Abstract Critical

John Panting: Sculpture

John Panting, untitled, (Untitled X), 1973-74, steel, 244 x 244 x 244cm. No longer extant. Image copyright of the Estate of John Panting and Poussin Gallery

Sculptures by Jackson Pollock have recently been on show in New York. Some contain clear correspondences with the webs of his paintings but it is apparent that the were at best tentative moves toward sculpture, rather than fully-fledged sculptures. Abstract Expressionism had a large impact on British abstract sculpture of the sixties and seventies, partly through the scale, directness and abstraction of the painters, and partly through the work of David Smith, particularly as transmitted through Anthony Caro. Toward the end of his life John Panting (1940-1974) produced a number of sculptures, which one critic dubbed ‘bird’s nests’, that are perhaps one of the most direct translations of Pollock’s paintings in sculpture, and certainly go beyond Pollock’s own efforts. However we should be careful about drawing connections too easily, something which Pollock’s art has proved very susceptible to, with it now widely seen as a prototype of performance rather than as a contribution to painting. One reviewer of Panting’s memorial exhibition noticed the similarity between Pollock’s paintings and the ‘bird’s nests’, but laid the stress on a crucial difference: ‘with Pollock the drip-stick does not stop, […] paint lands where the gesture of the whole man, his body, sends it through space. Panting is no painter. He builds towers, up from the floor, on as few points as possible, extending up and out.’

John Panting: Sculpture by Sam Cornish is the first full-length monograph on Panting, published by Sansom & Co. An exhibition of Panting’s sculpture accompanies the publication and is on at Poussin Gallery from the 5th to 27th of October. More information here.

John Panting, untitled, (Untitled VIII), 1973-74, steel, 244 x 366 x 244cm.
Collection: Te Papa Tongerewa, Museum of New Zealand, Wellington. Image copyright of the Estate of John Panting and Poussin Gallery. (View 1)

John Panting, untitled, (Untitled VIII), 1973-74, steel, 244 x 366 x 244cm.
Collection: Te Papa Tongerewa, Museum of New Zealand, Wellington. Image copyright of the Estate of John Panting and Poussin Gallery. (View 2)

John Panting, untitled, (Untitled IX), steel, 244 x 244 x 244cm. No longer extant. Image copyright of the Estate of John Panting and Poussin Gallery

  1. Noela Bewry said…

    Wildly expressive yet acutely controlled would apply to both Panting and Pollock, yet the practice and outcome feel like they come from different routes.
    I imagine the mere act of constructing these amazing, seemingly precarious sculptures , would have tapped into a different mindset from the kind needed to perform the rhythm and flow of Pollock’s work.

    • Sam Cornish said…

      I think you are right. Though I would look at from the viewer’s perspective; there is a instantaneous quality in Pollock that would I think be far from the slowness of exploring the complexity and space of Panting’s sculpture. However I still don’t think their similarity is totally superficial. Maybe they would have to looked at alongside each other before final conclusions could be drawn…?

      • Terry Ryall said…

        Sam, it’s unfortunate that this discussion hasn’t been developed by some of your fellow regular ‘heavyweight’ contributors. As well as having an appealing main proposition it also contains a potential progression to the difficulties that can be encountered by individuals who make both sculpture and painting and who are seeking to find some common ground between the two activities within their own practice. Whilst all credit is due to Dan Coombs’s for instigating the thoroughly entertaining exchanges relating to Eric Bainbridge’s work the seeds of a more serious (if that doesn’t sound too pompous) discussion are to be found here.

        For the reasons that both you and Noela state with regard to the artists’ respective differences of pace and methods of making it would be surprising if the visual similarities between Panting’s sculpture and Pollock’s drip paintings were anything more than superficial. Whilst they can both be described as complex composers Pollock is all Baroque,immediate energy. Panting is drawing on a very different practical and mental resource and the visual evidence for that,in my view, over-powers any similiarities.

      • Richard de Bulat said…

        I was a student of John’s from 1972 and remember receiving the information of his death. John was a great communicator, often challenging and, as often difficult to follow, but always persuasive. I remember seeing these works in his studio and something he said about them, which is that he always felt the need to have some element of horizontality in each of the works. He was fascinated by structure and the problem of getting forms in the air using opposing forces to get them to hang there. He was also interested in randomness, at least in the sense of breaking with habits, creating joints and joins in different ways, making these structures closer to organisms that are sculptural: I suppose, in this way, there is a close connection with the works of Pollock, but it is not one that I had ever heard him refer to, although many talks did refer to the abstract expressionists.