Sculpture has been around for thousands of years; early cultures created statues or monuments to represent their gods and to protect and help their hunters; not purely as artistic expression but a way to represent their lives, their fears and their worship. Egyptian sculpture around 3000 BC represented life after death; images of the rulers were created from slate, alabaster and limestone, often at life size or larger. The Egyptians believed that the souls of the pharaohs might one day inhabit the sculptures that represented them and thereby would be reincarnated. The size and style of the sculptures were directly related to the success of the pharaohs in their lifetime: when they were not so successful the sculptures were melancholy, when they were doing well, they were larger and more powerful.
From 600 BC the Greeks developed a highly realistic approach to sculpture, working on techniques to create the perfect representation of gods, heroes and emperors, beginning with simple figures and developing by the fourth century into highly accurate but naturalistic forms of sculptures. The Greeks sculpted people of all ages and generations, from children to the old, from playing with toys, to figures bent and twisted through age. The ‘life’ of the sculpted figure was brought to the fore by expressing happiness or sadness, and thereby the ‘soul’ was represented.
The first thousand years AD saw less figurative sculpture, with the ban on representing the human figure in Christian cultures. However the subsequent three hundred years once again witnessed a blossoming of representational sculpture, as the Church leaders realised that it could serve them very well. Romanesque Art was born, filling churches with sculptures in stone, marble, ceramics, bronze and gold; artists, architects, builders and sculptors travelled freely across Europe to see each other’s work and learn new techniques. Sculpture of the human form flourished for the next eleven hundred years. The wars of the fourteenth century brought a halt to much creativity and it was not until the Renaissance in the fifteenth century that sculpture would once again flourish. Donatello, Ghiberti, Jacopo della Quercia and of course Michelangelo in the sixteenth century explored the science and geometry of the human body and translated what he discovered into his magnificent sculptures. Michelangelo and other artists then moved away from High Renaissance and classical ideals to develop what became known as Mannerism, whereby the human figure was depicted in a more exaggerated, often emotive and highly individual, style. Baroque, Rococo, Neoclassical and Romantic styles followed; by the nineteenth century sculptors realised they could create their own new work, not modelled on the past or gods or heroes, but new vibrant expressions of feelings, drama, ideas and personality. Rodin began working in the 1870s and from then on everything changed...
I have been interested in Hyperrealism since art school and admired the paintings of Chuck Close from the 1970s. I then became interested in sculpture of a similar hyper realistic style such as Carole Feuerman’s figures and also came across the wooden sculptures by Bruno Walpoth through social media, which triggered my visit to his exhibition at the 2015 Venice Biennale. From all this began my interest in curating an exhibition on hyperrealist sculpture, which evolved into the current show in the Lobby of One Canada Square today, with a broader focus on artists’ representations of the human form in a diversity of materials and scale. I realised that there was far more to hyperrealism than photographically copying a figure from life. Artists, whilst perfectly capable of sculpting a person in incredible detail, had taken that as just the first step to develop their ideas and feelings, in order to bring either the character and personality of the person into the work or to bring their own feeling and thoughts into the process of creation.
Looking at the sculpture Seated Man by Sean Henry, for example, reveals that every millimetre has been explored, every mark or blemish bringing a feeling of life and personality to the work, as if the person has been captured in a single second of time, but simultaneously exhibiting the feelings, concerns and worries that we all face through life. Contrasting beautifully with this is Carole Feuerman's Yaima and the Ball, again a snapshot in time expressing happiness, freedom, strength and power.
Something else which struck me through my research for the exhibition was the use of materials. Traditionally throughout the ages, marble has been the material of choice, with granite and other natural stones being used. I am fascinated how artists have used a wide variety of media, so in this exhibition we have artworks in diverse materials - bronze, wood (natural and burnt), ceramic, resin, coal, cardboard, 3D printing by Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark, Augmented Reality (AR) sculptures by Recycle Group, and even a microscopic work by Jonty Hurwitz - the smallest Nano sculpture ever created, invisible to the naked eye, which is represented here photographically.
Each artist in this exhibition has not only interpreted his or her model or an imaginary figure literally but they have gone further to capture an invisible quality, which fills that figure with something else. This makes me question whether and how the soul can be captured through the medium of sculpture. Warren King's sculptures certainly capture the subject, a very personal memory of a family member, close relative or friend from his ancestors’ home village, but they are hollow, making me wonder: are they then representing the soul that has departed? Or in Carole Feuerman’s swimmers, the figures all have their eyes - these ‘windows of the soul’ - closed... a powerful trait within her work. Or consider Sean Henry’s sculptures, these exaggerated, completely detailed copies of a person, a moment of contemplation, a person looking ‘soulful’. Tom Price’s hollow human figures cast in coal recall and preserve transitory moments in time. Rayvenn’s and Jonty's sculptures reflect our concerns about how a person is portrayed in the media, whilst emphasising that the soul is what is most important here. Aron Demetz's sculptures are re-rendered figures, representing the afterlife perhaps, whilst Recycle Group exhibits sculptures of figures virtually within a machine, perhaps showing only the soul.
Keith Watson, July 2019
Rayvenn Shaleigha D’Clark was born in London in 1995 and studied at Chelsea College of Arts, gaining an MA in Fine Art in 2018. Since then she has pursued her career as a multimedia digital sculptor, writer and curator. In 2018 she participated in ‘Common Thread’, an event that showcased African-Caribbean culture through the work of 25 artists, exhibiting ‘I Don’t See in Colour’. Through this and other works she chronicles the reframing of black anatomy in order to open up dialogue about the irregular and marginalised position of the black artist – turning ‘the system’ back on itself, she uses the power, influence and materials of the industry to present an alternative narrative history and perspective. Through her work, which has been described as a ‘Voyage into the Economics of Sex, Race and Gender in the Digital Age’ (Sara Khan), she explores ‘the nuances of identity that pivot between hyper-visibility and invisibility, offering a perspective of the SOUL as a crossbreed of aesthetic references. She asks: ‘When will the black body truly escape [from] the guise of the white imagination?’
Aron Demetz was born in Italy in 1972, and lives and works in Val Gardena, alongside other sculptors, using the tall local redwood trees for their work. Although Demetz has adopted the traditional South Tyrolean technique of woodcarving, he has taken it to an extreme and very personal use. In his sculpture he explores the possibilities and limitations of wood as a material, and the resulting works have a strong physical presence, which deeply engage the viewer on a psychological level. The three sculptures shown here exhibit his typical use of natural wood, charred wood and resin. After the figure has been carved out of the block of wood he submits the material to three different ‘injuries’ or ‘lacerations’: its surface gets cut, roughened, burned or covered with drops of resin. This process gives life back to his human figures, purified by fire and heat. Demetz has exhibited at group and solo shows in Italy and Mexico, in addition to international art fairs.
Carole A. Feuerman was born in 1945 in Connecticut, USA, and has been creating sculptures since 1958. She is one of the three artists who started the Hyperrealism movement in the late 1970s by making sculptures portraying their models in a life-like manner. By combining conventional sculptural materials of steel, bronze, and resin, with more unconventional media like water, light, sound, and video, she aims through her sculptures to establish a connection with the viewer, evoking emotion and engagement. Making them of resin and then painted, she then adds water droplets (a signature of hers), giving the sculptures a sense of immediacy, almost as if they were just about to become real, but also acknowledging that time passes, and life is but a fleeting moment. Her work has been shown extensively and is in many private and public collections worldwide.
Sean Henry was born in Woking in 1965 and graduated in Ceramic Sculpture from Bristol in 1987. Since his first exhibition in 1988 he has exhibited extensively and was the first sculptor to win the prestigious Villiers David Prize in 1998. His sculptures are often a collaboration involving writers, poets and actors, and they represent the bonds of friendship between him and his subject. Rather than align himself with the artworld, Henry prefers to build relationships with different people and the basis for his soulful-looking sculpture may sometimes be a pose made by an actor. Whatever their size, often larger than life, his sculptures seem to have an inner thoughtfulness and melancholy; they are almost always solitary, actors playing their part, in contemplation, always clothed in meticulously copied contemporary clothing. Although Sean Henry has never identified with any group or theme, his work is firmly seated in Realism.
Jonty Hurwitz was born in 1969 in South Africa where he spent his early life, studying for a BSc in Engineering before working as a researcher. After his arrival in London he initially worked in the tech world designing financial risk algorithms before turning to sculpture in 2009, creating scientifically-inspired artworks and anamorphic sculptures. He is recognised for producing the smallest human form ever created using Nano technology in 2014. His figure of a woman, Trust, only visible through a microscope, dancing delicately on a strand of human hair, has been seen by an estimated 200m people, partly through a CNN documentary in 2015. Hurwitz is also a pioneer in creating 'catoptric' sculpture. While anamorphic paintings have a long history, anamorphosis in sculpture is not known to have existed until the creation of Hurwitz’s first work Rejuvenation in 2009. Each of his sculptures involves billions of calculations using algorithms derived from the irrational mathematical constant. So Body Obsessed World poses more questions: how society perceives physical beauty, and how we perceive ourselves. Jonty lives and works in Gloucester.
Warren King studied Civil and then Structural Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Stanford University, California, and from 1996-2010 worked as a Software Company Executive before taking up his artistic practice. He currently lives in New York City. Six years ago he travelled to China for the first time to visit the village where generations of his family had lived. Whilst there, he was approached by people who had known his grandparents when they had lived there before the Chinese Civil War. His latest work is an ongoing project to recreate the residents of his grandparents’ home village, one individual at a time, made with only cardboard and glue. The backs of the figures are left unfinished, revealing hollowness and the artist’s meticulous method of construction. His sculptures are not so much about the individuals who are represented, but concern the history and space that they once occupied - perhaps their souls remain in the space that is left.
Tom Price was born in 1973 in London, and studied both sculpture and design at the Royal College of Art. Both disciplines inform his practice as an international artist and designer. In his work, Price often seeks to explore the potential of familiar materials in unfamiliar ways, which can involve developing special machinery and tools to do so. Partly inspired by the calcified ash bodies of Pompeii following the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, The Presence of Absence series examines the cyclical nature of existence, and our desire to capture, recall and preserve transitory moments in time. Hollow figures stand passively in progressive states of decay, small poignant details bringing into sharp focus the awareness that what we are observing is an almost tangible presence of a person who is now clearly absent - a memory of that person and of their soul. Price’s choice of material is significant: coal is one of the purest forms of carbon, the fundamental building block of all living organisms. Price now lives in Majorca, Spain.
Recycle Group consists of two Russian artists, Andrey Blokhin, born in 1987, and Georgy Kuznetsov, born in 1985, who live and work in Moscow. Using industrial media such as acrylic, plastic mesh and polyurethane rubber, their work examines contemporary culture, in particular the rising level of material waste as a by-product of consumerism. The award-winning duo are known for their pioneering use of technologies from Virtual Reality (VR) to Augmented Reality (AR); via the use of an AR app available on the viewer’s mobile device they unlock a hidden world. In their own words, ‘The main idea behind Nature of Non-Existence is that the visitor can feel how the world is inside the brains of a machine. There are two points of view in the world: a human’s and a machine’s, a perspective that we do not see and doesn’t exist for us.’ The duo explores questions such as can machines have their own feelings, what will happen to the relationship between humans and machines in the future? In Live Object 1 – 4, as the viewer hovers the Recycle App over the sculptures, the experience unfolds; the sculptures come alive, as if their soul is exposed.