Comments on: Steel Sculpture Part II – From Scott, Tucker and Panting to the Present Abstract Critical is a not-for profit company aiming to establish a new critical context for all generations of artists involved with ambitious abstract art. Sun, 09 Nov 2014 17:23:33 +0000 hourly 1 By: Tim Scott Fri, 27 Jun 2014 16:18:54 +0000 I am posting (with his agreement) the major parts of an e.mail sent to me by Francisco Gazitua, the Chilean sculptor, who was one of the original participants in the ‘body’ work at St. Martin’s, in response to the articles on Abstract Sculpture by Alan Gouk and myself in Abstract Critical. (I have corrected some of the Spanglish).

“….Britain has a different idea of what sculpture is. France in the XIXth and XXth centuries had (also); and Easter Island carvers no doubt have a very clear idea in their genes.
Reading Alan’s and your comments this morning in my studio, I finally understood, tools in hand, in my Andes workshop, my own truth or intuition or fact. That I have my own genetic idea of what sculpture is. By sharing your very different view you contribute to my knowledge of who I am sculpturally.

I realise, reading Alan’s and your articles that, in spite of my eight years (as a sculptor in UK) I never belonged there. I learned a great deal, but my idea of what sculpture is, was different….looking back through my thirty years out of the (English) art world and out of England, I recognise that, at St. Martin’s, I had my own ideas. No ‘pictorial’ , only ‘object’, and ‘craft’, no ‘graphic’, above all no ‘abstract ‘(i.e. ‘Caroism T.S.) I did not understand how you could work without a clear cast iron reference as we do in South America (this of course was the point of introducing the model T.S.). I knew you were running away from academic statuary and, surrounded by ‘Conceptualists’ for whom reference is the only important factor, not the work, you had to insist that sculpture was a language with no outside props for survival, no ‘story to tell’. The situation was difficult; ‘Mohicans’ attacking from all sides. I felt that the price of your battle was a loss of naivety and you were all walking in circles in the desert within a very small corral; a short tradition- seventy years from the founder, Picasso. but admiring Rodin, Degas and Matisse, with no ‘North’ as a reference.

The ‘beloved subject (Patrick Heron) quoted by Alan Gouk in our Tate catalogue (Have you seen Sculpture from the Body T.S.),. I remember telling you and Alan in 1977, as a student, that I had never worked without a model; you both were brave and asked for one. Our ‘vanguard’ lasted only a short time, like all of them, but it was strong and passionate, full of life, and the walking in the desert in a circle ended for some time.

Your articles put a bit of clarity in(to) the period prior to the (body work). Not much mention of our quest for a source; I have spent my life trying to find it. After my thirty years of solitude making all the mistakes that you know as well as anyone, I know only one thing: if the subject is not strong, the sculpture freezes in an academic repetition. It can be good or competent , but in the long run it will die because it doesn’t have the ‘other end’, the interlocutor, like music or cinema, with people; and it will go round in a circle, talking only with a few specialists, and under siege by the Mohicans of the art world.

‘Beloved subject’ is when love and duty are one; you don’t think or defend, there is nothing to prove to your ‘beloved’; you can make all the mistakes, but in the end you gain the only important quality: you are naive…..
Great sculpture is always made on the fringes of sculpture.

Francisco Gazitua

By: Robert Linsley Sat, 07 Jun 2014 13:29:16 +0000 I want to say how impressed I am with these two articles, especially the first, and the quality of the exposition compels admiration of the work. Sadly it is too late to incorporate what I’ve learned here about abstract sculpture into my own book. 

Still some reservations though. Forging and welding give very different results for sure, but with the work in part 2 I still can’t escape the impression of a sameness. The distinctions between Greenwood, Skilton, Gili et. al. are real no doubt, but I find it hard to get interested in them, in fact am forced to a surprising conclusion, one I never thought I would make, that the more diverse range of materials that one finds in Judd and Andre, including different metals, makes more attractive, more beautiful works. Different finishes and colours give greater lightness, a better feeling. 

For me the supposed distinction between art and object, literal and aesthetic form, just doesn’t work. I might prefer twisted and organically developed shapes, but have to admit that boxes are just another kind of form, making a different kind of art with as much feeling to offer. Guess I can’t find the beauty in mild steel, at least when there’s so much of it – some stainless or galvanized, or perhaps a spot of folded aluminum or some brittlesome brass  would give relief (Tim Scott’s Cathedral seems to have more variety, even if it is all steel). Things got more interesting when the steel workers went up against the genteel Henry Moore on the lawn, but later I reflected that in England one can always get mileage out of claiming not to belong to the polite set—it’s a bit of a cliché, and the forged and welded works will one day  look just as genteel. How about another cliché? like the difference between European artiness and American matter-of-factness and lack of emotional turmoil—the Peirce-Judd tradition. You’re giving me a fresh appreciation of the latter.

But these are maybe small quibbles. I also have no interest in life casts, ready-mades or plastic, and am tired of the standard cleverness of sculpture today, which gets more tedious all the time. Charles Ray, who actually claims some lineage from Caro, hits every low point. The formal thinking going on in the work in part 2 is interesting and enlightening. I also like to see forms worked into organic wholes, but maybe not always. There’s such a thing as too much effort. Could we say that the component metal pieces in the work of Greenwood, Smart, Skilton etc. are the equivalent of brushstrokes? And that Caro’s work is an assemblage of forms rather than a building up from the smallest neutral unit? In that case it seems to have an easier poetry, but the more rigorous abstract work is also more ruled by an idea. Two different kinds of pleasure for the viewer. 

By: Noela Thu, 05 Jun 2014 15:37:08 +0000 Some of these works look very potent , would be great to see them for real. I really appreciate this site for showcasing work that I have not seen before.

By: david evison Thu, 05 Jun 2014 09:06:00 +0000 It was always a difficult task to explain “sculpture from the body” when the subject was the nude model and figurative art was not the main goal. Mr Gouk makes a better argument than was made in the 1980s, but it is obtuse.It does not take into account why there was a return to the nude (by way of the lion from Xanthos), and the aesthetic aspects of the resulting figurative sculptures.(Para. 2 on page 8 of my printout ” The essential point about….”).
But when he unexpectedly writes about painting (3 paras later “Matisse saw that if…”)the writing becomes alive, fluid and convincing. His analysis is precise and deeply felt as a result of being moved by the painting that he loves.
He doe4s not attain this level anywhere else in the essay, giving the impression that his interest and eye for sculpture lags well behind his chosen discipline.

By: Sam Sat, 31 May 2014 08:04:18 +0000 This is slightly off the main thrust of Alan’s piece, but I disagree with his assessment of Tucker’s sculpture, I don’t think this very well describes his sculpture at this time: “Tucker was in the process of moving from a perceptual, retinal phenomenology in his Cat’s Cradle and tubular pieces, to one based on the structural potential inherent in materials.”

Instead of being about materiality Tunnel fits much more clearly into what could be called Tucker’s symbolic conception of abstract sculpture – which is object-based in the sixties, architectural (including Tunnel and the Cats Cradles) around the turn of the sixties into the seventies and through the seventies becomes more monumental and monolithic. For me this is the trajectory around which his work is exciting, and which is thrown off course by the blobby, turd like things from the eighties. Almost as if he needed the symbolic as a discipline to control his work, to give it restraint and severity.

Of course it is difficult to fit this into Alan’s scheme – which is perhaps a problem with all historical descriptions which are so focused on a single trajectory (though I admit it does have its advantages).

By: Tim Scott Fri, 30 May 2014 12:17:44 +0000 Alan has asked me to reprint the following from the catalogue of David Smith at the Guggenheim in 1969 by Edward F. Fry:

…A drawing for ‘Australia’ shows that Smith’s first solution for the base of this work was later improved by the accentuation of vertical tenuousness and imbalance in the creature’s legs, which in the final work seem barely to touch the earth – as though alighting for an instant. Given the subject and its predominantly horizontal thrust, a better solution to the problem of the sculptural base could hardly be imagined…