Rock, Pebble, Quarry: The Sculptural Lives of Stone
Leeds Art Gallery
20 June ’18
In entering this exhibit at the end of June, my predominant feeling was annoyance – annoyed at myself for not viewing this exhibition while preparing for my final group show. The blatant mention of ‘Quarry’ in the title clearly relates to my interests when producing ‘Reliquary (Relic-Quarry)’!
Nevertheless, I feel this has worked in my favour. In the wake of/the aftermath of my exhibition my head was full of concepts, theories and philosophies. Reviewing these works now, I can fully appreciate the main focus of the show – raw physicality, the tactility of stone:
‘This display reconsiders the materiality of stone, looking beyond carving and presenting it as a highly varied sculptural material with local, national and international resonances. This display highlights stone sculpture’s long-standing associations as a place maker, boundary marker and memory container’.
‘The works employ many types of stane, including marble, red marble, Basalt, black Porphyry, alabaster, Hornton stone, Ancaster stone, Portland stone, limestone, slate, verde di Prato and serpentine, as well as other sculptural substances such as plaster, clay, bronze and resin which contrast with and sometimes impersonate stone’
‘The Sculpture Collections’ Exhibition Guide, Leeds Art Gallery and Henry Moore Institute.
While Barry Flanagan is best known for his iconic large-scale bronze hares which began to appear in the 1980’s (during the rise of the ‘New British Sculptors’), his association with Arte Povera is of most interest here. This movement, (which emerged in Italy during the early 60s, lasting for a decade) is often characterised by the varying use of commonplace or throwaway materials – the traditional art mediums of marble, oil paint and bronze were exchanged for rocks, dirt, rope, rags and clays.
‘In 1975 (Flanagan) made a series of small pinch pots from lumps of raku clay, which defy you at first glance to say whether they have come from a child’s playgroup, a Japanese potter’s studio or an archaeological dig (…) Flanagan explored the most ancient traditions of craft – carving and modelling – and materials – wood and metal.’
(Levy, P. (2009). Barry Flanagan: Obituary. [online] The Independent. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/barry-flanagan-sculptor-known-for-his-distinctive-giant-bronzes-1781433.html.)
Flanagan’s piece, ‘clay figure’ (shown above) mixes found and shaped stone fragments with clay; I am predominantly interested in how the properties of the clay mimic that of the stone – without reading the given description, I am certain that I would not have realised that clay had been used. This disguising and mimicking of a material’s qualities, whether purposefully or not, is playful and invites speculation.
Certainly the Boyle family is renowned for their ‘Earth Series’ in which they select an area of land and recreate the site as a painted fibreglass relief, with the aim ‘to present a version of reality as objectively and truthfully as possible.’ Despite how true to form or (relatively) objective the piece may be, it is an imitation of reality – the materials used imitate another form, thus disguising the inherent qualities of the resin or fibreglass etc. Within my own practice I enjoy such imitation, but I also enjoy exposing an essential characteristic of a material, for example by ripping clay to reveal the fibres.
I have been feeling at a lost with my practice and so began to carve, mould and merge unwanted clay within my new studio space at Hochschule für Bildende Künste Dresden. To begin, however, I first made a work surface from materials found in the on-site skips: