Three Works continues its ambitious programme with an exhibition of new works by three sculptors. It is hard not to look at the works of these artists and speculate upon synergy of interests. We won't dwell on that here, but we will speculate on influences that echo through the works, as this may point towards cultural archetypes that illuminate our experience of the work.
Sculptors have very different beginnings to painters. Their work starts with a choice of matter. What material am I going to use as a vehicle for thought? What substance(s) will I celebrate? Painters, by definition, already have that decision made for them, they have a bias. The sculptors bias is towards the choice of material. All of these sculptors have respect for the materials that manifest their works. None of them hide or attempt to mask materials or relegate their status to a means to an end. All of these sculptors allow their chosen materials to speak.
In Room 3, Felix Bahret's works celebrate the virtual and the handmade. The works use computer aided design before becoming fully realised. Of the three artists, Bahret's work is presented in a more 'traditional' manner; on plinths, carrying titles that suggest practical applications; Camp, Seat and Case. This footing in the real world, alongside careful carving into the works, creates an equilibrium in Bahret's process between virtual design and traditional methods. The intricate carving reclaims the work for the hand – Bahret's works are binded by a trinity of computer design, hand inscription, and earthy materials. They are aggregates, like the carefully sourced Belgian blue stone and massangis from which they are formed.
In Room 2, James Trundle's work offers us a fragility that is in contrast with the plinth-based rootedness of Bahret's work. Indeed, the work Precarious State echoes early Giacometti or Reg Butler's Final Maquette for The Unknown Political Prisoner (1951) with its ominous fragility. Trundle’s The Irrefutable Weight Of Feeling Trapped - his cast of a bird cage in concrete - counters this precarity with its squat immobilty. In fact, Trundle’s offerings are deeply reminiscent of the 'Geometry of fear' era of British sculptors. These artists were championed by Herbert Read in the post war era and tended to make works characterised by the figure under threat. Read asserted that such works belonged to:
'the iconography of despair, or of defiance; and the more innocent the artist, the more effectively he transmits the collective guilt'.
But why would the work of a young sculptor in 2019 have resonance with such iconography? Perhaps because ‘precarity' is a cultural motif. Influential writers like Guy Standing, argue that the 'precariat' is a fast-growing social class. Trundle’s anxious objects tap into an epidemic feeling, apprehensive of instability, of being backed into a corner.
In Room 1 of the gallery, Will Spratley injects colour into the exhibition, quite literally, mixing lime green pigment with concrete in his carefully considered installation. We are back in the realms of density. Simple forms, placed precisely on the floor of the gallery, with gravitas. Anthony Caro's approach to sculpture is an obvious cultural reference here - perhaps too obvious. It feels like there could be a subtle anamorphosis at work, the artist playing with the space in the way the objects are laid out, and the way they encourage visitors to walk around and through the work.
The lightness of the pigment seems in contrast to the density of the material and the forms. Spratley’s ‘lightness’ might just be seductive but it isn’t soft. It is caustic and toxic-like and it’s this feeling you take with you as you gingerly walk around it; perusing it like fragments of radioactive waste, discarded infrastructure from a nuclear facility using concrete as a radiation shield. Spratley has titled his piece The Earrings Inside The Crocodile’s Mouth and it’s a brain-freeze of a title that somehow feels pertinent.
The works in this exhibition remind us of the potential for 'social sculpture' or at least the idea of sculpture's prevalence, its understated advantage over painting; sculpture is everywhere. Outside the gallery a 'Men at Work' sign is poised on the pavement... a sand bag flops exhaustedly over the frame to weigh it down. It feels like a profound sculptural object, as if the show has spilt out of the gallery. I did not really notice it there before, but I have been tuned into that wavelength by the acute sensibilities of these artists. I have been educated....
Dom Heffer is an artist based in Hull. Details about his work can be found at: ideasinthevoid.com