#109. Tim Scott writes “Towards a New Sculpture”

Tim Scott, “Liquefaction II”, 2018, plywood and card, laminated, 51 x 66 x75 cm

Towards a New Sculpture

As one arrives at old age, it becomes more and more apparent that what is of one’s time is – of one’s time; and that what is of the present is – of the present.  If one asks what is new, original and fresh in the art of sculpture, the one belies much of the other, and never the twain shall meet! Of the thousands of new sculptures being made by hundreds of artists everywhere, what genuinely shows any spark of new meaning and new purpose? If one bypasses what Clement Greenberg called ‘Novelty Art’, the labelling as ‘sculpture’ of art objects whose prime function is devoted to a social, philosophical, political, amusing, sensational, literary or phenomenological intent, amongst many more; then what was previously understood as constituting ‘sculptural intent’ is deemed to be no longer relevant.

Of course, there are still today many practitioners in the age-old function of sculptural expression, depicting the vagaries of the human body. Sadly, none have matched the grand finale of that domain as exemplified by Rodin, Degas and Matisse. For better or for worse non-figuration of varying intensities has led the way to a ‘modern’ sculptural art form.

Art survives through patronage and great art requires great patronage. Today’s patronage is from the museum curator/gallery dealers and their clients, the collectors. The one is subject to financial restraint and both to the vagaries of fashion and, most importantly, journalism and media publicity. ‘Sculpture’ is now a label for trendiness and fashion, not of an art form dedicated to those values previously understood to be axiomatic.

The price of an unwanted dedication to old values has to be marginalisation. The confrontation of that with an all-pervading worship of the popularisation of art as entertainment, from which stems the verdict of that same dedication being out-of-date, and dismissed as irrelevant, is inimical to upholding those values that are seen as qualitatively necessary to retain from sculpture’s past by a small minority of practitioners in order to innovate.

What, then, is the prime motivation for continuing to attempt to move the history-based ‘classical’ line of ‘modern’ sculpture forward from the positions and achievements reached by the end of the twentieth century?

I would surmise that there are still outstanding unresolved areas towards the achievement of a wholly satisfactory and integrated new sculpture, which attempt to emulate past values in new form by adding to them, that require much creative effort by today’s sculptors to arrive at invention and original thinking.

One such is the meaning and purpose of sculptural space in past sculpture. This has mostly been a matter of displacement by the physical elements of the sculpture, and/or what remains from the occupation of space by those physical elements. Unlike painting, which has always had to deal with a non-literal space created by the design of the graphic elements of the work; not so with sculpture. Even the ‘drawing in space’ initiated by Picasso/Gonzalez, and frequently emulated subsequently, only reproduces what is the standard aesthetic projection of line on a flat surface and only varies spatially according to the viewing position of the piece in question.  Another standard response has been the adoption into sculpture of an ‘architectural’ space which is, in essence, environmental; the physical elements of the sculpture perform as if they were some sort of shelter or enclosure, without that actual function. This, in particular, has often led to the confusion of sculptural intent with the object world, manufactured or otherwise, but it at least had the merit of attempting a ‘spatial’ quality in sculpture.

What is being looked for, then, is a sculpture space that is active in its role within the piece; active ‘physically’ even though it is non-physical. Despite the inevitable dominance of the actual plastic forms of the sculpture visually, is it possible to arrive at a sculptural structure in which these elements defer to the space that they not only occupy, but are also ‘directed’ by, to the point where this space can be read as making a positive, if not equal, plastic visual contribution? I would go further, and say even contribute to the structure of the piece as if they were essential to its ‘construction’ physically.

If this can be achieved in the new abstract sculpture of today, then the opening of the 21st century, like its predecessor the 20th, will set out for the art of sculpture a new dynamic and the seeds of new growth.

 

Four more images of “Liquefaction II”, 2018, plywood and card, laminated, 51 x 66 x75 cm:

 

Six images of “Liquefaction III”, 2018, plywood, laminated, 56 x 102 x 94 cm

 

Six images of “Liquefaction IV”, 2018, plywood, laminated, 56 x 85 x 75 cm:

 

Six images of “Liquefaction V”, 2018, plywood, laminated, 64 x 62 x 70 cm

 

 

Robin Greenwood comments:

As an aside, I asked Tim about the titles, and got “Upon Julia’s Clothes” by Robert Herrick, 1591 – 1674:

 

When in silks my Julia goes

Then, then, methinks, how sweetly flows

 

The liquefaction of her clothes!

Next, when I cast mine eyes and see

 

That brave vibration each way free,

– O how that glittering taketh me.

 

Tim sent me an unsolicited picture – see below – of a sculpture in his garden (with the beautiful stone wall) in Sri Lanka where he works six months of the year. I immediately asked for more. I’ve never seen these works beyond these photographs, and my guess is they may not easily get shown over here, things being as they are in the artworld. But from what I can see, and from what I can make as my best guess, it is not only Tim’s best work by far in plywood since he started showing in this medium at Poussin Gallery in 2011, but is his best work ever. I say that as a fan of some of his early work from the sixties and seventies, such as the “Bird in Arras VI” series that I wrote about in September in Abcrit, and someone who has appreciated much of his work in steel, both forged and constructed, especially the extended series made in Germany in the eighties and nineties. We can look forward to a book on Tim in the not too distant future, being written by Sam Cornish, examining all his work and history.

Yet nevertheless, I think this work is outstanding, original and unprecedented, and I’m immensely taken with it. It has seemingly been made without the pretention that appears necessary to the inclusion of gratuitous novelty in new art, but they are nevertheless new. It is work full of a natural modest knowledge of what is complex and simple at one and the same time, standing as a reality of three-dimensional abstract structure that knows it has achieved plenty, and done so directly. It can perhaps accept without strain certain kinds of limitations that are required in the most expressive sculptures – limitations which then allow unknown ideas to move as free systems of deep ambition.

 

 

14 comments

  1. Thank you Tim for these highly pertinent remarks. I really like the new sculptures too. I just want to make one quick comment. You wrote:

    “I would surmise that there are still outstanding unresolved areas towards the achievement of a wholly satisfactory and integrated new sculpture, which attempt to emulate past values in new form by adding to them, that require much creative effort by today’s sculptors to arrive at invention and original thinking.”

    The second clause (“which attempt to emulate past values…”) begs the question of the nature of the ambition or commitment to emulating past values at all, given an environment in which, as you say, the institutional sources of the great art of the past (museums, galleries and collectors) are now ruled by the fashion market as you correctly point out. What is the value today of past sculptural values if, as seems undeniable, the only hierarchy of value acknowledged in our society is determined by dollars and cents?

    The first clause sort of suggests an answer, which is that there are (still) “outstanding unresolved areas” – sculptural “problems” for which no definitive “answers” have yet been found. My issue with this formulation is that it seems to be based on a model of scientific research, which proceeds by solving inherited problems. What happens if and when these outstanding unresolved areas are finally resolved? Does the art of sculpture just end, because it has, so to speak, achieved its mission?

    I think what is missing is the significance of personal values and commitments, which is really a philosophical rather than an aesthetic matter.

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  2. Carl – “…What is the value today of past sculptural values….?”
    My answer must be that it is only through those values that we KNOW what sculpture (art) IS. Every artist (or group of artists) throughout history has a sense of the value of what he / she / they are doing from their EXPERIENCE of the past. Most if not all, will have tråined their eyes and methods from attempting to emulate those values in their own period and efforts. As we know, our early modern masters constantly spoke of these efforts in their work.
    Unlike scientific answers in ‘research’, artistic ones are never finite; for they depend on human emotion which is constantly variable and changing in context.
    One of the challenges inherent for the ‘modern’ artist is the åtempt to inculcate ‘human’ values (as exemplified in past art) into present work; (one of the “unresolved areas” ?) Is this the same as what you call “personal values and commitments” ? The “aesthetic matter”is surely the method, not the content ?

    Robin – If only you were the Director of the Tate, or some such, how pleasant my working life would be !!

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    1. Thank you, but perhaps your working life is already pleasant enough, at least in terms of the value of the work you make, regardless of a theory, or anything that could be offered practically? Surely the Tate know nothing other than hubris anyway.

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  3. Liquefaction ii, amazing! So much movement and variety from such simple means, Fluid movement through space combining all the direct disciplines, constructed, modeled and carved.

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  4. I do think that now that we have seen three years development of Tim’s work here of photos on Abcrit – of the card laminations of “Bridge of Echoes” in 2016 and the plywood “Song for Echoes” of 2017, and now these new ones – that these are outstanding developments that have gone beyond what I occasionally saw as exciting but slightly problematic – like for example the rather architectural look I flagged up in the way the “Songs” arranged themselves in vertical/horizontal arrays that stressed a little the “orthogonal” thinking. These new ones have not shed this approach completely, so much as totally embraced it as ways to work alongside many other incorporations of the varied structures. It’s looking more excellent as we keep looking.

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    1. Robin – “…orthogonal thinking…” Yes, I am acutely aware that the cutting out of parts in this material tends to impose an angular and indeed rectangular schema on the parts themselves and the building of a whole from them. I have tried to limit the ‘shaping’ and development of part to part to a format that would read as a) direction, and b) movement; as of primary necessity and importance; and more, that they would feel IMPLIED by the space they occupy and traverse, and thus avoid any idea of them reading as an an ‘image’.
      Unfortunately the nature of the material as basically a flat plane imposes a limited choice of alteration, (unlike forging for example, which gave me much more freedom in the steel sculptures).
      All of which brings us once again to the dictatorship of material in sculpture and the battle to overcome it.

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      1. I no longer think that the material, or its orthogonal tendencies, as I saw it and implied it a year ago, is the problem, because I now see it as true that you are beyond that.

        I would repeat my original comment to your essay – that certain… let’s call them “limitations” (to images?)… things that can even now go too far in certain ways that previously might have seemed worthwhile sculptural “innovations”… can now be accepted more positively in their own natural aspects, so long as they are not repetitive or formulaic, to be allowed “to move as free systems of deep ambition”.

        Let’s agree that the material itself – the plywood, in this case – is no longer an issue or even a “limitation”, but now is a question of how far one can variably invent with it to make more certain of its arrival at whole-form three-dimensional movement-structures. Then, I see no “flatness” to plywood (or to steel, for that matter). I’m now trusting fully to the idea that plywood and steel are already being made to provide more freedom than in previous “ideas” related to forging.

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      2. ‘Unfortunately the nature of the material…..’

        Why ‘Unfortunately’? The material restrictions have made for something really special, of its material, the best expression of its possibilities.
        You talk of old age, this is the expression of a lifetimes experience, mano a mano with the material using all means at your disposal.

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  5. Saul – Thank you for your appreciation and ticking off of my anxieties about material !
    You are right, in the end a material is a material is a material, to rephrase the old Stein adage; and as Robin says above, getting “beyond it” is what counts. I think that having to drop working in steel was a big wrench for me and it took me a while to adjust; yes, hopefully something of all those years went into the present efforts.
    As long as age doesn’t wither me, I’m OK I hope !

    Robin – I agree with what you say. The ‘flatness’ is literal, but the first order of the day is to defeat literalness of course.
    Forging did allow me, at any rate, to see a way out for steel’s (at that time) ‘givenness’; but I am sure that it would have different demands now were I to be still using it.

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  6. Is there something in the “matter of factness” that the decision-making in plywood has when used in this way compared to forging which could, due to its relatively longer process of forming, feel more overtly (pre)configured and perhaps too laden with a degree of taste by comparison ? I’m stressing “could” of course. It seems that the simplicity of a cut – curved, straight – rather forces a certain directness; the limitations of the wood and its overt planarity (more effective in sculpture than painting?) become liberating whereas steel when forged seems to rely on a lot more complex knowledge, experience and handling skills. Offering a piece of wood to another seems so rudimentary by comparison – the result of which is being turned on its head here with the richness of expression in the outcome.

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  7. Tim,
    The way out with forging from the “givenness” of pre-manufactured steel sections did seem really exciting in the seventies, but things always move on!

    As we once agreed on Abstractcritical, sculpture always in the end “calls the shots”, not the material. Having once shed the stock-steel solutions of the sixties to favour much more plastic and spatial uses of transformative forging in the seventies and eighties, which seemed so deliciously enticing and full, especially when “paired” to structures of “the body”; so now we must ask yet more questions of the nature of REAL abstract sculpture again, NOT the “analogies to structures” that passed for other things. We now more firmly leave behind the appearances which we thought must pass for the equivalences to expressive sculptures that stood themselves up in the world like things we knew about. Those ideas look figurative and object-like, oddly and awkwardly limited to the pre-concepts that were so hard to think beyond; and which even now continue to disappoint in the work of those few still pursuing forging methods.

    I see no reason at all to regret your move out of forging, Tim, when things now look so good. In a way, therefore, I agree with Emyr – it is the forging that now looks rudimentary, because of association. The plywood – or indeed some of the new steelwork being done too – is far better off in a free approach.

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  8. Materials matter to a sculpture but I think that with any successful sculpture the materials will, in a sense, disappear, as the object unconceals itself to the viewer. The photos indicate that Tim’s work embodies dynamic multidimensional (and multidirectional) structures where both space and material are dynamicaly attuned to each other. They look really good, although photos will flatten some spacial relationships, while emphasising others.

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  9. “A sculptural structure where elements defer to the space they not only occupy but are directed by…………”

    There are moments in the photographs of these new pieces when all of that can be felt, and that is great. There are other moments, views which make for that to happen very difficult because of structure.
    Looking back at the three series is an occasional compressive, planar,opening and closing like a squeezebox.This,when I see it, is at odds with the best of the works, which I love. The weird thing is I do it myself and in fact its foundations lie at the very core of Abstract sculpture.
    It is as if the remnants of planar thinking are the memory against which a desire for free material and space in a new kind of three dimensionality is constantly being invaded.My question is …..
    Is this totally a three dimensional issue which obviously embraces the space and where the stuff is all at one and the same time ? Is this not therefore a three dimensional issue and a three dimensionality that embraces space and material with intent.
    We are all trying to get rid of the object but it is our total dependance on objects from everything we use to the one we live in that forms the background against which our experiments take place.

    If you can’t have the memory of the object , what is being fought for in these sculptures here and elsewhere is the creation of a new believable ‘reality’.
    It will happen.

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  10. Tim’s doing his usual struggle with the computer again, so I’m passing on his comments, as follows:

    Emyr – “.. the simplicity of a cut, curved straight – rather forces a certain directness…”
    Yes, I agree that , compared to the forging process, the ‘directness’ is an asset. I hope that this positive aspect of the pieces sufficiently justifies its use; though no material in itself should justify the sculpture as has been said.

    Robin – Yes, of course everything is of its time, as no doubt these sculptures will be seen as in due course.
    My only answer for defining ‘real’ abstract sculpture is that it should ultimately sit there looking not quite like anything else that one can think of, despite familiarity with elements or processes. We should be aiming for the sort of aesthetic satisfaction that no other object / thing / body has or can give (in quite the same way) and which therefore justifies its creation and existence. The other factor, in my view, which justifies its existence is, of course, it demonstrating clearly a genuine attempt to emulate something of the achievements of the past, if only in a miniscule way.
    Having embarked on my present course, I intend to persue it for better or worse, but of course cannot guarantee that will get anywhere else.

    John – I totally agree that “…in any successful sculpture the materials will, in a sense, disappear…” Materials are the ‘instruments’ of the music of sculpture and when successfully and ambitiously played will evaporate as objects and become pure sound.
    As far as spatial relationships are concerned, I hope that upon experiencing the real things in the flesh, the viewer will ‘enter’ into these in a way that is totally thwarted by photographs which turn everything into a ‘graphic’ image unfortunately.

    Tony – ‘Planar thinking’ is indeed a background interference which has to be got rid of. New thinking, fresh thinking, is never really ‘new’ but imports and incorporates all sorts of cloudiness into one’s intentions, which are usually way in advance of practice.
    Space is by definition three dimensional (or even four); so. yes, new plastic spatial structures involve new three dimensional thinking. Exactly what that thinking should be is the question for all making the attempt at realising it in sculpture.

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