the trivialisation of my work by you. And all for the sake of – what exactly? I have no idea, and my guess is you don’t either. Now you are proposing Tony Smart and late Olitski. Not superficial, you assert, but you still don’t tell us what or why. Curly licks, perhaps? Not superficial, no – far worse. And a great shame, because a talented writer such as you should be unpicking these works for our understanding, not confounding the distinctions.
This game that you play, which is a kind of perverted version of Alan’s linear modernist art history theories, is that very game that Brancaster changes. In fact, it stamps on the neck of this game, perhaps with a force that at times might seem too violent, but which is well deserved and not before time. What Brancaster does is hand back to the individual participating artist the absolute responsibility for every last thing that they do in their art, and every last thing that they think regarding why they are doing what they do. Brancaster takes away the game of excuses by artistic precedent.
What this has meant for abstract sculpture in particular has been a complete reappraisal of what is required to be abstract, three-dimensional, spatial and physical, all at the same time. These are big things to tackle and not sorted overnight, but we have now made very good progress. It has never been done before, and it’s not happening anywhere else (unless you know better?) It is right that we should be proud of what Brancaster has achieved.
In a nutshell, the newness in sculpture is about the complete break from a history of abstraction which continues the traditional ways of dividing form and content, as in figurative art, and continues the conceit of expressive metaphor, again as in figurative art. This also includes the business of relating to sculpture with and through the body. Most abstractionists are quite happy with a semi-abstract art that has bits of stuff to occasionally remind you of literal things. We are now making abstract art that has no relation to abstraction. This is not a word game, it’s a fact about some of the stuff people are making. If you think it occasionally resembles stuff from the real world or past art (Rubik’s Cubes, Monet , whatever) you are mistakenly generalising, and it’s a horrible and pointless comparison. Your considerable intelligence and literary sharpness would be better aimed at elucidating the extensive differences between late Olitski and Tony Smart, which are serious and significant. As too, now, are the differences between Smart and Gili. Think about the changes that the work of almost all Brancaster artists has undergone in the last five years, and the pace of change. Amazing. We have just had a great dialogue about the relationship between material and spatiality in sculpture. It’s been brilliant. We are on with something new. If you could get your head round it, you might even be able to explain it better than we can. My impression is you are not interested in such things.
As you have rightly said in the past, the art made by Brancaster artists has to live in the real world. It will, thanks for the concern, with or without your help. Preferably with, but please, save the two-person show of me and Louise until after I’m a-gonner.
I don’t know which Brancaster crits you’ve been attending Robin, but all this stamping on necks of art historical games and the likes “….with a force that at times might seem too violent….” Phew! Well, I must of missed that one. Maybe it all went down during your summer trip to the Wild West of England because I wasn’t privy to much heavy wrestling out in Stratford last weekend.
Isn’t it just a bit disingenuous of you to pretend to get your knickers in a twist about a few tweets? Sam, in his comment, is simply drawing attention to the fact that your enthusiasms have historical precedents that you don’t seem able to properly acknowledge. You talk of breaking away from the past but there is an argument to be made that you fit very cosily within in a very particular lineage. This is the real issue. What happens on Twitter between ‘Isn’t my cat nuts?’ gifs is not really news. You can’t have the kind of meandering and self obsessed discussions you seem to masochistally/ sadistically enjoy in 140 characters. I think Sam’s tweets act like quick thought games that get the mind making connections between art works. These juxtapositions can be invigorating, cheeky and useful- ultimately the connections made or comparisons formulated are yours to consider, throw away, question or demean. Where you might see ‘perversion’ others might see new possibilities. But can you isolate your artworks from the historical continuum, full as it is with contradictions and broader arguments that might consume at least two generations of artists working in a particular way? I think it is important that more comparisons are made with work and methodologies that run contrary to your own thinking. Instead, you are constantly chasing your comrade’s tails around your own particular and rather cramped historical backyard, so to speak. What started out as interesting clashes with Alan have turned into a handbags at dawn camp fest- a rhetorical circularity has set in which has rapidly diminishing intellectual returns. If you choose to throw your art all over Twitter you will have to get used to people doing all sorts with it. You’re lucky in that Sam does stuff with it in an insightful and thought provoking way- just like his comment above- it has so obviously hit a raw nerve. You want a bigger audience for the work but at the same time the audience are only allowed to ‘look’ at it in one way- YOUR way… Art doesn’t work like that any more and maybe it never really did.
Classic Robin. Ignore all the positive comment of Sam’s, and latch onto something on Twitter, which reveals only the futility of Twitter and all who sail in her as a forum for serious discussion.
This kind of crusader mentality is impregnable, even to well meaning help. One wonders why one bothers. These people no longer need the support of writers. They’ve talked themselves out of the need for support. If you try to write about them, unless you say exactly what they want you to say, and see things the way they insist that you see them, you’re in trouble.
Then there’s the “linearity” quip, directed at me. What is linear about pointing out the vast difference between the “progressive” Picasso and the anachronistic Bonnard, or the gulf between the austere high modernism of the so-called “Radical Years” and the anachronistic late Monet.?
Not so many years ago I received a lecture from Robin about the radical new territory for sculpture that Caro’s work of the 60s had opened up. What made him think I didn’t share this opinion remains a mystery. (I was against the idea of bringing Mashomack or Pines Plains to the Poussin Gallery). There followed a treatise on the importance of horizontality in sculpture, (I still have it somewhere). No linearity of influence here of course. This accompanied his sculpture like One Flag Day, which I very much like, and Horse Jaws. What happened to this Robin.?.
What happened was that Tony Smart returned from isolation in Banffshire and declared a year zero, a starting from scratch, and a rejection not only of the sculpture of the past, but of the nexus of ideas that had led from the “corporeality ” of his late 70s work to the body based work of the 1980s. Caro is no good, Smith is no good, Rodin, Degas and Gonzalez are no good. Why? Because they hadn’t had the foresight to anticipate the emerging concern with “three dimensionality” as it had gradually dawned on a little group of sculptors at Stockwell Depot.
And Sam is quite right to suggest that this is the context in which Brancaster should be viewed.
The rejection of this nexus of ideas which led to the body based sculpture has become so violent that “figuration” is seen in everything and roundly condemned. Things have swung to the opposite extreme, away from “physicality”, played down in favour of sculpture as illusion.
Caro had declared that he wanted to make sculpture more abstract (more like music), and so do the Brancastrians, but no linearity there either.
In the context of a discussion on tensility in David Smith’s Australia, I had the temerity to point out the virtues of Tim Scott’s Song for Chile II, and to compare it with Gili’s Bitter Joy and a work of Robin’s. There followed an extended attempt to prove me wrong, with the claim that Song was “linear” and had the configuration of an arch. So too Scott’s Adele series, condemned as “figurative” as well. Although there is no arch that I’m aware of that severs itself and dislocates in mid flight in a way that would give a structural engineer nightmares. There followed Robin’s Fire Engine, and the overhead sculpture on stilts whose title I have forgotten.
Mark Skilton began to take the lead with impressive sculptures which were worked through their centres from one side to another without the sense of enclosure around an empty centre that was characteristic of Tony’s and Robin’s contemporaneous works (more or less) . Mark was in the lead, and the others were playing catchup.
Then came the much praised denser and more compact ground sculpture of his chronicle before last. I have not seen it, but am happy to accept the consensus account of its virtues, chiefly Tony’s. And since then all of the sculptors except Alex have followed this lead towards a kind of dense cluster, with all due credit for individual differences. But no linearity of influence here either. Mark then produced the aluminium piece for Greenwich, which combined influences from both Tony’s first Marshland sculptures and Tim’s Bridge of Echoes paper works. But of course no linearity there either. But he took the influences further.
When it comes to the painters who participate in Brancaster, the relative humility of their ambition and quiet achievements are in stark contrast to the rhetoric with which these achievements are touted by Robin. I am sure they are embarrassed by the exagggerated claims being made for them. Hilde and Noela are producing pure colour paintings of refinement and natural talent, but there is nothing revolutionary about them. And it is absurd to refuse to place them in any context outside Brancaster, as if no one had ever thought to paint like that before. That is to do them a disservice in the long run. John Pollard is reworking ways of organising that take him back to early De Kooning of the 1940’s and 50’s, with echoes of Pollock’s There Were Seven in Eight 1945 MMONY. Different of course but related. There was a lot of painting like this in the subsequent years in Europe,as well as the US, but it has faded from the record. There is nothing wrong with this reworking, and reappraisal, a quite healthy eclectic fusion of influences, but let’s not claim unprecedented status for it.
And so, Sam , I’m afraid your idea of curating a show that would place these sculptors in a wider context, including their own former selves, is likely to be met with a resounding rejection. They are on a mission, to boldly go,where no one has gone before. Best let them get on with it.
Classic Gouk. This little potted history, with all its glitches, kind of makes my point. It’s the only way you can look at things.
Robin asks of Sam if he has taken on board the ideas about three dimensionality and “spatiality”. Well I for one have taken them on board, and I did so round about the same time as Robin did. We have heard all that nonsense about my two dimensional flat vision before, but it all ended embarrassingly when Robin failed to notice that the image he put up of Song for Chile II was of dismembered bits of it assembled wrongly and upside down. So much for configuration.
That’s an interesting take on the a few of the painters Alan. The painters are a totally disparate bunch. Some have only got stuck in to their work in the last few years. Some have been working doggedly for many years, others are part of other peer groups besides Brancaster and have their own agendas. If Robin believes that he and the other sculptors are on to something completely new and groundbreaking within their own discipline then that’s fine, but the painters don’t really compare on this level. However, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I have a hunch it’s probably a good thing. I think the crits function well in terms of close critical readings of the work based on a generosity of spirit and a genuine curiosity about the fellow artist’s endeavours- all coming together in the heat of the moment in front of the work. All this can be very helpful for participants at whatever stage of development they feel themselves to be. The crit’s uniqueness is based on the unique character of the participants in that moment on that day. Alan, it would be a pleasure to see you at Unit 3, London in Nov for Emyr’s and my Bran Chron. I think it would be far better to judge the work in the flesh rather than making assumptions (well informed, they maybe- but assumptions non the less) based on circular online arguments and jpegs.
Hang in there Tim!… the work looks to be on an exciting trajectory – I used “aromatic” in a slightly poetically indulgent way, granted; plywood is a construction material – though it does have a pleasing smell at times, come to think of it. Even on screen, I like the look and feel of them a lot.
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Thanks Emyr; see above for response to Pete.I will rest content for the moment with my aromatic efforts
Yes, Sam really did touch on a raw nerve with his tweet – the idea of one’s penis hanging on a wire. What other nerve did you have in mind, John? We really must have been at different Brancasters the other day, because I don’t recall you bringing up any historical or artistic context at all. I seem to recall the only mention of art history or a wider contemporary context was a mention by me in passing of de Kooning, and by Sarah of Matisse. Keeping Brancaster free of contextualising has meant we have all had to take responsibility for what we do, and have made good progress because of it. Especially you, John. Must be hard though, holding it all in. Looking forward to November when you can let it rip.
I’m quite relaxed about the fact of Caro’s influence on my work from ten or so years ago, Alan, and quite proud of my sculpture “Horse Jaws”, which (along with “One Flag Day”) I carefully look after. But I wouldn’t want to do it again.
“This game that you play, which is a kind of perverted version of Alan’s linear modernist art history theories, is that very game that Brancaster changes. In fact, it stamps on the neck of this game, perhaps with a force that at times might seem too violent, but which is well deserved and not before time. What Brancaster does is hand back to the individual participating artist the absolute responsibility for every last thing that they do in their art, and every last thing that they think regarding why they are doing what they do. Brancaster takes away the game of excuses by artistic precedent.”
Nothing is more definitive of the concept and practice of modernism than the requirement that the artist take absolute responsibility for everything that constitutes the work. So if that’s what Brancaster is doing, it doesn’t change anything vis-a-vis modernism.
Why is it that avant-gardists feel – and have always felt – the need to use militaristic rhetoric when describing their activities? Here someone is “stomping the neck” of “linear modernist art”, making a “complete break” with the past – notice the recurrence of this word, as if being original or innovative or interesting wouldn’t be enough. The agenda is always the same. Perhaps it is true that some artists have completely broken with inherited conventions, and the result is not that the tradition is broken, but that the artist’s works are irrelevant to that tradition, which pretty much just means – irrelevant.
wow ! Wow ! WOW !
Thank you very much for that beautifully worded intervention, John B. much appreciated.
Robin may relish the opportunity for withering sarcasm which the perfidious internet provides , — but its effect is to alienate those who are in a position to help him with his quest. Sam is a friend and ally, or he was. There is much more to this kind of joshing than might appear. It has gone way beyond joshing. It means that friendships are being sacrificed on the altar of doctrine.
The curious thing is that none of this rancour arises in person, and none of this “two dimensionality and flatness” bollocks, when I came to see Robin’s hanging sculptures a while back. He acknowledged that I was well able to see what he was doing and respond positively without prejudice, and happy with my reaction, even quoting some of it back to me.
The corrupting curse of the internet lives on. Something takes over when confronted with that keypad. I don’t like it in myself either. If I were to put together a composite of the caricature Robin has painted of me over the past few years, what would emerge would be that of a monster (and no doubt me of him too). There is only one solution. Stop commenting, and that is what I intend to do, so I hope others will stop goading me into a response either.
Hilde knows how much I like what she is doing, and I have exchanged emails with Noela, and like her new works too. I should have said ( from Key Paintings) that we are all more original than we think we are, and left it at that.
For me to take part in a Chronicle now would risk a flare up of all manner of resentments, but there will be other opportunities for dialogue I’m sure. I have a show of my own in London in November, and have commitments at HSOA as well, so may well be tied up.
What Tim Scott is making of all this invasion of his space I can only imagine?
Well, we chuntered to a stop on Tim’s work a while back, since we need to see the work and can now only debate the aesthetics of plywood. I hope you are not giving up really, because it’s John Hoyland in New York up next.
I’m a little tired of repeating that the Brancaster Chronicle participants are a diverse bunch of individual artists.
It is perhaps best to think of the Chronicles as an event or an activity.
In fact all they probably share, in terms of views, judgements, is about the value of participating in the chronicles. While it is tempting to define what is shared in terms of understanding the chronicles, any attempt will show up contradictions and challenges to any simple defintion. To define a “Brancastrian” is sloppy thinking and has little value.
But I do think the question of the meaning and nature of the Chronicles is an interesting one, and hope that a sensitive art historian will at some point have a serious look.
I have seen a number of Tim’s earlier plywood sculptures, although in quite cramped conditions, although the following is an attempt to look at the photos of the more recent ones. I haven’t see – but would love to see – the paper works.
The paper works seem more effective than those in plywood: I’m not sure how much what follows is an accurate portrayal of why that is. It is not to do with the given aesthetics of plywood I am fairly sure, but rather with the extent to which it allows Tim to achieve his aims.
With the paper sculptures the whole more completely absorbs individual parts – without losing their identity completely the parts become more fully absorbed into the activity of the sculpture: this seems much less the case in the plywood ones: I think this is do with the pressure that Tony writes about: there is also a greater fluidity (again implicit in Tony’s praise).
It is also to do with how Tim is able to bend the paper, but also I think how he can attach them to each other, and the fact he is not so limited by the given thickness of the plywood. There is also a greater variety of scale: the spikiness of the paper pieces – or when they are rolled into tubes – also allows a greater precision of relation, a way a of articulating the general fluidity through contrast. There is a freedom here – the controlled extravagance which is an important part of Tim’s work is allowed to come into play.
The plywood on other hand retains its character, rigid and geometric, despite all the curves Tim introduces. How the pieces connect and build the sculptures is largely governed by its flat front and back and its right angled edges: the four-square aspect of this is part of the character of the sculptures, even though they seem to want to fight against it. The thickness of the pieces gives even the most elongated a rounded feel, as if they had been smoothed rather than cut into shape. The plywood pieces seem slower than the paper.
In his dialogue with Robin G, Tim makes the distinction between architectural – distanced – space, and sculptural space – rooted in interior or bodily space. I think because of its material limitations the plywood tends in the direction of architecture; and conversely the qualities of paper allow it to move in the direction of interior or bodily space. When the plywood creates interior spaces it does this in a quasi-architectural mode, that is by boxing them in with walls, roofs, floors – the architectural aspect is also bound-up with the way the pieces spread laterally.
Each piece of plywood remains separate from the next, and each seems to be all exterior: whereas by being bent and semi fused together the paper suggests some kind of interior. A sensation of interiority is very important to Tim’s forged sculpture – although we should remember here that he often felt the need to counter this interiority, in a basic way by using unworked geometric steel and in a more complex structural ways – such as by introducing elements which seem to start at the outside of a sculpture and lead inwards. The steel allowed a much great range of implication, as well of structural flexibility.
Linked (I think) to this separation and exteriority of individual pieces – and this may be the distortion of the photographs – is a sense that structure moves over the surface of the plywood sculptures, rather than through them, apart from in an architectural mode, this appears very beautifully worked out, but it seems at odds with what the sculpture is trying to do (and to Tim’s professed intentions).
What these comments really can’t take into account is the overall sense of space occupation in the sculptures.
Why does the plywood have to be rounded, rather than made spiky or geometric, or handled more roughly? is this to do with the sauce that Pete and Tim were discussing? Could that be a way forward?
Also I am intrigued by Emyr’s remark about their aromatic qualities. It makes me wonder whether what I’ve said above is too conditioned by a formal / technical reading.
Yes Sam, I agree with you completely as for the comparison of paper works with those made of plywood.
These paper works are still capable of transferring the plastic sens, plastic aspect of the form.
As always in the Tim`s intelligent way. “Plastic nature”, in my opinion, is as important and essential to sculpture as the three-dimensionality.
The three-dimensionality and plasticity of each element of sculpture was in central importance for Tim – his love (at least, as I remember it). Tim also reached the championship in getting fantastically rich, complex (in his three-dimensional quality) elements that now become completely flat in favor of spatial relationships of these flat elements.
Ok. That’s understandable. New adventure, new experience.
As Goethe wrote, “In der Beschränkung zeigt sich erst der Meister”
I just always liked the richness of Scott`s sculptures, which were created by working with plastic material.
As a postscript to this discussion, there are now showing at Frieze Masters two starkly contrasting stands of sculpture: Galerie Monbrison has some of the very best african sculpture I’ve seen for a long while, and I fully recommend it; meanwhile Annely Juda has a group of half a dozen early and rarely seen Caro sculptures from the sixties, none of which I liked. But both sets of work, the very good and the not so good, seem to me to have no connection at all with what is happening now in abstract sculpture. Neither set of works has any interest or intent in the most currently pressing issues of three-dimensionality and spatiality – as we now understand those things. We are in a new world of new sculptural content, and the only connection one can make, even with the Caros, is contextual. The frontality of both sets of work is totally at odds with new abstract sculpture.
Tim Scott, I kind of like the piece. I did something quite simlar around 35 years ago but gave up (not spontaneous enough) and went on to weld lots of pieces of rebar that were recovered from a concrete crusher, lots of fantastic ready made gestural marks up to 1 1/2 inch diameter rods. But I digress…. Can I ask please, how did you actually fasten the pieces of plywood together? And how did you cut them? Were they scrap from a factory or joiners shop or did you start with a flat full sheet and cut shapes? If so how did you arrive at the shapes for each individual flat piece, Did you make sub assemblies first?
To get a looser feel had you possibly thought of using OSB (oriented strand board)? As you may know it is a flat board similar to chipboard but with large coarsely chopped wood slivers. It might be fascinating to use OSB and split it into layers like slate miners do to create roof slates. It splits unevenly and the large wood pieces in it break at odd angles. It sticks together lovely with mapei floor adhesive (which is like a strong thick PVA clay)
Goldsmithexile: To belatedly answer your technical questions: The plywood parts are cut from a standard factory sheet (8′ x 4′). The cutting is NOT intended to be SHAPINGl it is an attempt to create movement and direction to the building of the parts into the whole, movement and direction which in turn occupies and forms space; space which in turn is affecting and directing form parts.
They are simply cut with a jigsaw, pinned and glued.
Sam: “….not to do with the aesthetics of plywood…but rather with the extent…my aims are achieved.” I agree entirely, though most commentators seem to feel that the paper versions succeeded in better expressing my aims.
I also agree that I could not’ bend’ or ‘fuse’ the plywood, and that that was a limitation. If it had been possible to form the plywood along the lines of the paper, I would have exploited it. As it was, I had to seek different insights into the material’s use. I agree that these limitations are – limitations. You say ‘rigid’ and ‘geometric’ which is of course true. Incidentally I think that the contrast between the ‘plane – flat’ of the plywood piece with its’ cut edge’ gives a strong sense of direction which I value. Your comment “…the plywood seems slower than the paper…” is an interesting observation. The question being, of course, whether there is any advantage or disadvantage in that to the intentions of the whole ?
“…the plywood tends in the direction of architecture…” Is this an ‘architecture’ of Architecture. or is it the architecture of Sculpture ? (painting and scupture have ‘architectures’). This is a big question, because obviously an ‘architectural material (I beams for instance) is going to infuse that sort of character (architectural).
The ‘architecture’ of a piece of sculpture is NOT created by the material or its nature; it is the product of relationships infused into its parts with feeling and purpose in order to create a ‘structure’ that convinces plastically and emotionally.
As Robin is repeatedly reminding us, sculpture has to ‘move on’ .If steel “…allowed a much greater range of implications as well as of greater structural flexibility…” then that is a good argument for working in steel, which of course I did for many years. The logic for a change of material is a change of intention. You only have to imaginatively translate all the pieces of plywood or paper into pieces of steel to perceive that a totally different plastic sculptural result would ensue. My intentions (whether successful or not) in working the ‘new’ material (s) have changed radically from those I had when working in steel (though that does not mean that I would not necessarily return to working in that material. As Robin is repeatedly reminding us, sculpture has to ‘move on’.
Sorry if I upset anyone….But surely you must have somehow changed an 8 x 4 sheet into smaller pieces which each have an individual shape that you then fastened (glued?) together? Using a bandsaw or an axe or whatever? I was simply wondering how you arrived at those shapes for those pieces (eg some are rounded some have straight edges, none are splintery spiky or rough)! Confused