Posts Tagged 'UWA-P3-research-point'

UA1-WA:P3-p4-Research Point: Artists’ letters

This Research Point asks about van Gogh’s letters – how his words contribute to or complement viewing his work.

Vincent van Gogh: The Letters is an amazing resource on the Van Gogh Museum website – http://www.vangoghletters.org/vg/. It holds 902 letters to or from van Gogh plus related material. You can see an image of the letter itself, the text and an English translation. There are editorial notes and links to images of particular works mentioned in the letters, plus a very good search engine and extensive cross-linking of material. It is extremely well designed and easy to use. You could get lost in there for days with every moment fascinating.

I used this resource while researching for my annotation of van Gogh’s Head of a peasant (see 25-Nov-2013). I was able to learn more about van Gogh’s intent in his choice of subject, use of colour, and composition in a later painting for which my focus work was a study. Other letters gave me insight into van Gogh’s ambitions in painting generally and about the conditions and concerns of his life such as money worries and plans for future saleable works. The facilities of the website also allowed me to identify related works.

During my own recent experiment with drawing a still life it was interesting to read van Gogh’s words about his work – “a large still life of potatoes — where I’ve tried to get body into it — I mean express the material. Such that they become lumps that have weight and are solid, which you’d feel if they were thrown at you, for instance.” (van Gogh, 1885).

As well as the advantages, there are limitations and dangers in relying too much on an artist’s own words.

For me the most interesting, the greatest art is more than the artist’s intentions. There is space for the viewer to be an active participant, to interpret and find their own meanings. Levels of ambiguity or mystery leave it open for us. As well as the meaning/theme/iconography of the work this could include the nature of the work itself. While researching for the next exercise I found “Even during Cézanne’s lifetime, fellow artists found ideas in his art that the painter himself did not intend” (Dean, p.5). If we are too conscious of the artist’s intentions it could make us miss or self-censor our own response the the art itself.

Doing annotations for this course I am learning to observe the work carefully, and also put it into context – political, artistic… While the artist’s own words should an important part of interpreting a work they must also be read in context – of the life and situation of the artist and of the wider use language and ideas which change over time.

An artist may miss-speak or a translation may be inaccurate. An artist may change their mind, for example in my research on Seurat I found Pissarro writing at one time as a staunch advocate, and a few years later disillusioned and disparaging (see 14-Nov-2013).

Modern artists artists are generally very conscious of self marketing and promotion. I don’t know the extent of such ideas in the past – van Gogh’s letters for example seem very genuine and un-self-conscious. Even so he wanted to gain support, to inspire confidence, to reassure… One can’t necessarily accept what is written at face value.

Finally while it can be fascinating and enlightening to learn more about an artist and their views, it can feed the modern cult of celebrity. Focus can shift to the man, his privations, his personal demons, his intentions, his theories… but in the end, the work’s the thing. True – but I’ve discovered that a book of the letters of Cezanne has recently been published. Irresistible.

References

Dean, C. (1991) Cézanne. London:Phaidon Press

van Gogh, V. (1885) Letter to Theo van Gogh. Nuenen, Sunday, 4 October 1885. [online] Available from http://vangoghletters.org/vg/letters/let533/letter.html (Accessed 19-Jan-2014).

UA1-WA:P3-p4-Research Point: Artists’ letters
Understanding Art 1 – Western Art.
Part three: Modern art and still life
Project four: Still life after 1900
Research Point: Artists’ letters

UA1-WA:P3-p3-Ex Iconography of still life paintings

Flanders St Jerome

Flanders
St Jerome
C. 1540
National Gallery of Victoria
http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/col/work/3735

Although still life as an independent genre didn’t begin to flourish until the early 17th century in the Netherlands, elements of its iconography can be seen in earlier works. This unsigned and undated painting in the National Gallery of Victoria shows the saint in his study. He points at a skull on which sits a fly. The skull is a symbol of death, and a special attribute of a number of saints including Jerome. James Hall (2008) provides extensive information about symbols in art, including the use of a skull as an aid to “the contemplation of death as a spiritual exercise [as] recommended by the Jesuits” (Hall, 2008, p. 293). Unexpectedly Hall suggests the fly does not have symbolic meaning. Rather than perhaps a link to putrefaction, Hall suggests a fly serves as a “protective talisman” against insect damage (Hall, 2008, p. 130). On the window sill the hour glass suggests the passing of time, the apple Adam and Eve and the Fall of Man. The crucifixion image seen in the open book could suggest the Resurrection and conquest of death. The quill pen may simply refer to Jerome’s philosophical writing, or as in Pieter Claesz’s Still Life with a Skull and a Writing Quill (1628) “suggest that worldly efforts are ultimately in vain” (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2006).

Skull and bones vanitas still life

Skull and bones vanitas still life
circa 1600
Published by: Robert de Baudous After: Abraham Bloemaert Print made by: Jan Saenredam
© Trustees of the British Museum

One major sub-category of the still life genre was the vanitas, emphasising the brevity of human life and insignificance of human concerns. An extreme example is on the right from the British Museum. In addition to the skull there are straight trumpets (“blown by angels to announce the last judgement, and at the day of wrath” (Hall, 2008, p. 323), scythes (carried by Death to cut lives short), lit lamps and torches (the brevity of life) and spades (man must toil for his food following the Fall). The rope may refer to Christ’s betrayal, as he was bound by soldiers. The shields across the top are difficult to see, but there could be reference to the fleeting nature of music, the sword which is no protection from death (or wields power only briefly in life), and the bird if a swan could be uttering its last beautiful cry.

"Vanitas" Still Life

“Vanitas” Still Life
Adam Bernaert
circa 1665
The Walters art museum
http://art.thewalters.org/detail/369/vanitas-still-life/

This work by Bernaert is just as full symbolism, but much more decorative and suitable for the wall of the wealthy middle class in the Netherlands. The hour glass is there, also an overturned glass symbolising emptiness. Creative endeavours such as music and writing are transitory as is the beauty of pearls. The important looking papers and the map of the Dutch East Indies reflect possessions and power that will pass. The globes show that all is affected by time, even the heavens above and the earth below.

Still life with fruit

Still life with fruit
Jan Davidsz. de Heem
c. 1640-1650
National Gallery of Victoria
http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/col/work/4023

Another sub-category of still life was the pronkstilleven or sumptuous painting. I mentioned this one by Jan Davidsz. de Heem in my post about visiting the NGV (see 21-July-2013) as I was impressed by the neighbouring cabinet displaying items similar to those in the painting. In paintings like this there is no Christian or moral message. Instead they show the wealth of their owners and the technical virtuosity of the artist. heemThe pomegranate could be a symbol of the Resurrection, or of “the unity of the many under one authority” (Hall, 2008, p. 257), but here it seems more likely to be seen as one part of an abundance of rare fruit. The reflections of light and of fruit in the glass are masterly.

Doing this Research Point I have not had time to consider more modern use of iconography in still life paintings. Audrey Flack uses traditional still life vanitas icons in Marilyn (1977), including an hour glass and a candle (which could have layered meaning given Elton John’s Candle in the Wind of 1973), updated with modern items such as cosmetics and photographs (see http://www.artmuseum.arizona.edu/events/event/audrey-flacks-marilyn-still-life-vanitas-trompe-loeil). In contrast Stoker (2008) suggests that more modern artists, no longer using traditional Christian iconography, have developed other methods to express transcendence. He describes Rothko’s chapel paintings, maintaining that in viewing them “we will be confronted with our mortality” (Stoker, 2008, p. 94) and proposes that “the arrangement [of the chapel paintings] invokes the tension between the mortal tragic existence of the human being and the transcendent” (Stoker, 2008, p. 98).

References
Hall, J. (2008) Dictionary of subjects and symbols in art. Boulder: Westview Press

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (2006) “Pieter Claesz: Still Life with a Skull and a Writing Quill” (49.107) In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History . New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/49.107. (October 2006) (Accessed 11-Jan-2014)

Stoker, W (2008) “The Rothko Chapel Paintings and the ‘urgency of the transcendent experience’” In International Journal For Philosophy Of Religion, 64 (2), pp. 89-102, Academic Search Alumni Edition, EBSCOhost, viewed 10 January 2014.

UA1-WA:P3-p3-Ex Iconography of still life paintings
Understanding Art 1 – Western Art.
Part three: Modern art and still life
Project three: Introducing still life
Research point: Iconography of still life paintings

UA1-WA:P3-p2-Ex An aspect of art over the last thirty years – proppaNOW

For this Research Point the course notes ask me to “find out more about some aspect of British art over the last thirty years”. Suggestions are to look at a gallery space such as Tate Modern, recent developments in British art as shown by Turner Prize competition shortlists, or a particular artist or movement such as the Britart movement of the 1990s. This is a UK-based course, but I am an Australian based in Australia. I have chosen to find out more about proppaNOW, an Australian group of artists. (Later addition – this choice has been approved by my tutor and the OCA.)

ProppaNOW was set up in Brisbane in 2004. It is a small collective of urban Aboriginal artists. Their art is “about lives that we actually live, the people that we actually know and issues that concern us as modern peoples” (Ah Kee, 2012, 10:00). Their art is not dots and images of Dreamtime – in fact they see that style of painting as a white construct, controlled by and for the benefit of white people, giving a utopian image that allows daily realities to be ignored. Instead proppaNOW engages with the issues and politics and particularly racism that they face every day. Vernon Ah Kee (2009, 3:05) states “Art asks questions. That’s the whole point of it”, while Richard Bell (2010) declares “There is no better platform for politics than art … this way I don’t get arrested”. The name itself refers to an Indigenous colloquial expression, the ‘proper way’, meaning the correct, respectful way – the correct way for Aboriginal people today.

Aspects of the collective which have contributed to its longevity include clear purpose:

  • “To give blackfellas from Brisbane the focus nationally and internationally” (Bell, 2012, 7:36)
  • Exhibit as a group. Information on proppaNOW’s blog shows the group has exhibited at least once a year since 2005, and often more (see http://proppanow.wordpress.com/about-us/exhibition-history/)
  • “An accelerator for our solo practices and so when you join proppaNOW you must exhibit as a solo artist if not every year every second year” (Ah Kee, 2011, 28:25)
  • To provide mentorship to less experienced members.

    and have structured the group to support this:

  • limited membership – around seven, with only a couple of changes over the group’s life to date;
  • focused membership – Queensland urban aboriginal people
  • foundation of friendship
  • a wide range of skills and backgrounds – “we have to be everything to each other” (Ah Kee, 2012, 38:35)
  • In their drive for professionalism, seeing themselves at an elite level of artmaking, as well as providing support group members “fiercely” critique and question each other. “It’s not easy to be in this group. It’s hard. It’s meant to be. We’re meant to keep each other honest, we’re meant to maintain the quality of our ideas and the quality of our skills.” (Ah Kee, 2011, 10:36).

    The group and individual members have achieved success, for example:

  • The current Insurgence exhibition at the Museum of Australian Democracy (located in the Old Parliament House). (Some notes on my visit to the exhibition are below).
  • Group member Tony Albert has recently been commissioned to create an artwork to honour Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service men and women. See http://www.sydneymedia.com.au/grandfathers-war-story-inspires-aboriginal-artwork/ and http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/artwork-a-memorial-to-indigenous-soldiers-20131106-2x1mo.html
  • Vernon Ah Kee represented Australia at the 2009 Venice Biennale. See http://fineeyeproductions.com/video-archive-venice-biennale-vernon-ah-kee-2009/
  • Richard Bell hosted an eight part TV art series Colour Theory in 2013. See http://www.nitv.org.au/fx-program.cfm?pid=1529CC90-9C5C-F7FA-BCEC7CC04C1A486F
  • Gordon Hookey has developed Kangaroo Crew, including interactive multimedia and a published story book at the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane (QAGOMA) (open to 27 January 2014). See https://www.qagoma.qld.gov.au/kids/exhibitions/current/gordon_hookey_kangaroo_crew
  • Megan Cope participated in the exhibition A Journal of the Plague Year. Fear, ghosts, rebels. SARS, Leslie and the Hong Kong Story at the Para Site Gallery in Hong Kong in 2013. See http://www.para-site.org.hk/en/exhibitions/2013/journal-plague-year-fear-ghosts-rebels-sars-leslie-and-hong-kong-story and http://nutmegandhoney.blogspot.com.au/
  • I saw the Insurgence exhibition when I was in Canberra late last year. It is in the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House.
    insurgence01
    The photo above shows part of the building, with a fragment of Vernon Ah Kee’s textual work visible across the windows. The artists themselves note the irony in the location (Ah Kee, 2013). For many visitors the venue must give an additional emphasis and weight to the exhibition and to its importance at the heart of Australian democracy. Another site of great significance is just across the road.
    insurgence04

    The Aboriginal Tent Embassy (http://www.aboriginaltentembassy.net/) celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2012.

    It was important to Vernon Ah Kee to have his work visible from the Embassy. Ah Kee’s textual works use a bold sans serif font with spacing used to emphasise thoughts rather than individual words. The actual words are difficult to decifer and the message contained even harder for one from a different background to read. The large work on the wall in the first room of the exhibition states the viewer’s “duty is to accept truth” and served as notice to the effort these artists demand of viewers. Indeed the Museum’s signage and website include the warning “some artworks contain explicit images, language and ideas that may offend some viewers”.

    Inside the exhibition Ah Kee’s text appears directly placed on the walls. While this tactic is used by many artists here it seemed to add extra layers of meaning – as he took possession of this place, the headquarters of the colonial powers who took his home; or perhaps as graffiti, that guerrilla form of protest and resistance.

    I was reminded of Ruth Hadlow’s work, mentioned in my post 20-Sept-2013. She also uses text on walls and examines the experience of being other and the loss of identity living in a different world. Of course a most significant difference is power – Hadlow chose to live in a different country and to negotiate her place as an artist in a different culture. The artists’ of proppaNOW have had their country stolen, their culture sidelined. However Hadlow’s comments about the arrogance of familiarity and about response ability seem relevant here where the artists are disrupting the familiar and challenging the arrogance of their audience.

    insurgence03Returning to the significance of the location of the exhibition, in the photograph to the right Old Parliament House can be seen with the Aboriginal flag of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in front and directly behind the huge flagmast of the new (1988) Parliament House. Gordon Hookey’s animation Terraist (2012), also shown in Insurgence, seems to occupy the same space. The animation can be seen at http://www.theloop.com.au/CarbonMedia/portfolio/gordon-hookey-terraist-2012/130888 and a video where Hookey speaks about the work at http://vimeo.com/68745526 – both are shown in the exhibition.

    There are layers and contrasts of meaning – the tents of invading colonisers spread across the land, but also the Tent Embassy. The animation is like a child’s flip-book, but the figures hold guns. Hookey sees colonialism as terrorism and has “coined a term ‘Terraism’ (taken from terra nullius) to push an Aboriginal agenda in the debate in regards to our continual fight for our lands” (Hookey, 2006) as used in the animation. The two words play against each other, witty but with the ugly underlying terr-or of the colonists against the spiritual connection to the terr-a of the Aboriginal people. Hookey has taken the kangaroo, an iconic symbol of Australia seen on the national coat of arms and in the logo of Qantas, the flag carrier airline of Australia, and made it “a figure of resistance and strength and also a metaphor and symbol of Aboriginal people” (Hookey, [n.d.], 1:31). What has been taken from him he reclaims as his own.

    Walls of Resistance (2013) by Jennifer Herd is the continuation of a project that began in 2005. A distant view of the installation can be seen at http://proppanow.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/insurgence-at-museum-of-australian-democracy-at-old-parliament-house/ and a detail of the related 2005 work Cruciform from Walls of Resistance is on page 34 of Edmundsun and Neale (2007). The detail of this work is exquisite, delicate, fragile. Small box frames contain lozenge shapes, made of cane and cotton and pearl buttons. Lines of small holes pierce the backing, adding texture and pattern. There is a jolt of recognition and understanding when one finds the lozenges are warriors’ shields, the holes the punctures of bullets, the pearls “reference so many tears shed during the wars of resistance” (Herd, 2013). The work is a memorial, beautiful and fierce, vibrating with pain and loss and pride. The beauty engages her audience, then the emotion and understanding hits.

    Herd began the project “in response to a proposed memorial to Aboriginal soldiers who had fought and died in the World Wars” (Herd, 2013). She wanted to honour those others who fought and died for their country – against the invading Europeans. An interesting parallel is the Aboriginal Memorial (1988) at the National Gallery of Australia (see http://nga.gov.au/AboriginalMemorial/home.cfm), an installation of hollow log coffins which commemorates all the indigenous people who have fought and died for their country – but this is in the desert style of white constructed and controlled ‘Aboriginal art’. There is also a parallel in the research I did on The defence of Rorke’s Drift 1879 (see post 24-Oct-2013), where I found a memorial to the Zulu warriors victorious at Isandlwana wasn’t erected until 1999. In that instance the belated memorial to those who died for their land was created by a non-Zulu artist and the artist’s “attempt to fuse a Western, Eurocentric concept with local imagery and Afrocentric references” (Marschall, 2008) becomes even more uncomfortable upon review.

    The recent selection of Tony Albert to create an artwork to honour Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service men and women (see links above) highlights the complexity of modern Aboriginal existence. For Albert, his family history makes creation of the memorial personal and meaningful. For Herd such a work was the impetus for a whole body of work. Layers of pain and mistreatment.

    The final work I want to mention is not in the Insurgence exhibition. Richard Bell’s Big brush stroke (2005) is in the collection of the National Gallery of Australia (see http://artsearch.nga.gov.au/Detail.cfm?IRN=163586). This is a witty appropriation of the work of Roy Lichtenstein, using the colours of the Aboriginal flag, and the ben-day dots a nod to ‘acceptable’ Aboriginal art. It takes on the games of the Western art world and wins. There is a raw edge in Bell’s license to mimic the ben-day dots contrasted to his exclusion from the style of other Aboriginal artists. I wonder about the work’s display in NGA’s Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Art Urban gallery. On the website the Gallery’s collections are divided: Indigenous; Australia; Asia; Europe+America; Pacific… Does that tell us something? I went to look in the “Australia” collection and the first image I saw was Portrait of Nannultera, a young Poonindie cricketer [Native of South Australia, pupil of the Missionary Institution of Poonindie] (1854) by J.M. Crossland (http://artsearch.nga.gov.au/Detail.cfm?IRN=62236). It made my skin crawl.

    ProppaNOW could be regarded as an example of the post-modern multiculturalism described by Honour and Fleming, artists who “not only resisted acculturation but found new ways of expressing themselves without severing links with their own traditions or ignoring global developments in Modernism and Post-Modernism” (Honour and Fleming, 2009, p. 888). Edmundson and Neale (2007, p. 29) suggest that experiencing “discriminatory abandonment” the individual artists in proppaNOW “had reached the limit of their tolerance and the collective became a strategy for cultural survival and a site for activating Indigenous agency”. While I find their material challenging, showing a side of Australia I would like to but cannot deny, the various artworks show a vigour and an integrity and a relevance in both art-making and content that is engaging and thought-provoking.

    References

    Ah Kee, V. (2009) Australia at the Venice Biennale 2009: Cant Chant (wegrewhere), Once Removed – Australian Group Show, The Ludoteca, Castello, La Biennale Di Venezia 2009: An interview with Venon Ah Kee Artist for the Australian Council of the Arts 2009. [online] Available from Fine Eye Productions http://fineeyeproductions.com/video-archive-venice-biennale-vernon-ah-kee-2009/ (Accessed 4-Jan-2014)

    Ah Kee, V. (2011) The Black See Artists Panel, Cairns Indigenous Art Fair, KickArts Contemporary Arts, 20-August-2011. [online] Available from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=onXB7s3R-tk (Accessed 1-Jan-2014)

    Ah Kee, V. (2012) proppaNOW Artists: Melbourne Conversations at the Melbourne Indigenous Arts Festival, 2012 Artists Vernon Ah Kee, Richard Bell, Tony Albert and Laurie Nielson; Host Kim Kruger; 12-February-2012 [online] Available from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wpwM71qMNT0 (Accessed 1-Jan-2014)

    Ah Kee, V. (2013) Insurgence at Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House proppaNOW Artist Group blog [online] Available from http://proppanow.wordpress.com/2013/11/18/insurgence-at-museum-of-australian-democracy-at-old-parliament-house/ (Accessed 3-Jan-2014)
    Bell, R. (2010) Quoted in publicity material for Insurgence exhibition, Museum of Australian Democracy, 22-Oct-2013 to 11-Mar-2014.

    Bell, R. (2012) proppaNOW Artists: Melbourne Conversations at the Melbourne Indigenous Arts Festival, 2012 Artists Vernon Ah Kee, Richard Bell, Tony Albert and Laurie Nielson; Host Kim Kruger; 12-February-2012 [online] Available from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wpwM71qMNT0 (Accessed 1-Jan-2014)

    Edmundson and Neale (2007) “Learning to be Proppa: Aboriginal Artists’ Collective, proppaNOW” in Turner and Williams (2007) Thresholds of Tolerance, Canberra: Research School of Humanities and School of Art Gallery, Australian National University pp. 29 – 38 [online] Available from http://www.anu.edu.au/hrc/research/ThresholdsofTolerance/Thres_Tol_cat.pdf (Accessed 4-Jan-2014)

    Herd, J. (2013) From information supplied at Insurgence exhibition

    Honour, H. and Fleming, J. (2009) A World History of Art (revised 7th edition). London: Laurence King.

    Hookey, G. (2006) “Terrorism and Terraism” In borderlands e-journal 5 (1) [online] Available from http://www.borderlands.net.au/vol5no1_2006/hookey_text.htm (Accessed 5-Jan-2014)

    Hookey, G. ([n.d.]) Gordon Hookey: Terraist (video). Carbon Media [online] Available from http://vimeo.com/68745526 (Accessed 5-Jan-2014)

    Marschall, S (2008) “Zulu Heritage between Institutionalized Commemoration and Tourist Attraction” (Abstract) In Visual Anthropology (21, 3), 2008 (Abstract only online) Available from http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08949460801986236 (Accessed 20-Oct-2013)

    Additional resources

    Transcript of proppaNOW on ABC’s Message Stick Friday 10 June 2011 – http://www.abc.net.au/tv/messagestick/stories/s3264665.htm

    Bruce McLean, curator of Indigenous Art at Qagoma, Brisbane, discusses Neither Pride nor Courage, a triptych by Vernon Ah Kee – http://www.theguardian.com/culture/australia-culture-blog/video/2013/sep/15/art-brisbane-pride-nor-courage

    UA1-WA:P3-p2-Ex An aspect of art over the last thirty years
    Understanding Art 1 – Western Art.
    Part three: Modern art and still life
    Project two: From 1945 to the present
    Research point: An aspect of art over the last thirty years

    UA1-WA:P3-p2-Ex: Abstract sculpture – Henry Moore

    For this exercise I need to research an abstract sculptor working after 1950. Henry Moore’s working life extended from the 1920s to the 1980s. I have chosen to focus on Moore because I have been able to view a number of his works in recent months. There is also a large amount of information on Moore and his work available on-line. Moore set up a Foundation which encourages appreciation of visual arts in general and the preservation and appreciation of Moore’s works and legacy in particular, and the Foundations’s website www.henry-moore.org/hmf is extensive. Most of this Research Point will be links to items I found of interest.

    Overview of life and work

  • A detailed history can be found at http://www.henry-moore.org/pg/henry-moore-online-resources/a-more-detailed-account-of-moores-life-and-work.
  • Influences

  • Primitive forms – African, Mexican and Pre-Columbian (British Museum)
  • Surrealism
  • Modernism
  • Constructivism
  • While reading I found many specific artists identified as influences including Giacometti, Jacob Epstein, Brancusi, Francis Bacon, Michelangelo, Pisano, Picasso, Arp… There is a nice little graphic of Influences On and Influenced By – artists, friends and movements – at www.theartstory.org/artist-moore-henry.htm
  • Roger Fry (Vision and Design)
  • Work
    Some themes and general notes

  • Expressive rather than naturalistic
  • biomorphic forms
  • Figures bulky – strong and powerful. In Melbourne at the National Gallery of Victoria I saw the stone Half figure (1933) (see www.henry-moore.org/works-in-public/world/australia/melbourne/national-gallery-of-victoria/half-figure-1930-lh-91). In my eyes there was a kind of ponderous, monumental beauty mixed in with the rather awkward rigidity of the figure. I can’t show my photos here, but I was also somewhat amused by the echoing paired rondure of the breasts, buttocks and hairstyle.
  • Reclining figures – seen in early work (1929 at the Leeds Art Gallery – see www.henry-moore.org/works-in-public/world/uk/leeds/leeds-art-gallery/reclining-figure-1929-lh-59 and www.leedsartgallery.co.uk/gallery/listings/l0062.php), and in late work (1980 at the Art Gallery of New South Wales (AGNSW)- see www.henry-moore.org/works-in-public/world/australia/sydney/art-gallery-of-new-south-wales/reclining-figure-angles-1979-lh-675 and www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/6.1981/. Returning to one of his fundamental themes allowed Moore freedom to experiment with forms.

    The photos show various views of the AGNSW work linked above. It shows the drapery which Moore used to create more tension in a work. It also shows how far Moore moved from the initial human figure when working, even if overall it still retained close links. The placement of the head on those wide shoulders, the twist as it looks around, the apparently totally unrelated spine all combine in a rather unnerving way. I found a quote from Moore cited a number of times on the Foundation website (http://www.henry-moore.org/): “I want to be quite free of having to find a ‘reason’ for doing the Reclining Figures, and freer still of having to find a ‘meaning’ for them.” (Henry Moore quoted in John Russell, Henry Moore, Allan Lane, The Penguin Press, London 1968, p.28). This work seems to have no reason or meaning beyond Moore’s interest in working with volumes and forms.
  • Mother (or Madonna) and child
  • Vulnerability and protection. Moore’s sketches of Londoners sheltering and asleep in the underground during the Blitz have a poignant vulnerability – for example see www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/moore-grey-tube-shelter-n05706. In a sweeping generalisation, this suggests to me a different experience of that war between the British and Americans. In Britain there was a sense of community – a country digging deep, stubborn, surviving together. Americans were the heros riding in, the ones who dropped the bomb and changed the world – leading in part to the heroic, isolated figure of the abstract expressionist painter.
  • Helmet. AGNSW has Helmet head no. 2 (1955), unfortunately not on display at the moment – see www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/9195/, and another version at www.henry-moore.org/pg/henry-moore-online-resources/illustrated-chronology-of-artwork/1940s. These look intriguing. When I first saw the AGNSW image there seemed to be quirky humour, but the text in the two links given suggest a wide variety of interpretations.
  • Totems
  • The space between. Very often Moore’s work is not a solid form. It can be pierced by open space, or even be composed of separate elements with the space between as integral a part of the whole as the solid forms.
  • Textile design. I learned of this by chance in another student’s blog a few days ago – see claireparrytextiles.tumblr.com/post/69721038636/henry-moore-textiles. There is an audio slideshow presented by Amanda Geitner at news.bbc.co.uk/local/norfolk/hi/people_and_places/arts_and_culture/newsid_8846000/8846599.stm and a review of an exhibition written by Fiona MacCarthy at www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2008/oct/04/exhibition.art.henry.moore. You can also see lots of images on www.henry-moore.org/ by navigating to the online collection search and selecting Textiles. The designs look really lively with some exciting colourways, although unfortunately many of the photos show flat swatches so you don’t get a sense of movement.
  • Lack of movement. From the work I’ve seen personally and on the web, it all seems rather heavy and motionless. These figures aren’t going anywhere – not just because they are often large and literally physically heavy, but because the figures themselves are still, sitting or reclining. An exception might be Hill arches which is discussed further below, but even that motion while vigorous is limited, not going anywhere.
  • Warmth, humanistic and optimistic? That has been my impression, however McAvera (2001) suggests a much more complex psychological interpretation in a wide-ranging article that I found fascinating.
    Hill arches Henry Moore 1973

    Hill arches
    Henry Moore
    1973 Bronze
    National Gallery of Australia
    artsearch.nga.gov.au/Detail.cfm?IRN=37537

  • With preconceived notions of maternal figures and a general level of warmth and fuzziness, I was shocked by the blatant sexuality of Hill arches (1973) in Canberra. The photo to the right shows the view I had of the work when I first saw it. The allusion in the title of the work to landscape forms possibly suggests other interpretations, or at least parallels, but in my mind there is no doubt this is the largest artwork showing a copulating couple that I have ever seen. The combination of that subject with the gravitas of a monumental bronze, in a public garden, with the music of the carillon and birdsong, was quite disorienting.

    This work is also an example of the “space between” which I mentioned above. Unfortunately the video I took was too shaky and poor quality to be worth including, but you can see a slideshow by clicking any of the images below.

  • Generic, almost mass produced? Through my reading I got a sense that the volume and visibility of Moore’s work could be an issue. It appears to have been a safe option for a large gallery or civic centre to select a sculpture by Moore for a public space, and having short production runs meant the works aren’t site-specific. In some ways I wonder if that matters – how many paintings are site-specific? I also think the voids and spaces can act as frames and heighten one’s sense of place. A photo from the National Library of Australia illustrates this – see www.nla.gov.au/apps/cdview/?pi=nla.pic-an23551112 . (I don’t recall seeing this work and will have to search it out when next in Canberra.)
  • References
    McAvera, B. (2001) “The Enigma of Henry Moore” in Sculpture Magazine 20 (6) [on-line] Available from www.sculpture.org/documents/scmag01/julaug01/moore/moore.shtml (Accessed 13-Dec-2013).

    UA1-WA:P3-p2-Ex Reflecting on abstract expressionism
    Understanding Art 1 – Western Art.
    Part three: Modern art and still life
    Project two: From 1945 to the present
    Research point: Abstract sculpture – Henry Moore


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