Friday, December 23rd, 2011

The Yorkshire Connection: Books on British Sculpture

Books in Brief: A roundup of recent publications on John Skeaping, Barbara Hepworth, Anthony Caro, Anish Kapoor and Thomas Houseago.

The history of publishers Lund Humphries is intimately bound up with that of British sculpture.  Originally based in the Yorkshire town of Bradford, this printing press was at the forefront of avant garde typography and color processes by the 1940s when, under the editorship of Herbert Read, it produced what would become the first in an ongoing series of catalogues raisonée of Henry Moore, a sumptuous production that defied wartime austerities.  Subsequently the firm, now part of Ashgate publishing, formed a significant relationship with the Henry Moore Foundation, which is a foremost sponsor of scholarship and publishing in British sculpture.  Jonathan Blackwood’s monograph on John Skeaping is part of a research series that includes titles on William Tucker, Reg Butler and F.E.McWilliam.  Skeaping was a pioneer of direct carving in Britain, and first husband of Barbara Hepworth—whose subsequent husband, Ben Nicholson, was an early subject of a Lund Humphries title.  A consummate animalier, Skeaping’s career as a figure carver followed a trajectory of classicism into primitivism into organic abstraction familiar to students of Hepworth and Moore.

Barbara Hepworth holding a file with the plaster for Curved Form (Bryher II) (November 1961) © Bowness, Hepworth Estate
Barbara Hepworth holding a file with the plaster for Curved Form (Bryher II) (November 1961) © Bowness, Hepworth Estate

Moore is the meridian line of British scupture: There is an AM and a PM, the latter characterized by long anxiety-inducing shadows.  The midnight hour to avoid, however, is exact contemporaneity, as the illustrious yet in some ways wallflower career of Hepworth exemplifies.   Without it ever quite being possible to say who came first, her successes and developments were in uncomfortable near-kilter with the fellow Yorkshireman she once dated in Leeds, whether in the form of publications, representation of Britain at the Venice Biennale, moves into and out of abstraction, official honors and so on.  The major new museum opened in her name in her hometown of Wakefield this year has been accompanied by a volume edited by her granddaughter Sophie Bowness that documents the gift from her estate of the plaster originals from which her late bronzes were cast: once again, a recall to Moore, whose gift of plasters formed the bedrock of the wing devoted to his work at Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario.  The volume includes an essays on Hepworth’s process by Bowness, on her relationship to Wakefield by Gordon Watson, and on the museum building by its architect David Chipperfield, whose streamlined purist aesthetic seems an offshoot of the same cultivar as Hepworth’s.

Anthony Caro, Midday, 1960.? Painted steel.? The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Wiesenberger Fund, 1974. Photograph: The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Wilson Santiago
Anthony Caro, Midday, 1960. Painted steel. The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Wiesenberger Fund, 1974. Photograph: The Metropolitan Museum of Art/Wilson Santiago

The protean nature of Sir Anthony Caro is attested to in the modernist sculptor’s bibliography: Dieter Blume’s catalogue raisonné, for instance, runs to 14 volumes, while Lund Humphries have brought out a set of five uniformly designed and presented books offering interpretations of his career with different thematic approaches—more phenomenological that chronological in their range.  The series is understatedly edited by one of its authors, Karen Wilkin, whose same preface runs in each volume in much the way Read’s did in the Moore catalogue, although only implicitly does this text acknowledge her leadership role.  Her own volume echoes the thematic approach of her 1991 Prestel monograph by examining Caro’s inside-outside sculptural preoccupation.  Paul Moorhouse, in “Presence,” explores the denial and recurrence of figuration in the more monolithic of his larger sculptures.  Moorhouse, who is now a curator at London’s National Portrait Gallery, was curator of a significant overview of Caro’s work at the old Tate Gallery in Millbank, and draws closely on the sculptor’s own words.  Other volumes in the series explore the recurrence of figuration and narrative in his later works, his Smith/Picasso-like drawing in space, and his small, table-top sculptures.  If there is one theme strikingly overlooked I would nominate Caro’s extensive reworkings in sculpture of old and modern master paintings and his allusions to sculpture history.

Phaidon’s weighty monograph on Anish Kapoor is a doorstopper at over 500 pages worthy of the Bombay-born, London-based sculptor’s global popularity and almost corporate success.   David Anfam, who is a long serving commissioning editor at Phaidon and one of the leading authorities on Abstract Expressionism, charts the sculptors evolution from an arte povera aesthetic (scattered piles of pigment on the gallery floor) to spectacular, breathtakingly monumental sculptures and installations that dominate city skylines.  Kapoor’s ongoing obsession with the void unites efforts in divergent materials and scales.  The volume also includes essays by Johanna Burton and fellow “new generation” British sculptor Richard Deacon.

The handsome volume on Thomas Houseago – oddly tall in a way that befits his lanky sculptures – keeps alive the Lund Humphries tradition of charting the efforts of acclaimed Yorkshiremen.  Born in Leeds in 1972, Houseago makes loud, boisterously clumsy tragic-comic figurative sculptures that directly reference modern exemplars like Brancusi, Jacob Epstein, Germaine Richier, Rodin, Giacometti, and de Kooning in a mix of critique and adulation.  Lisa Le Feuvre contributes the main essay while Rudi Fuchs offers an appreciation that draws on his aquaintance with Houseago as a student in Amsterdam.


Jonathan Blackwood, The Sculpture of John Skeaping (Surrey: Lund Humphries, 2011). ISBN: 9780853319313. 152 pages, 12 color and 210 b&w illustrations. $90.00.

Sophie Bowness, Barbara Hepworth: The Plasters (Surrey: Lund Humphries, 2011). ISBN: 9781848220669. 200 pages, 85 color and 115 b&w illustrations. $70.00.

Paul Moorhouse, Anthony Caro: Presence (Surrey: Lund Humphries, 2010).  ISBN: 9781848220539. 152 pages, 73 color and 9 b&w illustrations. $60.00.

Julius Bryant, Anthony Caro: Figurative and Narrative Sculpture (Surrey: Lund Humphries, 2009). ISBN: 9781848220324. 128 pages, 55 color and 23 b&w illustrations. $60.00.

Karen Wilkin, Anthony Caro: Interior and Exterior (Surrey: Lund Humphries, 2009). ISBN: 9781848220317. 152 pages, 80 color and 14 b&w illustrations. $60.00.

Mary Reid, Anthony Caro: Drawing in Space (Surrey: Lund Humphries, 2009). ISBN: 9781848220300. 152 pages, 66 color and 20 b&w illustrations. $60.00.

H.F. Westley Smith, Anthony Caro: Small Sculptures (Surrey: Lund Humphries, 2010). ISBN: 9781848220515. 152 pages, 82 color and 14 b&w illustrations. $60.00.

David Anfam, Anish Kapoor (London: Phaidon Press, 2009). ISBN: 9780714843698. 304 pages. £59.95.

Thomas Houseago, What Went Down (Surrey: Lund Humphries, 2011). ISBN: 9781901352504. 240 pages, 211 color and 7 b&w illustrations. $70.00.

Anish Kapoor, Mother as Mountain, 1985. Wood, gesso and pigment 140 × 275 × 105 cm. Walker Art Center, Minneapolis
click to enlarge