Is Henry Moore’s Work Timeless?”To believe is to believe in life”. Henry Moore.Defining ‘timeless’ – not affected by changing styles; impactful to viewers from different times, for example, when the works were first made and nowTruth to Materials – “A belief that the form of a work of art should be inseparably related to the material in which it is made.”Direct Carving – when a sculpture’s design comes naturally out of the process of carving rather than trying to exactly adhere to a preconceived model.Introduction In this essay, I plan to discuss whether nor not Henry Moore’s work is timeless. This judgement will be based on a range of his work and the messages behind them, I will do this to make an informed decision on whether Henry Moore’s work is timeless.
I will explore how his carving techniques, constructive work and casting processes have influenced his work and how I have been inspired and influenced to create my own works. I will include quotes from art critics and Henry Moore himself to gain a deeper historical understanding of Henry Moore’s work, the material that he uses and what sculpting as an art form meant to him, and the industrial vs natural processes of sculpting and materials. I have decided to focus on Henry Moore’s process of direct carving because I have been using this process in my own sculpting works, and found that I have experienced some of the difficulties of carving that Henry Moore also faced. Truth to material, according to Moore was when “the artist shows an instinctive understanding of his material, its right use and possibilities.” Recumbent Figure 1938 (Object: 889 x 1327 x 737 mm, 520 kg)The veins of the beige-coloured rock are visible, whereas the face does not show any detailed facial features. This draws attention to the veins of the rock, meaning that the only ‘detailing’ on the sculpture is the natural qualities of the rock. These veins convey a sense of aging, perhaps obscuring the fact that this is a modernist artwork.
Moore has here deliberately chosen a stone that is not a usual white or sheer metal modernist material. Instead the beige colour looks weathered.Henry Moore grew up in Yorkshire and the natural hilly landscape around him had a big impact on his work. This sculpture is also partly inspired by the natural world, as its curves are smooth, as though weathered by wind or water, but not so smooth that they are polished. “The first hole made through a piece of stone is a revelation.
” This quote by Henry Moore, in response to this sculpture the holes ‘look like the gap between the rolling hills of Yorkshire’.Reclining Figure, 1951 (Object: Object: 1054 x 2273 x 892 mm, 271 kg)The reclining figure in my opinion is less abstracted due to the parts of the body such as the arms are move refined and human looking, the white colour of the stone which is more typically modern. The linear patterns across the surface of the sculpture map the form of the body, almost like a blueprint or preparatory sketch for the final sculpture. This gives the impression that the total form is more carefully planned out, rather than naturally occurring, and arguably attracts attention away from the natural qualities of Moore’s chosen material, as the viewer’s eye is more focused on tracing this complex linear design. The Recumbent Figure piece ultimately influenced my work more as its overall form gives a sense of being made from a continuous block of stone. I like the way that the block is thicker and less reduced than the Reclining Figure as this feels truer to how the rock is formed. This inspired my relief head made from a single breezeblock, as the finished sculpture has retained its core original form, and I have not concealed the air-bubble filled surface of the sculpture, instead showing ‘truth’ of the material.
“A sculptor is a person who is interested in the shape of things, a poet in words, a musician by sounds.” Henry Moore. Moore’s works were often comprised of different blocks from the same stone, carved separately and then fused together again. I noticed this on both Recumbent Figure and Reclining Figure, as the joining’s between the different blocks are visible because the glue has turned a different colour while it has aged. This means that, although Moore was carving directly into the rock, he found this method of dissecting and then rebuilding the sculpture a lot easier for creating his usual shapes, as it is near impossible to directly carve such dramatic negative spaces into singular blocks of stone, as my experiments of direct carving have shown me because the rock can collapse as it cannot support the pressure of the rock on top of it. Even though this detail gives away part of his carving method, it brings the viewer’s attention back to the carving process, rather than simply mystifying them as to how he could produce such a dramatic shape. This results in a greater focus on the process of creating the work rather than exhibiting a specific style, arguably making them seem more timeless, in reference to the artistic process in general.
In my work, I have tried to conceal the process behind by breeze block sculpture by sanding down by sculpture to remove the chisel marks and create a smooth surface. I did this because I felt that the material I was using (breezeblock) looked and felt better being smooth and having a consistent aerated texture in stead of having raw crude chisel marks. The idea of making the sculpture smooth came to me after I had looked at Henry Moore’s The Recumbent Figure, this is because this sculpture is smooth but not polished, so you can still feel the texture of the material that was used to create the sculpture. I took this idea and applied it to my breezeblock sculpture by smoothing the surface, but not treating it with a paint or a polish as I still wanted to feel the texture of the breezeblock and stay true to the material I was carving from by keeping the material raw and industrial. This photo of Henry Moore directly carving in the studio shows the artist wearing protective goggles as a cloud of marble dust flies up from the sculpture while he is chipping away at its surface with a chisel and mallet.
My experiments with carving into limestone with the same tools, including protective eyewear, showed how physical a process direct carving is. It is quite a melodic process where you must take your time working steadily rather than impulsively and expressively as is possible when painting. Like Moore, I am attracted to the physicality of this process and similarly let my instincts guide me when carving into the limestone.Bronze of Large Divided Oval (Butterfly)I am interested in Moore’s decision to create a much larger bronze from the same design. This means that although the direct carving technique may have been important to Moore when originally creating the sculpture, this does not mean his design cannot be used for larger bronzes. Both direct carving and bronze casting using the lost wax method are ancient techniques, so his choice of the bronze casting process arguably also encourages a sense of timelessness. But bronze as a smooth metal takes on associations of industry in a modern age, and the shine of the bronze inevitably does not look as natural as the smooth weathered appearance of the rock.
Just like Henry Moore, I have experimented with working with different materials allowed me to develop different carving techniques, as the breezeblock was much softer and easier to shape as it is aerated, filled with small pockets of air designed to deliberately create this property. The limestone, on the other hand, was much stronger as it was denser, making this natural material much more challenging to work with. I found working with clay was the most contrasting material to work with, as the ability to mould it directly with my own hands, as opposed to with a chisel and mallet, allowed me to create instant compressions and negative spaces. In this way, I feel I can relate to the ideas behind the theories of ‘truth to materials’ and ‘direct carving’ as the process of carving means you do adapt your method of working depending on what kind of material you are working with. I then experimented with a totally different material to work with was cardboard as I was inspired by the Constructivist sculptures of Naum Gabo, which I thought showed a completely different way of depicting the human form in a modernist style. I used a simple outline and cut method, creating incisions and inserting pieces into each other to construct three dimensional maquettes out of a flat material.
As these were experiments, I kept them to a small scale, so that I could work fluidly with this man-made material. Industrial vs natural processes and material:Henry Moore has experimented with a large range of material, the materials he was sculpted range from clay to beautiful stones, but also keep up with the industrial times by casting in bronzes but never forgetting where he started out by carving sweeping sculptures out of wood. The process of carving stone by hand which Henry Moore practised is very natural and has been done for millions of years as there is no other way of sculpting stone. This is the opposite of how Henry Moore created his bronze sculpture’s as the whole process of creating the required shape out of wire and clay, then making a plaster mould so that the bronze can then be melted down and poured into the mould. This process requires a huge amount of power and machinery to melt the bronze down and cast his sculptures properly. While I was exploring artists such as Naum Gabo and Alberto Giacometti and experimenting ideas, I used a range of materials, such as industrially created breezeblock to natural clay which is dug straight out of the earth.
When I was experimenting with the clay, I felt that I had more freedom when I was using my hands as my instrument to sculpt with. This process felt natural because of its free flowing and unrestricted nature of the clay. Whereas sculpting the breezeblock, I needed to use a hammer and chisel, this process of hand carving is not as spontaneous and hands on as you aren’t constantly in contact with the material. Although using a chisel to sculpt with reveals what’s underneath the surface of material which then will give the sculpture a sense of character and releases the secretes beneath the surface of the material. Is Henry Moore’s work being placed in the right setting or is it framing in galleriesIt is arguable that the ‘timelessness’ of Moore’s sculptures depends on how they are ‘framed’, or what setting they are presented in. Recumbent Figure presents an interesting example in terms of this idea of the setting that Moore’s sculptures were designed for. The sculpture was commissioned by the famous Modernist architect, Serge Chermayeff, for the outdoors terrace of his 1938 house at Bentley Wood overlooking the South Downs National Park.
A photo of the installation of sculpture shows how it is positioned on a pedestal at the far edge of the terrace, just past some steps leading down into the natural landscape. This sculpture, with its smooth, rounded shape echoing the hills of the South Downs therefore links the extremely modernist house to its natural surroundings. This was part of Moore’s original intentions for the piece, as he hoped it would be “a mediator between the modern home and the ageless land”. (Imogen Cornwall jones reference) The house is deliberately designed from modern materials, such as glass, to look as striking as possible, whereas Moore’s sculpture is more connected with the permanence of the natural world with its weather-worn form and ancient material choice of stone.I would like to place my own work outside as I believe that when working with natural materials, they should be presented outside where they came from as I see my sculpture as reshaping and changing the prospective of what can be done to natural materials.
I would present my work in different spaces instead of placing them in a series as I feel people who view them won’t spend as much time looking at and thinking about the work I have produced. Unsurprisingly not all of Moore’s sculptures are exhibited in the natural world. The galleries dedicated to Moore at the Tate Britain show how differently the sculptures appear when exhibited in more conventional ways. When I went to visit them, each piece had several individual spotlights pointing to them from the ceiling, which set the pieces off well giving each piece its own individuality, emphasising them as artworks of a Modernist style, rather than more ‘timeless’ ancient-looking stone and bronze artefacts. This dramatic lighting also illuminates the glass boxes which some of the smaller sculptures are contained in, and the labels with information contextualising the works accurately with details of their creation and dates. I think this takes away a sense of mystery and wonder that Moore’s sculptures can convey, especially when situated outdoors with no label which causes the beholder to start a creative thought process about the sculpture.
The works’ setting in the gallery space is a sign that Moore’s pieces are considered important enough to preserve for as long as possible. Information about the artwork is important but it often removes a kind of ambiguity you might feel when seeing an unlabelled Moore that resembles a much more ancient, prehistoric type of sculpture.When positioned outside in the natural world, the setting plays an important role in observing his pieces. Moore once said that he “would rather have a piece of sculpture put in a landscape, almost any landscape, than in or on the most beautiful building I know.
” To this day, the largest collection of Henry Moore’s bronzes are not in museum organised into different periods of history with labels and information, but are instead outside, exposed to the elements in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, just as he had created them to be. Viewers can study each piece in the park from every angle while walking around them, and can see them from far off distances, in a less constrained way. How can we really see the full potential of Moore’s work when placed within the Tate Britain gallery halls and not on the rolling hills of Yorkshire where they were created to be? However, my very first encounter with Moore’s work for my artist research was online.
As useful as these digital images are, they cannot compare to seeing the sculptures with your own eyes. The real objects were far larger in scale than I had imagined, with more interesting subtle colour variations and rough textures on their surfaces. In the same way, although documenting the development of my work in photographic form in my sketchbook is important, these photographs also cannot accurately convey the full physicality of each sculptural exercise. For example, photographs in my sketchbook of the crystal-covered mask could be mistaken for textured wax, soap, glue or glass.Godfrey Worsdale (Director of Henry Moore Sculpture park) said “Moore was Britain’s first international artist, his work displayed in galleries and public spaces in hundreds of cities across the world.”Henry Moore’s political involvement: In 1951, Moore was commissioned to create a piece for the Festival of Britain. Instead of a celebratory, patriotic piece, Moore created the bone-like Reclining Figure. This sculpture shows the stripped back form a human figure, as if all the details were removed and only skeleton remains.
The figure does not look fully human, and its primitivist style boldly over-exaggerated and altered the common features of the body, for example, the legs have been cut off short, while the abdomen is strangely elongated, with a hole between the upper and lower body where the ribs would be. This form is covered in parallel lines mapped out across it, which follow the curves of the sculpture to show the planes and range of movement that the body has, such as the lines that arch around the elbow emphasising its three-dimensionality. These lines may have been referencing the geometry of modern machinery. Since this was made as a centrepiece for the Festival of Britain in 1951, perhaps Moore wanted to show what the war could do to the body, alienating it and distorting it just as shown in his Tube Sketches.
Moore arguably showed how he wanted to look beyond traditional English and European art forms, choosing to look at the artwork of ancient, non-native civilizations for inspiration. For example, the overall form of Reclining Figure, 1929, made of Hornton Stone, is derived from an Aztec sculpture: the ‘Chac Mool’. This use of non-Western forms shows that Moore, in his own time, was radical and willing to reject traditional naturalism to create a new style. Giacometti is another artist I have been looking at. He was also inspired by ancient cultures, in particular the Etruscan votive sculptures that resemble his own elongated human forms. Inspired by Giacometti’s type of Primitivism, I created heads in clay which also recall both Modernist and ancient styles of sculpture at the same time. To experiment with different facial structures, I decided to mould a series of heads of a smaller scale to my earlier stone relief heads.
Conclusion:Henry Moore’s work is timeless not just because the material he carves his sculptures from comes from nature and will withstand time for hundreds of years, but also the way he carved the human figure in such a raw and stripped back manner means that everyone can relate to them as the form. Furthermore, the durable limestone material they are created from will ensure that his vision of the human body will be preserved for future generations to also interpret and relate to this timeless theme. I believe these sculptures do have timeless meaning despite their abstracted style. This idea is supported by the fact that Moore himself was referring to the artwork of ancient civilisations such as the Aztecs.