Anthony Smart Sculptures
The Brancaster Chronicles are edited transcripts of recorded discussions made in direct response to exhibitions of abstract painting and sculpture. More information here.
20th July 2013, the artist’s studio, near King’s Lynn.
Those present: Anne Smart, Anthony Smart, Mark Skilton, Hilde Skilton, Robin Greenwood, Sarah Greenwood, John Bunker, Emyr Williams, Simon Orman, Kim Earley, Joette Hayashigaw, Alexandra Harley, John Pluthero.
Hilde Skilton: I was standing looking at this particular one (Marshland Two) and I found that from a certain point everything the sculpture was doing came together. Seeing it from that point made me understand the sculpture better than having to walk around it. It explained itself completely from that one place. What I was getting was not just the lengths and the way they are articulated, but the spaces between the lengths. You can see the space going this way to the middle of the sculpture and that way to the point beyond those interactions… because this (Marshland Two) is a more vertical piece than that one (Marshland Three) and what is clearer than before is the spaces in between the physical pieces.
Mark Skilton: I think that is the nature of this piece. It has no clear general areas, but when you look into each of those areas the detail of how each individual piece – and there are many individual pieces – relate to each other is not that available; you have to move around it to find it, and although you are saying that the general disposition of the piece (Marshland Two) was more available to you from that one point, I think you still have to go round it to look for the depth and the beauty. Especially at the other side of that one (Marshland Two), that bit that goes across the ground is very subtle; there are pieces that rise with and against gravity. You can’t actually see all that from one place, so it is a different kind of experience. I think what you are referring to is just a general overall structure of the piece, whereas in this one (Marshland Three) the structure is much more convoluted and it is much harder. One thing I particularly like about this sculpture (Marshland Three) is how it starts to fold back on itself in many places. These individual bits start to build up bigger volumes and they contribute to another even bigger volume. And what I like particularly is wherever you go the volume maintains its integrity in relation to all the others… it does not suddenly stretch out in a long line that can’t cope with the foreshortening and the perspective. So I think this one (Marshland Three) has moved on from that one (Marshland Two) in the sense that these small bits are building up into a structure, and then you can relate to the bigger structure as an overall sculpture.
Hilde Skilton: The overall thing is important. I think that the sculpture has an overall feeling without looking into the detail, and this one (Marshland Three) has it very much, an energy of gravity and then resisting gravity, not necessarily where it touches the floor.
Mark Skilton: So which do you think is more interesting? I think this one is more interesting (Marshland Three) because of the greater complexity of the arrangement. Things wind in front of your view… and you have to work harder to find them… I think it gives more back.
Anne Smart: You feel that the accessibility is not easy but you can feel the strength of the way that it is made. There is a search for accessibility, but it is not like a presentation of it. It is like this is saying that, yes, it is going to be accessible, and with nothing getting in the way, but it is not going to be easy to find it straight away. You work around it and no particular viewpoint is more important; everywhere you stand you feel the whole thing.
Mark Skilton: I think that’s right. From a distance you can look at it and it draws you towards it. It is not random but extremely specific and extremely complex at the same time.
Anthony Smart: I don’t like criticizing my own work, though you have to; but it suddenly dawned on me that this sculpture (Marshland One), to its detriment, is a frozen moment; and I realized that sculpture, if it was a figure, and had [an arm and] a hand that went out sculpturally, was hanging out there in space, it would be about to move, about to go somewhere, because you know that it is a figure. But for abstract sculpture to be doing that is a frozen moment and not something I would want. And so I have been toying with the idea of total continuity. I have got rid of [individual] elements and I’m making something that is non-relational – that part in relation to that part, etc. What I’m doing with this now has [by contrast, more] continuity and fluidity and can consolidate without coming to a halt; can build in pauses; can speed back up. There is a language building, and by just tipping those ends and bringing them back into the piece, that was a great discovery for me, to have done that; and it took a long time, and I was never quite sure. To me it seemed weird [at first], but now it looks really good. It’s noticeable in numbers Two and Three that I am working a lot harder with the material and what it is doing; but in Marshland One I have an easier solution to pull the piece together. The big thing with abstract sculpture is how do you resolve it? How do you bring it together, not as a ‘thing’, because I don’t want a ‘thing’? I want an ‘experience’ in place of an object. In numbers Two and Three, when the elements flow together, more must happen in terms of the meaning invested in the material; and you have to work hard with the configuration, so that it does not shut itself off to the world.
Hilde Skilton: So you do not think of it as an object, but as an experience?
Simon Orman: I think it is [an experience] and it does it really well, and this one (Marshland Three) in particular forces you round and through, you are actively going around; there are no elements to stop the experience of moving around. It is very different to Marshland One. It’s this thing about the end points; how you dealt with end points in your earlier sculptures was … you were trying to force it back, almost predicting these (numbers Two and Three) The structures on the end of the extensions out into space were not full stops but a way of reflecting them back inwards.
Anthony Smart: So leaving them out in space, whether they are going back or not, they are still hanging there and they still offer that conclusion because they are there to get into the sculpture. But in number Three you have to work the whole; there is no easy solution to totality.
Hilde Skilton: It’s a fluid whole thing with an energy and I can feel it. It does not do something here and there, it’s all happening together, as a whole.
Anthony Smart: Yes. In two-dimensional sculpture there is always a big deal made of the floor. That’s like a building. Buildings are not three-dimensional, they are a series of planes brought together to create box-like spaces. And as a consequence of this two-dimensional world we live in, we don’t really know what three-dimensions are. When we do create a space that is three-dimensional, you cannot commit that sculptural space to memory, which you can with architecture. So why is it important how the sculpture stands on the floor? The whole thing has to stand on the floor. With two-dimensional sculpture you can deal with the floor and all above the floor in layers, just like in a building. In this though, it is all of it that stands all at once on the floor.
Hilde Skilton: So that is why I find it so interesting how you have come down on to the floor. It’s not just something that has come to the ground and disappears there; it seems to bounce back into the energy of the whole sculpture.
Mark Skilton: When we started working with the body [in ‘Sculpture from the Body’ in the eighties], you saw things in a different way. What I personally got out of working with the body was its complex three-dimensionality, the structure of how it is moving; it defied two-dimensionality. With working with the body, you are in an extraordinary three-dimensional world. We normally live in a two-dimensional world and see things in a two-dimensional way. What is already known and dealt with in abstract sculpture to date has been so limited that there is an opportunity to expand into [lots of] new areas.
John Pluthero: I admire all these sculptures, and think they are very abstract. I think this one (Marshland One) is different from these (Two and Three), and Number Three in particular feels more traditional, in a way; there is a volume that kind of sits there and brings you back into it, self contained; dare I say, a little safer. I like a bit of drama and uncertainty, and in Marshland One you have more of a dynamic, therefore it has more potential. This one (Marshland Three) does a better job [than Two] of twisting and morphing but it still brings you back to follow it round to the same point again. So I just love the fact that the ‘literal’ explosion in Marshland One is just that – the challenge of dealing with something that is not quite so comfortable. So then, has the fluidity [that was spoken about earlier in the more recent works] been achieved by the homogeneity of the individual pieces?
Anthony Smart: I have grown suspicious of the demand there is for the contrast of large and small pieces of metal. In these sculptures I have gone for a large event, so the sculptures will [in effect] slow down and speed up [rather than get bigger or smaller]. The pressure in the sculpture builds upon the moving around and the meaning of the sculpture. If it was not for this ‘meaning’ you would not be able to get access into the sculpture, because a lot of the obvious means of access [like for example a contrast in the size of pieces] have been taken out of it. And so I hope a more interesting way of agglomerating the meaning of the sculpture comes down to the ‘time’ element – slowing it down and speeding it up. I can’t explain fully, but there has to be a reason why three-dimensionality is so fascinating, and also why virtually all sculptors have avoided it. I think we are starting to talk about it here. This one (Marshland Three) is the best one for me, and so I am pleased people have ‘got’ it, because I think that sculpture needs to do more than literal things.
Hilde Skilton: The articulation between one little piece and another matters. It tells you about the whole. It tells you what the energy is, how it is coming in, at what point, how it is resisting the gravity, how it is basically taken on.
Kim Earley: The problem I have with this piece (Marshland Two) is the referencing of the top to the bottom and that to me is the limitation of the sculpture and this (Marshland Three) does not do that.
Robin Greenwood: This one (Marshland Two) gives away its configuration pretty much straight away – a vortex of three things. You have a top and bottom and the three linking things. I do have some criticisms of this one (Marshland Three) too, though I think it’s the best one. It’s the bounded-ness of it that worries me – that all the space is kind of ‘within’ something… Three is more successful at losing the easy configuration of Two, and it’s very clever the way it moves you around. I think my other criticism of this apart from the general bounded-ness is that I do see things repeating in it. It’s fantastically hard to avoid, but I see these looping kinds of movement repeating. I feel that is not ‘singular’ enough.
Hilde Skilton: And you really feel one loop is the same as another one?
Robin Greenwood: No, but too similar.
Anthony Smart: I would say to that it’s all down to meaning; and the idea that there are ‘repeats’ would boil down to meaning [and whether the meaning is repeated].
Robin Greenwood: But then you might argue that the repetition stops me getting the meaning.
Anthony Smart: I still don’t quite understand what you meant by bounded-ness.
Mark Skilton: Bounded means ‘tied’.
John Pluthero: I think this relates to a point I made earlier. This sculpture (Marshland Three) has a more traditional volume to it, that doesn’t push you outside of it; it brings you back into the thing itself.
Anthony Smart: The experience of the sculpture is constantly changing… so how can you stay with the idea of it being bounded? I think this is a really important point.
Robin Greenwood: But constant change is not the same as three-dimensionality… we are talking about how to make sculpture that is as three-dimensional as you can possibly make it. And therefore bounded-ness would be a restriction to that. So you can have this wonderful live-ness [that Hilde] talked about, but that does not necessarily mean it is moving in a truly three-dimensional way…
Kim Earley: Is that bounded-ness defining this piece (Marshland Three)?
Robin Greenwood: No, I think this is the most successful piece. The bounded-ness defines that piece (Marshland Two) a lot more. I think it is to do with how you relate to the space in the sculpture… so you either live in the thing or you don’t, you are somehow held outside…
Kim Earley: You are held physically outside the space?
Anne Smart: Do you think you have to have both [an internal and external relation to the space]?
Robin Greenwood: In sculpture you have to have everything…
John Pluthero: You go round this one (Marshland Three) and bits start to flatten off at some points. Three-dimensionality of the highest order, perhaps, is creating different visual interest as you move around; otherwise you have missed a ‘variable’.
Hilde Skilton: What nobody has mentioned is the gravity… the way it comes down to the plate; it’s not just sat there. I think that abstract sculpture, even though it is not naturalistic, not figurative, it nevertheless has to be alive.
Robin Greenwood: I do not think you will find anyone disagreeing with that…
John Pluthero: Well, it’s a great success, in as much as all the stuff that is going on in these sculptures, and the way the spaces are contained, and morph, and work, holds your attention. I could look at this (Marshland Three) for the rest of my life and never fully ‘know’ it.
Simon Orman: The quality of steel in Three has gone beyond itself… into something else. It is changing its state, and it’s started to get very exciting…