The exhibition is at the beautiful sculpture park and gallery of the New Art Centre at Roche Court, Wiltshire and runs until mid-November 09. New Art Centre
My family and I have been looking after my father's work for a long time - he sadly died very young - and it was an amazing moment to see so much of it beautifully restored and on show to the world again at this exhibition.
At the end of this post is a short essay about the sculpture written by Jon Wood who is a curator at the Henry Moore Institute, part of Leeds City Art Gallery.
By Jon Wood
Landscape into Sculpture
In the mid-1950s Henry Moore began to acquire works by younger British sculptors, amongst them Anthony Caro’s Woman Waking Up (1955), Ralph Brown’s Mother and Child (1954) and Hubert Dalwood’s Tree (1957). Unlike Caro and Brown’s sculptures, Dalwood’s directly evoked the landscape, but did so in ways that also suggested the human form. As viewers looked for the outlines and forms of a tree in this sculpture, so they looked for facial profiles and then for eyes, nose and mouth in the sculpture’s crudely gridded sides. Tree was, and still is, a strange and enigmatic sculpture, and it is not difficult to see why it caught the eye and mind of Henry Moore.
The sculpture was made when the thirty-three year old Dalwood was living in Leeds, where after four years teaching at Newport School of Art, he was undertaking a Gregory Fellowship. Appointed as the Sculpture Fellow at the University, he followed the first two recipients Reg Butler and Kenneth Armitage, who had taught him earlier (1946-49) at the Bath Academy of Art in Corsham. His three years in Leeds, between 1955 and 1958, were highly influential, bringing him into close contact with painters such as Alan Davie, Terry Frost and Harry Thubron. Connections between their paintings and his sculptures of the time have often been remarked upon in texts by Norbert Lynton, Chris Stephens and others, and Tree is often cited within this context. Yet Dalwood’s Tree also stands as a bold early statement of interest in the complex relationship between sculpture, landscape and the imagination – a central strand to his work that would continue throughout his career.
A single tree developed into a variety of more complex object environments and from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s, his catalogue of works abounds with ‘places’, ‘countries’, ‘gardens’, ‘slopes’ and ‘landscapes’. He was also in process of writing a book on gardens at the end of his life. Many of Dalwood’s earlier sculptures, such as Icon (1958) and Throne (1960), come with their own integrated, inbuilt bases and in some, such as the Bonzai Gardens and Landscapes of the mid-1970s, the bases expand horizontally to become the main part of the sculptures themselves. These works underline how the close, interconnected relationship between an object and the ground was central to Dalwood’s thinking not only about sculpture, but also about culture and nature generally. Things double up in his work: objects stand as environments and both ‘architectural objects’ and ‘landscape objects’ have a shared and organically grounded aspect to them. They demonstrate forms of ‘groundedness’, whether geometrically structured or more freely made by hand, whilst acting as temporary enclosures or sanctuaries to harness and enhance further thoughts and imaginings about it. Venusberg (1966), for example, is a temple which has ‘countryside inside it’, like a futuristic ruined city, and his later Plant Pieces and Bonzai Gardens include real sand, earth, gravel and plants, which invite us to consider the chronologies as well as functions of these animate/inanimate arrangements. Were they created for plants or have these built environments been taken over by them?
His interest in the historic towns of Italy and Greece is also relevant: places where ‘a tower grows out of the ground’, as Lynton recalled him saying. We might also recall his fondness for the craggy landscapes of Cornwall and Yorkshire, including the much-loved Brimham Rocks. Such landscapes evoked modern art as much as pre-history, as Dalwood knew. Many of the all-important surfaces of Dalwood’s bronze and plaster sculptures deliberately recall the chunky, lumpy and bumpy weathered but slippery surfaces of their rocks. His shiny aluminium surfaces are of a slightly different order, but should also be mentioned here. Aluminium was often used by Dalwood in the late 1960s and 1970s for his larger sculptures, the reflective surfaces of which ‘mirror’ the insides of the works as much as their surroundings, creating mirage-like internal spaces and dimensions.
However, the rocks, stone walls, hedges (even clouds) that many of his bronze works suggest sometimes blur into one, as these modelled forms often end up standing as shorthand demonstrations of miniature arrangements. They appear to be approximations not only of landscapes but also of strange archaeological excavations that, weather beaten and knarled, look like they have been dug up themselves. Here Dalwood’s ‘ritual object’ works are never far away in spirit or form: small-scale, asymmetrical objects that carry mysterious, imaginary functions and that can be turned in the hand and examined close-up. The subtle use of miniaturisation and play on distances also helps create these curious sculptures’ potential. Scale is carefully envisaged and manipulated, as we look down at them as we might at once a child’s sandpit and a stretch of land through aerial photography.
Many of Dalwood’s sculptures seem compellingly caught in this uncertain space between landscape and sculpture. They are never simply scale models or maquettes, rather they seem to function as aide mémoire objects, reconstructing the memories of places and giving tentative shape to their material and emotional lives. Inspired by intuitive recollections of furrows and plateaux, a valley becomes a dip for a paper weight-sized erratic boulder. Whilst indebted to the landscape, these landscape objects don’t wall us in nor bind us to it, rather they seem only to want to hold our imaginations, memories and experiences briefly - mediating our contemplative thoughts and heightening our associations - before sending them back on their way to the world and to ourselves.
This exhibition was transferred to Leeds City Gallery in October 2010.
See post on Hubert Dalwood exhibition, Leeds