Monday, 14 June 2010

Henry Moore

The Henry Moore retrospective has much to offer the designer - in whatever field.  The pieces on show are relatively small - or, at least, were intended for indoor display.  There are none of the huge bronzes typically used in public spaces - the majority of pieces in the catalogue are carvings, in wood or stone, with a few casts in bronze, lead and concrete.
As a survey of Moore's themes and preoccupations, the exhibition naturally focuses on the human figure and especially on the Mother and Child motif that occupied such a central position in the work of this, one of the greatest sculptors of the twentieth century.
From the early years are a strikingly beautiful half-length figure with upraised arms and a shocking depiction of a suckling infant - latched on to a disembodied breast, the child seems to be in nothing less than a blind parasitic frenzy - the absence of the mother, beyond the breast, seemingly indicating the priorities of the young child at that particular moment, its focus entirely on feeding.  The great reclining figure in Hornton Stone, above, from 1929 clearly shows Moore's debt to the strength and massing of, especially, pre-Columbian art of South America - sculpture that was to have a lifelong influence on him from his first glimpse of the reclining Chac-mool in the British Museum.
The final room is devoted to the huge limewood carvings of reclining figures that Moore created over several decades - through them we can trace the increasing abstraction of the human (and, specifically, female) form as well as follow the changes in Moore's style overall.  Some of these are more successful than others, with one piece from the middle of his career perhaps making too free with the notion of voids piercing the body - as one visitor muttered, within earshot, 'too many holes...'.  The greatest though, are extraordinary essays in spatial arrangement, with fluid strength and a deep emotional charge.
It is the playing with space which is such an inspiration for designers - moving around these sculptures you are exposed to a changing landscape of caves, undulations, tunnels and waves.  The eye is led over and through the work, the rhythm exploited then suddenly halted by a change in texture or a sharp edge amongst all the organic softness.  These sculptures are object lessons in arranging a journey for the eye and as such are invaluable for those who are engaged in just this work, no matter what the particular field they work in.
The exhibition closes in August.

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