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Sunday, March 4, 2012

Henry Moore

Carved in Stone: Henry Moore
In modern practice, sculpture can be divided into two types, additive and subtractive. Today, it's mostly the former.  In the past, especially up to the dawn of the twentieth century, it was primarily the latter. Michelangelo worked exclusively by "subtracting" one chip of marble at a time from his work until he'd "freed" his slave or his Moses from it's imprisoning monolith. Picasso was one of the earliest to "add" various existing objects and materials together to "make" a sculptural statement, usually in abstract form. In between these is the adding together of bits of clay or wax to form a model (positive) from which a mold (negative), usually of plaster, is created allowing a more permanent material, usually clay or metal to be cast, thus making the final (positive) shape. Usually this shape has to be "cleaned up" by chipping away bits of unwanted material resulting from defects in the mold; thus employing subtractive techniques in order to arrive at the final piece.

Henry Moore, subtracting
Today, those who work using the subtractive method in carving wood or stone, are often called "woodcarvers" or "stonecarvers" rather than sculptors, which has come to be a term reserved for those using more "modern" techniques, either additive or casting. I'm not sure just why this should be; but it seems to be the case. Perhaps the last carving sculptor of the 20th century to attain any degree of fame and influence came out of the Yorkshire coal mining country of central England. Raymond Spencer Moore was a coal miner and the father of eight children. His son, Henry, was the seventh. The boy was born in 1898. Unlike many fathers of artists, Raymond Moore was determined his son not follow in his footsteps, deep into the dirty and dangerous bowels of the Leeds countryside near Castleford where they lived. He had in mind, instead for the boy to follow after his sister and become a teacher instead.

West Wind, 1928-29, Henry Moore, his first
public commission, the Michelangelo influence.
Henry Moore tried it for a time at the tender age of seventeen. Then the First World War intervened. He joined the army and passed through London for the first time on the way to the war. There, he paused to visit a number of museums where he caught the "art bug." He saw combat in France, fell victim to a gas attack, spent two months hospitalized in London, before returning to the front just in time for the armistice. After the war, though he returned to his teaching post, he knew he wanted to be a sculptor. He became the only sculpture student at the nearby Leeds School of Art. They even had to appoint a painter to be his instructor. After two years living at home and commuting he won a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy in London. But his real classrooms were the sculpture galleries of London's many museums. He did so well that upon graduation in 1924, he was appointed an instructor. It was back to teaching again, but this time, something he loved.

Gray Tube Shelter, 1940, Henry Moore, the inspiration for much of his later work.
He married, traveled abroad during the 1930s, admired the sculpture of Michelangelo, Rodin, Brancussi; and the massive paintings of Giotto and Masaccio. During the 30s, his work could best be described as "heroic," influenced by the organic, stylized qualities of Pre-Columbian relics he found in British museums. With the Second World War, he was too old to fight, but that didn't keep the Germans from bombing his studio in Leeds, forcing him to reestablish himself in the country at an estate call Perry Green where he lived and worked until his death in 1986.

Family Group, 1950, Henry Moore,
his first major commission after WW II
During the 40's his drawings of London families huddled together in underground bomb shelters (above) led to his sculptural family groups which dominated his work from this period (left). Gradually, his work became more and more organically abstract, his reclining figures, for which he was best known, metamorphosing into primordial shapes with smooth, rounded edges, contrasting positive masses with negative "holes," challenging, our basic sculptural instincts by emphasizing the negative as profoundly as the positive (bottom). Much of his early work was carved from Elm, but he was not afraid of stone either. Later pieces were cast from clay models in bronze. And though he was influenced by Picasso, never did he work purely in Picasso's trademark additive mode. Today, heaped with hundreds of awards and academic honors, his monumental sculptural figures dotting the globe, Moore is considered to have been the most outstanding British sculptor of the 20th century.
Reclining Figure, 1951, Henry Moore, considered his mature style.

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