Modern & Contemporary Art

specialises in framed modern and contemporary art by 20th century artists


WOMEN MAKING SCULPTURE

Women Making Sculpture was a one-day conference organised in conjunction with the exhibition Women Sculptors which ran jointly in three venues: The Maidstone Library Gallery, The Maidstone Museum and Mote Park. The show was organised by Nicholette Golf and co-selected from The WASL membership by WASL and Veronica Tonge, Keeper of Fine Art at Maidstone Museum.

The emphasis of the Conference focussed on the women who make sculpture rather than the theme of women making sculpture as an issue. Thus it began with the seven women exhibiting in the show: Lorna Green, Mouse Katz, Renate Meyer, Val Murray, Annalisa Smith, Anne Tappedden and myself, talking for twenty minutes about our work. In this way each was able to place work in the exhibition within a wider context and issues relevant to women making sculpture were able to emerge naturally. After lunch we met in small groups to concentrate on questions which arose in the morning and concluded with a large group discussion.

While there was no formal theoretical basis to our individual talks, coherence was achieved through the way in which the artists’ work interrelated. Common concerns with media, processes, sources for ideas and attitudes toward the handling of materials and subject matter linked the work. There was a striking diversity in all of the work, although shared ponits of reference became clearly evident: soft materials; domestic references; autobiography; symbolism; construction through stacking, suspending and linking many small components; combining painting and sculpture; using unexpected and supposedly inappropriate materials; spending a long period working through one theme and, most strikingly, the impermanence of all the work. The willingness to break rules, experiment and take risks also came through strongly.

Frieze Art Fair 2009.  Photo by Linda Nylind.  15/10/2009

Perhaps because everyone attending the conference worked as a practitioner, the day acquired a momentum through the sheer force of interest generated by listening, seeing and talking. Questions ultimately centred round how we work, how we survive financially, where we work, how we exhibit and how we can improve accessibility to our work. Veronica Tenge suggested using video to explain how and why work was produced as a way of introducing the work to a public well accustomed to receiving information through television but possibly intimidated by the thought of talking with the artist.

The question of economic survival for women in sculpture is particularly apt. Materials, space for working and storage are costly and finding assistance with large and heavy work can be difficult. Ways can be found to circumvent many of these problems by using cheap or lightweight materials, collapsable structures, small components or working on site. Women have in fact helped give sculpture a new face through their inventiveness in seeking ways of resolving some of these aspects of creation and handling. However feedback from the Conference suggests that we still need encouragement and reassurance when working against accepted practices. Additionally, more women seem to be moving towards using traditional materials and methods.

While it was not the specific aim of this Conference to attempt an analysis of women’s sculpture, I left feeling that such a re-assessment is necessary. Val Murray provided the most succinct observations of the day when she suggested that work by women in sculpture is characterised by a resistance to being tied down; the source of the work comes out of a personal or direct experience; the attitude to materials and processes used ‘anything goes’ and the openness to place or context.

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Fifteen years ago these characteristics could have been perceived as typical of a Feminist art practice, yet today probably not. But if not, where does sculpture lie within a Feminist perspective of contemporary art?

Have we reached a point where certain materials and processes might remain entrenched in the women’s category rather than a Feminist or even mainstream one? In order to avoid slipping backwards we need to re-consider the question of a female language in sculpture which goes beyond the materials and subject matter, encompassing other aspects such as structure, time, space, context. Is there, for instance, structuring which could be described as non-hierarchal and hence possibly female or even feminist? For example, in Overlay Lucy Lippard analyses earthworks in terms of gender, equating the intervention or imposition of the male artist’s mark on the land with the “double need to become part of a nurturing nature and to master a threatening nature …” She suggests it is “the attitude toward the land, the artist’s sensitivity to the place that determines the effect of the imagery.”

There are many questions we could ask about the ways women work in sculpture. Sculpture needs to be returned to the Feminist agenda for critical analysis and evaluation which is in step with the developments in Feminist debate, cultural theory and the ever widening definitions of contemporary sculpture generally.

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Published by art17, on July 27th, 2015 at 6:48 am. Filled under: SculptureNo Comments

A gallery without walls: Yorkshire Sculpture Park

BRITAIN’S FIRST open air sculpture park, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP), has established strong international recognition during its 11-year existence. Started in 1977, it has pioneered a curatorial approach to outdoor sculpture exhibitions, developed residencies, sculpture demonstrations, public sculpture workshops and an active education and outreach programme.

The YSP is an independent charitable trust set in the grounds of Bretton Hall College where it occupies approximately 100 acres of the estate, parts of which are designed in the manner of Capability Brown. National and international concerns are reflected through the collection (the results of gifts or loans) and the annual programme of temporary exhibitions. These also present openings for younger as well as established artists whilst the residencies present an opportunity to develop skills in the public arena and allow the public to gain insight into the artists’ working processes.

This demystification of sculpture has had tremendous benefits for the artists, the public and ourselves as it involves everyone in the creative decision-making activity, helping to ensure that the sculpture is appreciated as the product of hard work, technical ability and imagination.

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From the beginning the public have been encouraged to touch and feel the sculpture as we believe that the tactile experience is intrinsic to the enjoyment and understanding of the work. The sculpture workshops developed as a natural extension of this desire to involve the public with the pleasure of creative activity. For the past five years over Bank Holidays throughout Spring and Summer the YSP has invited the public to have a go themselves. Their popularity has been astonishing–entire families, the young and the old, discover how remarkably satisfying it can be to engage the mind and body upon the task of creating three-dimensional forms. Though everybody has fun it is also an important learning episode: people begin to think about what is seen and felt; aesthetic considerations begin to emerge and this type of introduction helps in their understanding of other works on display and encourages many to return time and time again.

The programme itself reflects a wide variety of materials, techniques and approaches which can be absorbed by a visitor on whatever level they wish via catalogues, tours, workshops or education packs. Thoughtful siting is essential to emphasise the inherent structure, colour and texture of the pieces and relate them to their particular surroundings so that attention is focused not only on the sculpture but on the landscape as well. We aim to establish a dialogue between the work, the landscape, other pieces and the sky these elements are carefully ‘choreographed’ to produce an optimum viewing position.

Another important ingredient when planning a display is the discovery of sculpture in the landscape. It may be found in the undergrowth or in the root system of a tree–wherever least expected strategies which we incorporate to keep our audience on its visual toes so that nothing is taken for granted. This idea has also been used by artists working in the Park who have literally camouflaged their sculpture to surprise the unsuspecting.

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Our commitment to access is also being extended by the design of a trail for particular use by blind, partially sighted and disabled visitors. This project, integrating art and nature, will be a totally sensory environment providing stimulation through colour, form, texture, perfume and the sound of water and wind, presenting an ever-changing dynamic but sheltered and secure area for the disabled as well as the able bodied.

As a gallery without walls we are open throughout the year so that visitors can witness how different sculpture will look as the landscape changes. One needs space and time to appreciate sculpture properly and the elements demand a commitment quite distinct from that of dropping in on a conventional gallery. Indeed many visitors are attracted to the YSP who would not otherwise frequent galleries and, whatever the weather, there will be visitors!

Siting sculpture out of doors always carries a risk but it can be calculated and problems associated with vandalism may be minimised if artists and administrators share the responsibility for creating a receptive climate. This means taking the context for siting as seriously as the sculpture–understanding how the space is used, the motives for introducing sculpture and considering the long as well as short-term implications of that.

We have demonstrated that it is possible to attract strong support and change attitudes which has given others the confidence to develop initiatives elsewhere. However, there is no room for complacency as success is due to hard work and persistence together with a strong educational philosophy which underpins all our work.

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Last year over 200,000 visitors from all parts of Britain and abroad spent many pleasurable hours at the YSP. Currently we are working towards a building development which will provide indoor facilities to further enhance our public service. The future is full of great potential because not only have we demonstrated that sculpture can be a popular cultural resource but that it is of benefit to the community both socially and economically.

Published by art17, on December 4th, 2014 at 6:50 am. Filled under: Sculpture Tags: No Comments

The position of women in 20th-century British sculpture

IT WAS IN the summer of 1985 when I was building a large sculpture at the Portland Clifftop Sculpture Park that I was struck by the equal numbers of men and women sculptors participating. Furthermore the women were, on the whole, using the heavy plant such as cement mixers and dumper trucks for the making of their projects, which were mainly large scale and very ambitious.

This raised interesting questions about the numbers of women working as sculptors. On my return from this residency, I attempted to look into the work of women sculptors but found a dearth of information on them although there was a growing volume of information on painters. I therefore decided to embark on this research as an M. Phil. with the University of Leeds.

Deciding I needed direct access to women sculptors, I sent out questionnaires carefully designed to elicit information on how their development towards sculpture evolved from the earliest years, detailing their art education, materials used and the sources for their sculpture, where they work and how they exhibit. Questions were also asked on their attitudes towards the feminist movement, their views on equitability for women sculptors, fitting in partners and children, as well as inviting comments on various procedures in sculpture and their views not only on the future for women in sculpture but also on the state of sculpture in general.

The questions were designed to elicit answers that go to the heart of women in their relationship to sculpture. I realised that I had to create my own archive, as there was nowhere that information of this kind could be found, because the kind of questions I asked were not just factual but probed into areas which had never been documented.

I had an enthusiastic response from all the organisations in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that I contacted for lists of women sculptors. Mostly they responded with general lists and all showed interest in any Index that might result from the research. I was overwhelmed with the amazing response to the questionnaire and to date have received around 250 replies together with numerous phone calls and letters of support and encouragement for the project. I

was delighted with the enthusiasm and humbled by the honesty with which the women answered the questions in depth; many added extra pages of information when the spaces were too small for all that they had to say. Several wondered how I had found them as they had thought that they were invisible. Their ages ranged from birthdates in the early 1900s to the 1960s which gives a very clear overview of women working as sculptors today. I am also in the process of interviewing several sculptors each of whom fulfil different criteria, for a more detailed discussion on various topics.

All this information is now being collated and will result in not only a survey of women sculptors living, working and surviving in Britain today, but also should produce an Index of women sculptors which will be available eventually for reference. Should anyone reading this who has not received a questionnaire or who has received one but not returned it completed, contact me at Mount Pleasant Farm, 105 Moss Lane, Bramhall, Cheshire SK7 1EG, as this is a continuing project and is by no means complete.

Although the information is at present still being digested, the striking impression is that there is a tremendous amount of confidence among women regarding not only their future as sculptors but also the future for women in the sculpture world. No longer are they hidden as they used to be but are determined that they and their work will be seen.

The majority of the sculptors have had formal training within the art school system. Some found it helpful and constructive, others found it unhelpful and very destructive. Mostly courses were seen to be a combination but it became obvious that, for an alarming number of women, many bitter memories were aroused due, not only to a lack of understanding of their work by the invariably male lecturers and the issues raised by it, but also to the lack of women lecturers employed both part-time and full-time as role models. Sexual harassment was another issue raised. There were, of course, those who found the courses of great benefit and had no complaints, but it is an interesting point that whatever their reactions were to the varied courses, the majority felt that they were necessary for the development of their work because of the opportunities the course gave in time, materials, the chance to learn necessary skills, contact with fellow students and the invigorating effect of visiting lecturers, particularly when they were women.

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It is clear that the attitudes of women today are much more positive not only about themselves and their work but also about their place in the art world. This is evident in the choice of materials for their sculpture, much of which is unorthodox and non-traditional, such as cloth, paper, leather, polythene, even soil and photography, as well as the more commonly accepted ones of clay, wax, wood, stone, steel and bronze, as are their methods of making the work. As well as utilising the more conventional methods of carving/modelling/casting, women now have the confidence to make work in whatever media or about whatever subject they choose, and using whichever method of making is appropriate because it is suitable for that particular sculpture rather than adhering to traditional sculptural concerns. Should they choose to stay with conventional methods it is because they have decided to and want to, not because they feel they have to. It is this freedom that makes the future for women in sculpture look so positive. No longer are they hidebound by a conservative outlook because of their past insecurity and hidden art history; they are now able to enjoy a freedom hitherto unknown which enables them to explore their own world of sculpture and create their own traditions.

However the future is not all rosy and many feel that there will be still a great deal of struggle to succeed. Opinion is clearly divided about the way forward. There are those who wholly support and feel that the future lies in women’s shows; on the other hand there are those who feel that separatism is to be avoided and strongly criticise the whole concept of women’s shows; there is obviously room for both views, and women now have the choice of participating in either women’s shows or mixed shows and have the freedom and confidence to exhibit in both.

A large majority of women sculptors agree that equitability is improving; there is a small minority who disagree, a few feel unsure about the issue and there are those who feel that there is no gender difference apparent. However there are reservations, and frequently women are still thought to be included in major shows as tokens. ‘Starlit Waters’, British Sculpture 1968-1988, the opening sculpture exhibition at the Tate of the North, in Liverpool, illustrates the point in question; out of 18 sculptors only two, Alison Wilding and Shirazeh Houshiary, are women.

The women’s movement must have contributed to this changed climate, even if it was only recognised subconsciously. Many admit that the women’s movement has personally affected them, their life and their work; others acknowledge its impact; very few feel it hasn’t affected them at all. Several older sculptors wished that it had happened much earlier so that they too could have reaped the benefits sooner.

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Attitudes of art administrators, gallery owners and keepers, critics and art historians came in for much criticism. Many were praised for being helpful and supportive, equally others were criticised for unhelpfulness and for being patronising. Alarmingly some were accused of being careerists and of exploiting artists to further their own careers; inevitably there were those who were cited as being too commercially minded and reluctant to show certain kinds of work which may not find favour in the selling market, and finally there was evidence of straight chauvinism. But on the whole most artists had had some good experiences with them though it was felt that critics and art historians tended to support the star system rather than risking support for an unknown. Some women complained bitterly that their work was literally written out of art history or ignored by critics. This is a serious accusation which I found to be true (hence this research) and I, as a practising sculptor, am attempting to redress the balance by producing information about and a history of contemporary women sculptors.

Fitting partners and children in with working as a sculptor bring its own problems, many typical of any working woman. However it became apparent that the problems of women sculptors were in many ways different to those of other working women. Sculpture and/or art is not just a job or a profession but a lifestyle which can become wholly consuming not only in time and energy but also in the emotion and passion which goes into the making of it. The dedication needed to be a sculptor can create problems within the family whereby resentment can arise at the amount of time, energy and commitment required. Happily, many partners were and are found to be supportive, financially, emotionally and physically; some were supportive to an extent. Sadly, others were non-supportive and frequently the relationship was dissolved because their partner could not accept the demands of sculpture as a career, and a choice was made. A surprising number of women wait until the children are old enough to be left or at school before embarking on a career in sculpture–numerous mature students responded. It is obvious that unless a woman has a support system for looking after children, furthering one’s career was definitely impeded. Even Barbara Hepworth’s triplets were cared for until they were three at a nearby nurses’ training college, which gave her the time to work, and after that she employed a nanny. (1) Although children were never regretted, in spite of working time becoming extremely precious, partners frequently were. Unexpectedly, a considerable number had decided not to have children as they felt that they would be unable to continue working, confirming the total commitment they had made to sculpture. On a more positive note, partners and children frequently provided the inspiration or source material for work, even modelling at times.

This is a provisional report on a massive archive collected over the last 18 months and can only indicate questions raised within it. The survey is not a critical one; it is a sociological and economic survey to discover how women live and work as sculptors in the United Kingdom, how they survive, how they feel about their work and how they manage their lives. It is targeted at the unknown sculptor as well as the famous: their problems are similar, as are their hopes, dreams and criticisms. As one sculptor said so succinctly: ‘The future of women in sculpture is the future of sculpture itself’.

Published by art17, on November 3rd, 2014 at 3:49 am. Filled under: SculptureNo Comments

Christine Merton’s sculpture

COMING FROM a German, Jewish childhood has both informed and characterised many aspects of Christine Merton’s sculpture. Marrying an Englishman and coming to live in England has certainly sealed some of these aspects along with a deep sense of ‘knowing her place’ as an alien. She has carefully learnt to tolerate racism and alienation and to use the emotion created by these things to fuel her own sense of being in her work.

Over the years her work has become more empowered with a sense of the self. Her pieces of sculpture always have a very self-contained feel about them; although some are quite small she is also capable of overpowering the spectator with large installation pieces which seem to emanate from a spirited source. Her work carries the sort of quality you experience when alone with an object of great history, but a history which is not written. A history which presents you with not just enigmatic feelings but with a real sense of presence. Keep has all these qualities (see front cover).

Many of her sculptural works have obvious links with Peruvian pots and vessels. There is a physical quality about her sculpture which is visually sensuous. The mark making on the surface, the combination of natural materials, the conscious use of ochres and the earthy glow from mixing different clays together in one piece, all enhance the actual quality of the finished work. All her work says something about her actual size, how much clay she can mold in one hand, how much she can carry, what she can fix together and how large a sculpture will grow. All these things are important aspects and this is why her finished pieces often involve several objects placed together, site-specific, yet very mobile and adaptable.

Within her areas of work she has progressively explored ways in which to adapt and open up possibilities within educational work with a range of children. What could be precious dissolves into the pleasure of making. She has developed projects around her work showing how to use all the basic methods of working with clay, slabs, coils and finger bowls. Christine

Merton has been involved in many projects and residencies with children from 8-10 years old. She has tried to adapt her work yet allow the children’s involvement to specifically enrich the sculpture.

A recent example of this educational work occurred at the Manchester Museum during a one-person show centred around the Metaphorical Vessel. It was an idea which attempted to blend together different cultures and traditions by using tree roots which resembled a popular fossilised tree root in the museum collection. She tried to bring together all these elements by constructing a large open vessel shape from the branches and canvas bound together with clay. As the first artist in residence at the museum she created a site-specific piece, a centre for some sort of ceremony which bound together the museum’s collection, objects from different cultures, natural history pieces and the settings made by over 200 children. These settings formed the outside edge of the bound branches, almost like place settings for a large feast, yet the objects were each child’s individual contribution. Christine Merton’s vessel could be read on many different levels but it seemed like a visual way of symbolising the way in which we all have specific links to our place of origin and that this often gives us a feeling, a sense of belonging. Currently she has been working on a new exhibition called ‘Clayworks’. Again as part of this exhibition she will be working on another project with the pupils and staff of St Peters RC High School in Orrell. This project will be called ‘House’ and will be the joint creation of the artist and the participating children. It will encourage ‘a journey through their imagination’.

The importance of this artist’s work cannot be overestimated. Her own finished pieces of sculpture remain enigmatic. They give a glimpse of sacredness, a sense of the spirit contained. In addition, her links with pupils from local schools are both innovative and important. It enables children to have direct contact with the artist and practically participate in the making of the finished piece. This work with children encourages understanding and tolerance to emerge and can truly inspire the child to continue to make ‘art’, to see exhibitions and where possible, to become involved. It can also be an enriching experience for the artist.

Christine Merton is on the fringe of the ‘art world circuit’. She should be better known and better shown.

Related Source: http://www.kentonline.co.uk/kent/news/artist-who-achieved-goal-to-die-a28438/

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Published by art17, on October 15th, 2014 at 11:24 am. Filled under: SculptureNo Comments

Julie van Duren

TO SOMEONE like myself, who never met Julie Van Duren, the details of her life strike you with their tragedy. She died on 6 October 1981, aged 44. Her husband Geoff had died only six years earlier in a canoeing accident, and it seems that she never really recovered from that shocking loss, despite the words of hope in some of her later letters. The main source of information on Julie’s life is a booklet published as part of a memorial held in 1982. I include here extracts from her writings and some poems. I want Julie’s own special voice to come through to you in the same way it did to me.

Julie was a sculptor. In her late twenties she set up a foundry with her husband in Strood in Kent and learnt metal casting skills. The local marshes provided inspiration for Julie’s semi-abstract aluminium sculptures, and also provided the clay for her terracotta pieces. She strongly defended her need to work in different media: ‘My work has been criticised for its lack of consistency, the lack of a “theme” but since when has spirit been consistent? I revel in the variety of spirit, from the trivial to the profound, and this variety calls for a corresponding variety in technical interpretation, sometimes requiring this media, another time that, so that some of my work is cast in bronze, some in direct aluminium, some in a terracotta technique I have perfected, some in resin and chalk, some in ceramic’.

After participating in mixed shows (1966-68), Julie’s first one-woman exhibition was in May 1970 at the Woodstock Gallery, London. She continued to exhibit, and sold her work through Harrods. She was reviewed in Studio International, The Freethinker and Arts Review; in October 1971 she and her husband were the subject of a television documentary called ‘Art Centre'; in December 1971 Julie was featured in ‘Personally Speaking’ on BBC Radio Medway. She had mixed feelings about the clash between public and private life: ‘Maybe I have something important to contribute to the world and I shouldn’t be so self-effacing. I must examine all this. As long as I make enough money to live. To sculpt. Sculpture. The psychological impact of this art form is tremendous, and I am Mistress of it. I am going through a crucial period in my life; that I am out of the limelight protects me. I am an undercover agent’.

Julie found it extremely difficult to adjust to her husband’s death after a decade spent together. She moved into a pair of cottages in Faversham, and converted them into a studio and exhibition gallery. Four years later she opened the Faversham Studio with a show of her own work past and present, and her husband’s paintings, thus fulfilling a long-term ambition. Some say there was a new sense of optimism about Julie’s new work shown at what must have been an exciting moment in her life, but sadly the following year she died of cancer. Above are some of the poems she wrote while too ill to work anymore on her sculpture.

From a Life
of being oblivious of my body
I am hurled
Into me
Where
The Body is All
and will be
Evermore
Amen
Ruling me
Out of Existence?

Creativity, Creativity
That’s how I did it before
When the clay refused to budge
I punched it and mentally kicked it
Until
It stood whole
And beautiful
More than
A new day

Published by art17, on September 11th, 2014 at 7:53 am. Filled under: Sculpture Tags: , No Comments