#100. Robin Greenwood writes on Katherine Gili at Felix and Spear; and Testing 1>2 at Empson Street

Installation of Katherine Gili show at Felix and Spear, “Kyanite” in the foreground

Katherine Gili: Discovered in the Making is at Felix and Spear, Ealing, 5 May -2 June 2018


Five years ago I drafted an article for abstractcritical focussing on the works by Anthony Caro and Katherine Gili in the 2013 RA Summer Exhibition, neither of which I liked. The Gili, a sculpture of complicated forged parts that circulated a central void, with big alien feet and a prop to one side to steady it all, was called “Ripoll”. I had previously shown this work in Poussin Gallery in 2011, though I think Gili amended it slightly before it got to the RA, where it won the Jack Goldhill Award for Sculpture. In the essay I described it as having a banal configuration, to which Katherine took great exception (though I stand by it) and our previously close relations were, and remain, soured, despite my withdrawing the essay prior to publication.

Why bring this up now? In Robert Persey’s interesting catalogue essay for Katherine’s new show at Felix and Spear, which has work far superior to “Ripoll”, and which I will address shortly, he writes:

“Katherine’s ambition for her sculpture is predicated on a search for full three dimensionality, beyond the creation of a simple shape or form, beyond rotundity or intimidating spread across space.”

These sentiments I agree with completely, and they are obviously incompatible with banal configurations, and possibly with any configurations at all, though that’s up for discussion. Does the new sculpture match these ambitions? When I rewrote the said essay and expunged all reference to “Ripoll”, and indeed Gili, I concentrated on a critique of Caro. The revised version (published here: https://abstractcritical.com/article/anthony-caro-at-gagosian-some-problems-of-sculpture/index.html) started thus:

“Three-dimensionality is the elephant in the room marked “abstract” in the house of sculpture. It’s a difficult subject for discussion, and a difficult condition for sculptors to address. So why bother with it? Caro doesn’t worry; sometimes he uses it sparingly, sometimes not at all. I think it is the biggest issue in sculpture right now… because in directly addressing it the abstract artist is forced to abandon the narrow and dated (and admittedly often languidly beautiful) two-dimensional planar aesthetics of high modernism, whilst simultaneously rejecting the pratfalls of post-modernist subjective clap-trap. It provides potential and impetus for a new and true way forward. So important do I regard this issue that I frankly think there is no alternative other than to directly confront it – a notion for which I may well be considered narrow-minded. Yet, could we even begin to crack open this particular nut, I’m disposed to think that abstract art would broaden out considerably from its currently unambitious and unoriginal ruts and furrows. Almost anything that one can do that addresses this issue seems to point inexorably toward exciting uncharted waters.”

If anything, I now think that understates the case. But questions remain: What do we mean by three-dimensionality in sculpture? Do I mean the same as Robert Persey when we both write those words? And what does that “full” mean, before “three-dimensionality? All objects, sculptures or not, are three-dimensional, so are we both talking about something more than the quotidian three-dimensionality of any-thing and every-thing? And is work that references the figure/body able to achieve three-dimensionality in the fullest sense that we can now begin to comprehend it?

“Escapade”, 2017-18, steel, waxed, H.81x100x65cm

In relation to Katherine’s new work, how does this play out? Does the question of whether the work is abstract or not need addressing? I think so, but let’s work back to that. Gili’s approach to three-dimensionality is predicated on the body, and, according to Persey’s essay, on an engagement, partly subconscious, of our kinaesthetic sense of bodily position and movement, and thus how we relate physically to the illusions of movement and articulation that are set in train by various means within the work. I’m happy to go along part-way with that, but maybe only until such time as I’m pulled up short by problems with the extent of the three-dimensional ambition, or its delivery. I say that in the belief that the limits of such an ambition are still out of sight.

“Escapade”, which from its date appears to be the most recent work in the show, and which I think is also the best of all the new sculpture, seems to be Gili’s most sustained effort yet to fulfil the aspirations of a new, more comprehensively-fulfilled three-dimensionality. As always with Katherine, there is a reliance on the metaphorical physicality that the plasticising of hot metal under the hammer brings to the work, which operates as a felt allusion to push and pull, stretch and compression, a methodology rather ubiquitous throughout the steelwork (less so on the bronze casts of paper models), and which so frequently is perceived as having a linear kind of movement. That too, like figuration, can work restrictively against three-dimensionality. In other work in the show, “Kyanite” being the most obvious example, there is a familiar sense of the limitations of this approach, as parts seek to leave the core of the work and travel out in a forcefully spatial way, only to have to do an about-turn and travel back the way they came – and then repeat themselves. This two-way linearity seems like an unconscious response to having “nothing to do” once the sculpture gets spatially “out there” (perhaps not knowing how then to address or control that newly gained space?) and the very particular steelwork relating to the “getting out there” becomes isolated (spatially) from the rest of the work. That “nothing to do” is key, because what is there “to do” in a sculpture that is NOT a figure, but behaves as if it was? Is the “travel” itself the thing? This problem, if such it is (I think it is), is essentially related to figuration and sculpture derived from the body.

“Kyanite”, 2017, steel, zinc sprayed and patinated, H. 63x84x58

“Escapade” partially answers these questions, firstly because of the degree to which it avoids a reliance upon linearity for the relationships between elements to be allowed to develop. Because of a new-found proximity, these elements can operate effectively in engaging with the spaces between, so that the eye perhaps can form more connections that don’t always rely upon travel along and through the material; and thus do not remain always within and through the self-conscious squeeze-and-tug “language” of the forging. That is, they have the potential to operate more fluidly and freely, between themselves, in more visually “spontaneous” and less premeditated ways. Like anything, there are dangers in this way too, of becoming (or returning to) the old “optical” and non-physical sculptural modes of the sixties. But that problem is not immanent here at all, precisely because the work is so grounded in the manipulation of material. I think, by the way, that this could be enhanced by less “finish” on the work, which seems at times to be an intrusive and disconcertingly dematerialising factor, turning steel to look-alike clay or bronze. But in any case, this “language” of push and stretch could perhaps be eased up on a little and added to with different ways of using steel, without any danger of the work becoming unphysical. And in any case, as I’m hinting at, physicality alone is not enough to gain full three-dimensionality.

“Escapade”, again to its credit, avoids ending up with (or starting from?) a limiting configuration, such as occurs in “Graven”, which has plenty of physicality in the material, but suffers from a diagonal symmetry that restricts free articulation and turns us back to the disappointments of “sculpture as object”. Of course, “Graven” is three-dimensional, like all the work in the show; but not specially three-dimensional; not focussed upon it, not all that insightful about it.

“Meryl”, 2014, steel, zinc sprayed and patinated, H. 64x83x50cm

That diagonal symmetry in linear form runs through a lot of Gili’s recent sculpture, perhaps starting as far back as “Sprite”, 1989-91, and “Powering Forth”, 2005; and driven to extremes in the overwrought “Bitter Joy”, 2005. It has its roots in the work made more or less directly from the model in the late eighties, like the cranked pelvic stance of “Ingreer”, 1988-89 and others, the impetus for which really originated in some of Degas’ more radically articulated figure sculptures. Of Gili’s new work, as well as “Graven”, there are hints of this diagonal “scheme” in both “Meril” and “Jaracanda”, which in my opinion counts against what the work in other ways seems to want to do or say. It is without question a figurative (or if you prefer, a semi-figurative) configuration. If a truly expansive and liberated three-dimensionality is to be the aim, then “Escapade” moves in the right direction – away from symmetry and the balanced deployment of worked material that gets too close to “image” or idea. “Escapade” heads out towards a different future, an altogether lumpier and more problematically complex mix of physicality and spatiality.

Though I much prefer it, there might be said to be a loss in taking this direction. The lyricism which runs through works like “Kyanite” and “Meril”, which has been a lengthy and strong thread in Gili’s work, and perhaps a positive one in much earlier works such as “Pistil”, 1978, and “Rise”, 1979, has gone missing from “Escapade”. Personally, I think that’s OK. That kind of organic lyricism was part of abstract art’s seventies reaction to the minimal/hard edge geometry of the sixties, though it was much more prevalent in painting than in sculpture. It’s been lauded by Alan Gouk on this site, in works such as the plant-like figuration of “Volante”, but it is not now a mode of expression that can take us much further, precisely because of its limitations to three-dimensional development. Yet maybe that’s not true: maybe Katherine’s lyricism can be taken forward; maybe even the crazy expressive forgings in “Ripoll” can make a come-back. But maybe it would have to divorce the organic, biomorphic and figurative aspects to configuration that it has held on to so far, and adopt a looser, less prefigured outcome. If the forgings got chopped up more, and used more imaginatively, so they have less linearity, then a lyrical abstract mode of working may be a very exciting possibility. Things are more open now; nothing is certain; lots of things are looking possible – except lack of three-dimensionality. What a sculpture must “do” is more fluid, not so structurally assertive; or the structure is of a different order. That does NOT mean that the sculpture needs to become spatially over-extended or dissipated; far from it. It means that the relationship between material and space must be governed more exactly (and yet more loosely) and more intimately, and above all, more imaginatively. The integration of physicality and spatiality in new sculpture is really hardly begun.

“Ripoll”, 2010-11, steel, H.160cm

Here is more from Persey’s catalogue essay:

“For any ‘thing’ to be made it must somehow be imagined. For Katherine Gili imagination is not a linear matter of idea first and manufacture second. Yet sculpture is a made thing rather than a manufactured thing and though imagination may be sparked from some impulse gleaned from one’s physical experiences it can gain an impetus, a transposition and clarity as it is applied through the process of working with a material. Katherine’s attitude has always been characterised by the deliberate discipline of discovery through making. Not composing, not arranging and not collaging but constructing with fashioned elements in a search for an expressive structure. A structure whose components are defined and connected, one bearing upon another, articulating to create their own space, to enhance the space of its neighbour and the whole thing simultaneously and with an intensity that resonates. A structure made only to be seen and felt in a journey from the senses to the mind and back again.”

I like this paragraph, and I agree with most of it (whilst perhaps wanting to know more about the difference between “made” and “manufactured”). And of course I agree with the title of the exhibition: “Discovered in the Making” – because what else is there? Persey’s optimism and positivism is welcome. And is it true? Perhaps not quite yet. “A structure whose components are defined and connected, one bearing upon another, articulating to create their own space, to enhance the space of its neighbour and the whole thing simultaneously and with an intensity that resonates” is not quite fulfilled by any single piece of sculpture in the show, not even by “Escapade”. Maybe no-one has done this yet, fully. The statement begs more questions: How are the components defined? Crucially, WHEN are they defined – before or after they come together (a key question when so much effort goes into the forging and shaping of individual pieces, which surely risks over-definition)? How do they connect and bear upon one another in order to articulate the space? Is that always through the material, or through their spatial proximity? Is the resulting intensity physical or visual? Or both? To what extent can things that have lots of work invested in them of a certain order (like the forging) be transformed or abandoned along the way in the cause of a greater three-dimensionality?

“Escapade” is not completely out of the woods; there is a kind of configuration – a main stack of stuff, off which a secondary and smaller open lump of active steelwork thrusts out. How is this achieved (sculpturally, I mean, not literally)? What is the relationship between the larger part and the smaller part, and indeed, how do they both relate to the “spread” at the base which holds it up? Is that relationship made through the material and its more-or-less linear activity – on a kind of stalk or branch off the main core? I think, positively, that there is something else at play here, which enables me to see the work in a more whole way than perhaps I can the other sculptures in the show. The steelwork is more spatially integrated. I like it more because it is both more and less specific; less specific literally, more specific sculpturally. I’d like to see this sculpture in a bigger space, to get a better idea of how that all works all the way round, because that obviously is key to its three-dimensionality.

Full-on three-dimensionality, which is territory not previously covered by any other discipline, including figurative sculpture, involves the quest for work that looks integrated from every-which-way that you can look at it. I don’t see a way round that, if you’ll pardon the pun. In the pursuit of this, there seems to be a requirement for the surrender of long-held notions about literal and hierarchical structures that have wholly or partially pervaded the workings of most sculpture. That’s my shot in the dark, that necessity for change to how sculpture is thought about – and no doubt it will not entirely tally, if at all, with Katherine’s vision. Nevertheless, I recognise in “Escapade” something new and ambitious.

I think there is a lot more potential to new abstract sculpture than the vicarious physicality of kinaesthesia, and we should not over-simplify or take lightly these new problems. Sculpture needs to address lots of things all at once, including but not exclusively, physicality. Most of all, there needs to be some degree of intelligence made visible, making itself apparent through the toil and tangle of working with such high ambitions. If unconstrained but coherent three-dimensionality does become of itself the central ambition for sculpture – though this is a far from simple project – then other sculptural issues are cast in a rather different light. Kinaesthesia can from this viewpoint start to look slightly overrated.



Installation view of “Testing 1>2” at Empson Street Studios

Testing 1>2 at Empson Street Studios

It’s a long trek, physically, spatially, metaphorically, from the shabby-chic far-out-west reaches of suburban South Ealing (“Practically in bloody Cornwall!”) to the edgy-but-not-very-hip eastern ends of London Central; two tubes and a DLR ride, past the sky-crazy Isle-of-Dogs and the funfair-fab kinaesthetic 900 bend in the track at Poplar; and so on to Devon’s Road and John Bunker’s second iteration of the Testing 1>2 format.

That intro is in homage to John’s trippily-titled new website https://instantloveland.com, which starts with, amongst others, an interesting piece of writing on open dialogue and open minds in art discussions (who could that be aimed at?) by the talented EC – that’s her name, not her address. And EC is one of the eleven artists chosen to pick a single A. N. Other (no, that’s not a name), making twenty-two in all, crammed into the little gallery at Empson Street. By necessity, all the works are small, some tiny. By definition (John’s), all the works deal with “…aspects of abstraction specifically.”

Well, maybe. John delivers his quotable agitprop intro on the back of the info sheet, but it feels a bit flat, this show. “What, if anything, can we glean from these visual combinations, liaisons, dialogues and potential stand offs between artworks?”, he asks. And sort-of answers, “In truth, art that’s any good contains all the vital aspects of historical understanding.” Maybe, again. But in any case, how do we know what’s good? John never gives us answers, and Brancaster this is not.

Is there any mutual influence going on with these artists, critical or otherwise? I don’t think so. I can’t see it. I liked EC’s collage a lot; and too the absolute certain precision of Charley Peters’ little green painting, which despite being antithetical to everything I believe abstract art should be, was quite mesmerising, imparting an unfamiliar kind of ambition I can’t help but believe is real. Alexandra Harley’s little bronze is good but doesn’t quite give itself enough room to sing. Mostly though, the work here seems gleefully and resolutely “anti-ambition”. Which is interesting, but suspicious. Because, well… I’m so unchallenged by it. Having been at art school in the sixties, a lot of it looks sadly familiar. “Oh god, not that again…!”

Meanwhile, over in Virtual-land, I love this, from the home page of Instantloveland:

“Instantloveland takes its name from a painting made by Jules Olitski at the very point in the late 20th century at which the Modernist hegemony in advanced art began to unravel; and it offers a platform for all forms of discourse that seek to better understand what has happened to abstract art between then and now. By both reaching back into its past and considering its potential futures, Instantloveland will explore how abstract art has continued to interact with broader aspects of social and cultural change, whether they be aesthetic, political, philosophical, and/or technological.”

Only John could write that. Big ambition, eh? They are talking the talk, but will they walk the walk, or just fall in with the post-modern “Hegemony of the Patronisingly Un-Critical”? I hope they get it together, because then I can retire Abcrit.


  1. “ELIZABETH KNOWS BEST.” Elizabeth Bishop wrote that—or something like that—to Marianne Moore a long time ago. Bishop was responding to some suggestions Moore had made about Bishop’s poem, Roosters.

    Robin’s kind of tortured/insane(?)/hilarious(?) review of the Katherine Gili show reminded me of the Bishop/Moore exchange. I’m insane enough to take Robin’s writing seriously. I can’t say I understand it—but his raving about, for example, three-dimensionality BEGINS to make SOME sense in the context of other things I happen to be reading.

    Here’s something by the great American art historian/curator Harry Cooper: “For Mondrian in his period of classic abstraction (1920-1932), to compose meant to balance two sets of competing claims: on one hand repetition, rhythm, and “dimension” (size, color and other changeable qualities: maat in Mondrian’s Dutch); and on the other, equilibrium, harmony, and “position” (or stand (in Dutch), the unchanging ur-relationship of vertical to horizontal.” It’s fun (for me) to think of Robin’s three-dimensionality as English for Mondrian’s Dutch “maat.” Fun to think of the Dutch “stand” as having something to do with Bill Tucker’s ideas about gravity.

    In this morning’s NY Times there were two unbelievable articles about sculpture:

    There are things that are “wrong” with Robin’s review, but he’s no where near as “wrong” as the NY Times is about sculpture. I continue to be very grateful for Abcrit.

    Back to Elizabeth Bishop and Marianne Moore. Moore was a “Modernist,” a friend/teacher/mentor for Bishop—maybe somebody like what Caro or Greenberg is for Robin or Katherine Gili. Bishop was a post-“Modernist” poet. She’s often labeled a confessional poet (with Lowell, Berryman, Jarrell, Schwartz, Plath, Sexton, etc.)—even though she kind of hated what people called confessional poetry. Is Katherine Gili a confessional sculptor? Is Robin?

    There’s a terrific Soutine show up at the Jewish Museum in New York now. Artnews “republished” an interesting article on Soutine by Jack Tworkov the other day: http://www.artnews.com/2018/05/11/archives-jack-tworkov-chaim-soutine-1950/. Was Soutine a confessional painter? I kept thinking about the JPEGs of Katherine Gili’s sculpture as I wandered through the Soutine show and as I read Tworkov’s old article.

    Robin might be happy to know I didn’t think of his sculpture at the Soutine show—though I did think of Robin’s hopeless misunderstanding of the word “abstract” as I read Tworkov’s article. Robin might be unhappy to know that when I looked at the great/bad installation shot of his and Gary Wragg’s show at Linden Hall Studio I thought of Bill Tucker’s portrait/head sculptures: Tucker’s heads don’t really “stand” kind of in the way that Robin’s hanging sculpture doesn’t “stand.” And Robin’s Reclining FIGURE made me think of Henry Moore—not that it looks like a Moore, but in the way it doesn’t look like a Moore (no “ambiguity”). It was a great idea to pair Robin’s work with Gary Wragg’s. Wragg’s light/sanity—maybe it was just the backlit installation shot, but part of the “back lighting” must have come from Wragg’s paintings—kind of has allowed me to see the sanity/clarity inside/underneath Robin’s kind of nightmare “vision.”


  2. The “frontal” view of “Kyanite”, displayed in the text shows it to be both physical and spatial, but the installation view at the top of the page, with a very different “side-on” view of “Kyanite” in the foreground demonstrates clearly that the content does not operate three-dimensionally. Exactly the same thing happens with my own piece of sculpture in the “Transformations” show in Deal. “Tree of Ornans”, from 2013, puts itself around spatially in every which way it can manage without resolving the relationship between material and space in more than one or two views. That’s not good enough.


  3. I haven’t seen the Gili show but am familiar at least with most of her work. I think her work functions in ‘space ‘ .The material is very active of itself, in itself and out across space. Room is made for those elements which both allows for the movements and the seeing of them, in effect creating a certain transparency.

    Robin’s three hanging pieces are very different.How they ‘are’ in ‘space’ is raised as a question to the viewer immediately. For me, the morning session was taken up with this question of the ‘above” and ‘below’ of the ‘central section’. It seems like all of these ‘words’ are trying to describe or just indicate the existence of different kinds of space.Do they feel part of each other and include the central section ? Is it a column ? Could “Big Monmouth” which contains a ‘hanging’ within its three parts be extended to the floor and could the piece become free standing? Returning to the gallery in the afternoon I dismissed all of this somehow and concentrated on the central sections of all the pieces and the spaces within those. What I am trying to get at is the growing redundancy of certain words and theories described in words which could be limiting the development of our Art and creating the idea of “new’ being singular. For me, Robin’s three pieces raise more questions than answers and that is a good thing and I am surprised how much I have had to think about them since.

    As I have said I have not seen the Gili show, Robin obviously has and seems quite sure of his observations.What he says about “Kyanite” in relation to his piece “Tree of Ornans” got me thinking.We reviewed his piece in the first Chronicles 2013 and I found seeing it in his show in Deal that I had not changed my mind much. [ See Brancaster Chronicle no. 8 ] Looking at the Gili piece, and how it might operate spatially and three dimensionally at the same time , with its physicality ,three dimensionality and movements etc. [ based on 2 photos ] and I would like to suggest that the positioning, and very nature of the more horizontal elements and their reaching out across a wide space, on a variety of levels with varied substance and I would guess intent , could hold that space. I would suggest that by not putting in another element which would in fact enclose the space , could be a really interesting thing about this piece.In other words here is some sort of space , and a complex space at that ,being used in preference to another forged element. If this is true it would be a real positive step ,but better than that a different use of space and three dimensionality and go beyond the literal. In fact become more abstract?

    To return to Robin’s three pieces these works are full of just this sort of invention but comparing with the Gili again, this notion of use and transparency, which I value also, Robin uses less.
    Neither is right. They are different. But mostly in the way as I said either way has to facilitate the inclusion of all that combines to create some sort of wholeness.

    I am look forward to discussing all of the sculpture in the Brancaster Chronicles in June and July when I think ,because of the nature of direct conversation in front of the actual work, we can be more specific and tackle the shortcomings of some of the words being used to describe what we do.


    1. Interesting, your idea about “Kyanite”. But I think this is not about – very definitely not about – wanting to “enclose” space. That is one of the things I personally am trying to get away from, because of the duality of that situation, though it is real easy to get suckered into doing it when you are making sculpture that is open.

      For me, it is about the engagement of space and material together in a way that is fully three-dimensional and indivisible. It is true that I was struck by the rather dramatic and arresting spatial “potential” of the horizontals in the Gili as soon as I entered the gallery; but if that engagement with space is not fully three-dimensional (which I don’t think it is, despite the catalogue claims), then I don’t think this potential holds up. “Escapade” is a more balanced integration of space in three-dimensions. That can have it’s downside too…


      1. Two questions Robin.
        It would help me if you could say why “Kyanite” is not three dimensional.
        What made you think my raising the potential of the openness of a large part of “Kyanite” would suggest that the space would be enclosed?
        It could be that it is part of the sculpture ,the space, this, instead of any more steel ?


      2. To answer the second part first, your sentence: “I would suggest that by not putting in another element which would in fact enclose the space, could be a really interesting thing about this piece.” Why would it necessarily “in fact, enclose it”? Surely it would be possible to put in something else to engage the space into the content of the sculpture, rather than merely enclose it, and this is what I’m suggesting is the potential of that “grab” for space. But it doesn’t do that, in my opinion. It reminds me of Alex’s “bandsaw” piece from last year in that it pushes out dramatically, but you either shoot off the end of that (as per Alex’s piece), or you return from whence you came (as per the Gili). I think I explained that in the essay.

        So that lack of engagement “out there” is partly what makes it, in sculptural terms, and in my view, not fully three-dimensional – plus the fact that the potential in any case disappears from view as you move around the sculpture.

        Maybe you should see the show?


  4. Robin…….What threw me in your statement and required more thought was this idea of not enclosing space.
    As the world of sculpture begins to change and expand beyond previous ideas of word definition,the words ‘space’ and ‘three dimensionality’ seem to be a problem, what to put in their place in the interest of clarity is a bigger one.
    I am sure we could all agree that ‘transparency’ in sculpture is a condition of or for viewing. ‘Enclosure’ is a condition of something more akin to an object,to practical usefulness etc. But I think in Katherine’s ‘Kyanite’ the space of the open aspect of the piece may be varied enough by the steel in and around that aspect to hold the sculpture from flying off, or as you say losing its three dimensionality.
    This sophisticated idea, and it is an idea, is not necessarily going to make itself clear but it is the sort of idea that the Brancaster style of debate is good at. It is the challenge to today to see and comment on those ‘new’ conditions emerging on a virgin and more equal platform where anyone can hope that that little thing they have done is seen ,not overly judged, more pushed out and test the words against it.


    1. Interesting/helpful (for me) comment, Tony. Thank you.

      The word “transparency” came up in the “final sculpture crits” (our Brancasters) at the Studio School this spring. It was suggested that in a good standing figure sculpture you should be able to “see” the bottoms of the figure’s feet—that the feet should be undercut to some extent to enhance the figure’s “three-dimensionality.”

      The more common sense of “seeing” the bones in figure sculptures also came up.

      I might be/probably am missing your point (and Robin’s points)—but thinking about your comment—especially the transparency business–has helped me get a little “closer” to Katherine’s sculpture—to think about Katherine’s work and de Kooning’s: the “forms” and the “spaces.” In late de Kooning you can “see through” both. In Katherine’s work and Robin’s Tree of Ornans maybe you can’t (I haven’t seen any of this GREAT stuff “live”)—but I think I can see the work better “thinking” about this transparency business.

      I “translate” your (and Robin’s) words/“thinking” this way: three-dimensionality = physicality and spatiality “transparent” to each other (from every which way). And I feel kind of smarter than Albert Einstein for having come up with this “translation.” It kind of “works” for your comment (all 16 lines of your comment). I can hop around in Robin’s review and find sentences where it “works”—but it doesn’t “work” everywhere—and it crashes and burns in some places (especially when Robin starts talking about “exciting uncharted waters”).

      Still, the de Kooning connection is helpful (for me)—and I can bring in wash drawings by Tiepolo or Rembrandt. I can remember de Kooning talking about Mondrian as “that great, merciless artist, the only one who had nothing left over”—and translate “nothing left over” into “nothing not three-dimensional.” And there’s all that business about “passage” in Picasso’s and Braque’s analytical cubism. All this makes me feel “good”—“good,” not good.

      Robin says The Tree of Ornans is not good enough—but he kept it; he’s showing it now. Seems to me he must “think” there’s something more important than three-dimensionality about it. I do. I think it’s his “dark vision.” I think Robin points to something comparable when he talks about the lyricism in Katherine’s work. Not easy to talk about this kind of thing. It’s simply not easy to talk about sculpture, but it’s great that you all try.


  5. I have not seen Kathy’s show and will not be able to, so this is in no way any sort of criticism of her work.
    From my own experience of forged.steel, which is quite considerable, I would say that the working of the forms under the hammer tends to compel the forces – pushing, pulling,, stretching, twisting, turning, expanding, diminishing and so on, INTO the material the outside surfaces of which are what are what one ‘reads’. This rends to create a sense of isolation in the forms from the space that they occupy, control and activate with.
    If one’s ambition, as mine is, is to create forms whose identity is dependant on the space, and vice versa, the space on the forms, this sense of isolation, or self sufficiency, can tend to make such integration difficult to achieve.as it goes against the grain of the ambition..
    Of course it is up to the individual sculptor to decide what to do ahout it


    1. Tim,
      I was wondering when you might chip in on this.
      My question is whether you think the “isolation” of forged parts and the lesser integration of material and space keeps the sculpture rather more in the realm of the figurative?


  6. I shall have to think about that ! I am without email for a few days,and will reply later. I hope others do too.


  7. OK, so in the meantime here’s another one:

    Almost all sculpture including figurative work and most abstract work of any account to date have all to varying degrees relied upon this kinaesthetic response that Robert Persey talks about and that he seems to think is fundamental. He’s not alone in that by any means, and I think we have all been drawn to that idea at various times. There obviously is a sliding scale of involvement and dependence upon this way of thinking about sculpture, but it has pretty much continued unquestioned that that is/was a large part of how sculpture operates, how it affects and relates to the body-sense of the viewer.

    I now find myself more and more drawn to the far end of this scale, to a place that says that not only is this idea tied up with the sculpture being figurative by degrees, but that really abstract content demands a way of thinking that largely does away with this reliance. I think it is often (though not in Katherine’s case) a worn-out load of clap-trap anyway when so many object-sculptures can claim for themselves a “relation” to us through “presence” etc. (Bill Tucker’s recent work is a good example, but I think you can trace this notion and how it relates to abstract sculpture at least as far back as Caro and his “architectural” space, not to mention the work of a thousand lesser sculptors.)

    I now think that abstract sculpture could – I won’t say “should” – cut adrift from this and become “self-sufficient”, by way of a new kind of spatiality.


  8. As Bob Persey has not mentioned Katherine Gili’s sculptures being abstract, I can’t see any need to criticise her work for not being abstract.I suppose I just look at them as sculpture.

    To my knowledge there has been a continuing resistance to figurative referencing both specifically and in terms of the figures many environs and spaces i.e.. walls, enclosures, legs, arches etc. etc. Even the need for the sculpture to stand in the same space as the person looking has been championed, resisted and debated, the same goes for the organic.
    As for movement, well now lets have the whole list of sculptures attributes and capabilities ,they all need to be abstract, contributing in unison to sculptures independence of the known world.[that’s an ambition ]
    As for ‘abstract content’ , I feel I have my own ways of approaching my material that have to face up to the known world on the one hand and be capable of evolving and sustaining in the tide of what are the demands of a non object, non figurative sculpture.
    For me it is the outcome of the equation that is abstract. And all that must fly in the face of all of the effort that has gone in to it. [and that’s another ambition]
    You are right, but we cut adrift a long time ago. Our sculpture is self sufficient [another ambition] and I think you are right, if it comes off, there will be a’ new kind of spatiality, in fact a new kind of everything.
    What we get after all this may fall short of these fine ambitions. So what! Its going to depend on whether we can get a fair hearing from someone.


  9. Robin,
    Not a criticism, but isn’t there a symmetry between abandoning kinetic illusion in sculpture to embrace spatiality and abandoning the spatial illusion in painting to embrace flatness?
    Is this a phase like post painterly abstraction, that sculpture still has to go through? I can see (I think) that sculpture can probably do a lot more without this kind of virtuality than painting can. But maybe there is the same risk of becoming arid and unengaging if there is no room for virtual input from the viewer? (Or can sculpture create virtual space along with literal space?)
    Mixing threads here, but I had a somewhat Patrick Jones/ Rothko experience with Tony Smart’s sculpture at his 2016 Brancaster – an extraordinarily heightened sense of space. Might your endeavours end up with the same kind of impersonal transcendence that is claimed for flat painting, and which you are occasionally scathing about?
    All just thoughts – what you are trying to do has an appealing logic, but so does/did Greenberg’s flatness.


    1. I think embracing spatiality does actually encompass “movement” – i.e. “kinetic illusion” – but I think that is a different thing from the kinaesthetic experience that Persey ascribes to Gili’s sculpture, and which I think I want to move away from, because I think of it, rightly or wrongly, as a remnant of figuration. And I think “movement” in abstract sculpture is a big topic and I don’t think I have understood it enough to sound off about it too much – but I do think it cannot be too prescriptive and it cannot be metaphorical.

      At the end of the day, I can’t account for your experiences – nor Patrick’s – and you can’t account for mine. I’m not really sure I can even account for mine. But I do believe certain paintings and sculptures have intrinsic values that exist in the work because the artist put them there, consciously or unconsciously, and that continue to exist whether I or you or Patrick is looking at them and seeing them. Anything else, I am sceptical about, including your experience of Tony’s sculpture and Patrick’s experience of Rothko. It’s all too much of a non-specific and vaguely spiritual projection on to the work that seems more to do with you and your mental state at the time of looking than it does with the actual work. I mistrust all this immensely and think that great art does not require such additional interpretations to it’s inherent values. After all, WHICH of Tony’s sculptures are you talking about? The good ones AND the not so good ones? Was there something specific about the space? And which Rothko’s are we discussing? Does it make a difference? To me, this sort of thing all rather vaguely falls to bits…

      Also, I’m not sure what it is I am supposed to be “trying to do”, except make sculpture that is progressive. I’m told it’s not arid and unengaging, so that’s OK.


  10. OK, I seem to have misunderstood your stance on virtual movement.

    On the vaguely spiritual thing, I would agree that a lot depends on mood and projection. But an artwork is (perhaps essentially) a thing that allows, encourages, even lives by projection. Think of the emotional power of music. It’s not there specifically in the notes. Start describing the van Eyck in detail and words like intelligence, delicacy, balance, decisiveness would soon start to appear. Maybe if the vaguely spiritual thing could just be seen as a valuable but more or less commonplace part of existence rather than some kind of embarrassing and pretentious ultimate experience then it could become a less conversation-stopping part of the discourse.
    For me, the intrinsic qualities of the artwork -put there by the artist – are whatever it is that enables the projection of the viewer’s experience of existence. Not as some kind of manipulative trigger but as something discovered by the artist for themselves in the course of making the work. Thereby (at best) bringing to consciousness what has previously been unconscious.


    1. I can’t really disagree with that, in as much as this “projection” thing seems an almost inevitable aspect of being human. However – and it’s a very, very big ‘however’ – I think if you set out as an artist to pander to that characteristic of the human mind, or rely upon it, or consciously trade upon it, then it’s a big let-out clause, letting the artist entirely off the hook, abrogating their responsibilities to the work. This is especially the case, it seems, for a lot of what calls itself abstract art.

      In any case, I would disagree that it isn’t “all in the notes” – it is, but the notes are, like aspects of sculpture or painting, imbued through the particularity of their articulation with all kinds of illusion, and indeed with all aspects of “intelligence, delicacy, balance, decisiveness” etc., making them more than the sum of their parts. But it’s easy to cheat on oneself over this stuff, as both an artist and a viewer. There is lots of bad art that has pretentions to be profound and sublime. Somewhere you have to take a stand. For myself, (middle-to-late) Rothko is on the wrong side of the divide, and enters the realm of “picture in the fire”, rather than truly creative expressivity. I don’t believe these pictures have anything genuine to say for themselves (and the later the Rothko, the more true that becomes), but they are, like much minimal art, able to accommodate all kinds of subjective projection. Really great art, in my experience, does something rather close to the opposite of that, forcing you to come up against the limits of ones own ability to comprehend and make sense of its complexities, forcing all ones attention onto the work, and not onto aspects of oneself, mental, physical or spiritual (whatever the latter is).


  11. Yes. Art for the artist has to remain an act of discovery or it becomes an act of manipulation. I think that may be the problem with late Rothko – he discovered a method to produce a particular response and stopped looking any further.
    I wouldn’t want to deny that it is the particularity of the articulation that enables the projection, for example, of emotion. To say that the emotion is therefore “in the artwork” or “in the viewer” is surely just a matter of words. The artist doesn’t escape any responsibility for the articulation just because the emotion is a projection coming from the viewer. And it is in the nature of projection that one sees all this stuff in the artwork and not in oneself. So you look at the artwork wondering how it does what it does and searching to see if it can do even more.
    Whatever the spiritual is in connection with art, I think it is probably quite diverse, connected maybe by an exuberant “God yes – that’s what it’s like to be alive!”


  12. I would never say that the “emotion” is in the artwork, only that what’s in the artwork (musical notes forming melodies and chords and passages and movements; colour, shape, form, structure, spatiality etc. and all kinds of movement… content, in other words!) is in the artwork, if you follow. But you must surely agree that there is a bloody big difference between a blank Rothko or Noland and a full-to-brimming-over-with-great-things-to-look-at van Eyck or Constable. No doubt anybody can project anything they want onto all of those things, but that does not change their intrinsic content – or the woeful lack of it.

    An artist can only look after to the best of their ability their invented content, rather than try to predict context and interpretation and anything else extrinsic to the work.


    1. And to be honest, as I’ve said before, “emotion” is bandied about too much as a direct reason for looking at art. Most of the time, looking at a great Rubens or something like it does lots of things to me and for me but it does NOT often fill me with lots of profound existential emotions, and on the odd occasion that it does, it’s usually my problem and my imposition.


  13. With you on emotion. It’s just that emotions ( with their partially “outward criteria”) are more forcefully embedded in language and therefore easier to talk about than “that strange sensation you get when you realise you can’t actually see the boundaries of your vision” or “what it feels like to ride a bike for the first time in ages” or “that…that… what is it?” or whatever.
    I much prefer Constable to Noland too (and Beethoven to Morton Feldmann) .
    Maybe because there’s only so much to be discovered in simplicity? Or maybe because an awareness of complexity is an ever present part of our experience? Gratitude that such a huge amount of chaotic stuff has been given a structure?
    “An artist can only look after to the best of their ability their invented content”. Agreed, but the artist is also projecting onto this content and must be satisfied with this aspect of the work along with anything else, before it is “finished”. He/She can then only trust that what resonated for them in a particular context might also resonate (perhaps quite differently) for someone else in another context. Our common humanity seems to make this possible.


  14. Robin – Possibly part of the answer to your question is that forged steel sculpture parts tend to have a somewhat ‘organic’ image. Organic spells Nature and nature suggests animals/ humans. It is then a short step to visually associate this sculpture with figuration.

    If one examines a forged steel part (of a sculpture), it will invariably be infused with a multiple array of suggested forces which are presented to the viewer though surfaces as a visual complex. This complexity.COLONISES the space around it rather than COLLABORATES with it. If one seeks more of a ‘collaboration’ in which space determines the plasticity of the forms as much as the forms define the space, it would imply a less aggressive impacting of the characteristics of the forms to allow it (space) to breath and acquire its own identity as part of the sculptural whole.
    I would go further and suggest that WHATEVER material is used, it will have to emanate an enhanced sense of DIRECTION as well as its initial plasticity and physicality, because space is illusion and has to be moulded and guided by the forms to which it is ‘attached’.
    This ‘new’ activated sculptural space can only be sensed by creating a TENSION between the material whose surfaces are ‘read’,with the space through which they travel. Hopefully, this tension of space / material will minimise any ‘figurative’ associations since its ‘reading’ by the eye will be,anti ‘kinaethetic’.by definition..



    1. I think on first reading, Tim, that is pretty much spot on. Yep, I like that a lot.

      I think too that forging tends to “colonise” the space in a linear fashion – i.e. one reads along the length of the material to get to another “space/place” somewhere else – whereas to collaborate with or activate the space requires the material to operate in much bigger variety of ways. And in doing so, is there not then a greater involvement with three-dimensions, in all directions, as it were, rather than just A to B?


  15. Forging tends to initially depend on bars of material, (you will recall how difficult it was to forge ‘blocks’ at St. Martin’s); thus producing primarily ‘linear’ forms. The hammer naturally compresses and stretches material, increasing the tendency. The danger is that other factors such as density, mass and physicality, (of the material), become subsumed by it, and it also tends to standardise part to part relationships and junctions, which are key to variation in the spatial development of the whole. My forged work was once acccused by an American critic of renown of being “crabbed”.and the massing of form to expressive ends can produce a sort of plastic indigestion.There is nothing inherently wrong with a linear form.as such; it depends entirely on the context and relationships with other parts of the sculpture.
    Some types of sculpture have been completely immersed in this form of ‘composing’; ‘Drawing in Space’.being an obvious example.
    I think that if a new sort of sculpture, which projects, by its nature, spatial as well as physical plastic expression. It will automatically be three dimensional in a total way since there will be no back or front or sides or top or bottom and so on.
    Having said that. I think that there is a sculptural limit to EXTENSION,(as we touched on in our architecture / sculpturel space discussion)..


  16. PS re “material operating in a bigger variety of ways…” I would say that that is the essence of forging, what it is all about; the question being, of course ,HOW you alter it. Which is not to say that that is the only way to alter material; an of course leaves out other materials..


    1. I see what you mean – but as we have already touched upon, forging is possibly limited in how it conjoins with space, even if it’s surface treatment is varied. I think in any case that how material involves itself with space cannot easily begin to happen, if at all, in the act of forging itself, but is down to the later stages of relations across broader content than just the incidence within or upon each singular and isolated piece of steel.


  17. Quite – attempting to make space a working plastic factor in sculpture in conjunction with the material is a new challenge (that can only be met through abstraction in my view); It will be of extreme interest to see how it develops in the hands of different sculptors..
    I can envisage a new “Condition of Sculpture” show to monitor progress’ but I suppose that is whistling in the wind..



    “Since the days of the cathedrals we have had but one sculptor. Sculpture is hard..You can still find a few painters and a basketful of writers and musicians, but to be sculptor, you have to be a saint, and have the strength to escape the snare of cleverness…..
    Those who worked on the cathedrals succeeded in giving us an idea of eternity. That was the greatest preoccupation if their time. Degas has found a way of expressing the malady of our contemporaries; I mean movement. Nowadays we all have the itch to move. Even Degas’ jockeys and horses ‘move’. Before he came along, only the Chinese.had discovered the secret of movement. That is Degas’ greatness; movement is a French style.”

    Renoir oh art and artists quoted by Jean Renoir ‘Renoir my father’ 1958.


  19. PA after “cleverness’ I missed out a line “Since Chartres there has been only one sculptor, in my view, and that is Degas.”


  20. Some seek the sublime in Art, some in the mountains.
    I came across in Robert Macfarlanes introduction to the Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd a mountaineering metaphor. Macfarlane says that Nan Shepherd came to know the Cairngorms ‘deeply rather than widely’. What he means is that she immersed herself completely in a particular landscape to the exclusion of other habitats, and that specific landscape, the Cairngorms was the subject of all her writing.
    Macfarlane says that most writing about mountains is by men. and that these focus on the summit, success being when the mountain is conquered.
    ‘But to aim for the highest point is not the only way to climb a mountain, nor is a narrative of siege and assault the only way to write about one’.
    When younger, Shepherd ‘made always for the summit’ but later ‘circumambulation has replaced summit-fever; plateau has substituted for peak’. She ceased to have interest in the peak ‘from which she might become catascopos the looker-down who sees all with a god-like eye’.
    I was struck by this similarity to much critical writing on art. The certainty and singularity of this ‘god-like eye’ in art criticism often seeks the diminution and obliteration of other perspectives and experiences. How much richer to experience the whole; in this analogy, the plateau, from which different summits arise? High Modernist criticism is often intolerant of difference and particularly in the area of abstract painting where philosophical contortions of great complexity can be concocted to confuse, bewilder and obfuscate, to frequently demean alternative views.
    Instantloveland is refreshingly different; there are a couple of posts that I have particularly enjoyed for their openness, generosity and deep knowledge of modern art practices and its times and contexts.
    The first of these, Ideologies: Divisions, Schisms, Isms and Unbelievable Gulfs by EC, challenges these insular self-obsessed self-satisfied certainties, that ‘flashy showing off of intellectual prowess by pundits determined to learn nothing from one another . . . . fundamentally a lack of generosity.’
    For generosity read John Bunkers review of Beatriz Milhazes at White Cube although it has already attracted a thread that is ‘old school’!
    JB refers to ‘untenable mythologies’ and suggests that Milhazes challenges us, as she has been, ‘to look at the contradictory narratives at the heart of the history of abstraction’.
    I’m not interested in wasting time reading art criticism whose sole intent is to demean others in the guise of exploring high cultural aim. Such writing diminishes those authors. They have more in common with Love Island or Made in Chelsea than they realise.
    Last word, from Nan Shepherd.
    ‘Plateau is the true summit of these mountains; they must be seen as a single mountain, and the individual tops . . . no more than eddies on the plateau surface.’
    Instantloveland. A breath of fresh art critical air.


    1. ‘they must be seen as a single mountain, and the individual tops . . . no more than eddies on the plateau surface.’
      That sounds a little contradictory and dictatorial. Views from the top of mountains can be great and don’t have to be driven by the achievement of the climb, or any God like motivations.
      It is obvious that all should be able to have their say. I would encourage each and every individual to think for themselves but this also invloves a self questioning as well as a questioning of others. There will always be a tension between one’s own beliefs and an openess to change. I would encourage peope to be bold and commited.
      One’s own path must be questioned, but there is a as much danger in spreading yourself so tolerantly wide that you have no commitment or direction to anything.


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