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worship of the popularisation of art as entertainment, from which stems the verdict of that same dedication being out-of-date, and dismissed as irrelevant, is inimical to upholding those values that are seen as qualitatively necessary to retain from sculpture’s past by a small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.