Russian artist Alexander Grigorev uses wood and gold paint to create intricate yet minimalist sculptures such as those in his Molecule series (2019). This series touches on the relationship between European society with Asian and Russian tradition that Alexander experienced first-hand. His work pushes sculpture into the realm of innovative architectural design as the artist uses carefully constructed designs to explore the relationship of innovative western ideas with conventional Russian and Asian craftsmanship.
Nicola Beattie creates indoor sculpture out of stone, plaster and bronze focusing on the power of light and water. Nicola’s artwork Furl (2018) is a small sculpture made out of Spanish alabaster stone. The simplicity of the design is not to be underestimated, as its carefully folded centre creates a circular form that captures the power of light on the natural material. The sculpture’s use of light radiates a sense of tranquillity and calmness.
Sculpture is the oldest art form in the world having existed for over thousands of years. It is defined as a three-dimensional structure. Traditionally, sculptures have been created from carving, modelling, casting or constructing materials of stone, metal and wood. Yet in recent years, artists have also worked with the modern materials of glass and steel. From Ancient Greek Classicism to 20th century minimalism, sculpture has been a medium for ground-breaking art development throughout history. Sculptures from over 3000 years ago to the 21st century have been predominantly presented as monumental artwork, dedicated to the celebration of prominent figures in mythology, religion and history.
For ancient civilisations, sculpture has been used to express religious beliefs and honour rulers and warriors. The Greeks focused on using sculpture to represent figures of gods and goddesses for worship. The Athenian Parthenon’s frieze is a classical marble sculpture carved to depict the people of Athens participating in a religious procession towards the Parthenon. Some civilisations such as Egypt and China built vast collections of carved and constructed sculptures depicting armies and soldiers with the sculptures’ function being to protect the rulers in their afterlife.
The purpose of sculpture for monumental recognition and celebration went unchallenged for hundreds of years. During the Renaissance, artists were inspired by the classical sculptures of Greece to create their own out of marble, bronze, wood, and stone. Benvenuto Cellini’s Perseus with the Head of Medusa (1545-54) is a bronze sculpture depicting the Greek myth of Perseus beheading Medusa. The sculpture was created by pouring melted bronze into a metal cast. This technique of casting used by Cellini, and the use of metal, created a significant development in sculpture making. The bronze casting enabled the sculpture’s base to become an integral part of the narrative, as Medusa’s slayed body is portrayed beneath Perseus.
Like many art forms, sculpture during the 19th and 20th centuries undertook radical transformation as modern art broke away from traditional conventions. During the 19th century, sculpture in western nations modernised Classicism with an emphasis on naturalism, melodrama and sentimentality. Bronze casted sculptures such as The Thinker (1880) by Auguste Rodin embody these new values of modern classicism. Rodin captures the physical and emotional expression conducted by the subject as opposed to its realistic details.
In the interwar years of the 1920s and 1930s, modern art movements, such as Cubism, Conceptualism and Minimalism, experimented with traditional sculptural techniques and materials. Pablo Picasso created a series of collaged objects and materials into single sculptures, referring to them as ‘involuntary sculptures.’ Artists such as Marcel Duchamp coined the term ‘found object’ by displaying Fountain (1917) as a sculptural work. These artworks by Picasso and Duchamp began to challenge the perception of how sculptures were produced and perceived.
Whilst Picasso and Duchamp broke down the material and conceptual boundaries of sculpture, British artists such as Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore continued to use the traditional materials of stone and metal to create revolutionary conceptual designs.
Barbara Hepworth is seen as one of the most influential female sculpturists in art history. Hepworth used modernist and abstract styles to explore relationships between colour, texture, form, and subject. The small sculpture Mother and Child (1934) depicts a figurative portrayal of the mother and form of a child. Creating this sculpture, Hepworth used the practice of direct carving. No models or objects were involved, instead the artist used the spontaneity of form that comes with carving. Hepworth and Moore believed this organic process of working with the material created natural forms and compositions which could be enhanced by using techniques of polishing and marking onto the material. This idea of breaking down the traditional practice of planning and crafting sculpture from stone was to push sculpture’s role of capturing instinctive relationships.
Henry Moore’s Reclining Figure: Festival (1949) presents an abstract sculpture of a reclining female resting on her arms. As one of the most influential living artists whilst working, Moore became known for his reclining figures inspired by Renaissance sculptures. Moore decided to increasingly simplify the form’s details until spaces penetrated through the figure. Whilst Moore was influenced by direct carving techniques, public art commissions pushed him to use sketches and assistants to help the process. Moore continued developing his relationship with abstract forms and subject matter continuing his use of the reclining figure to explore human relationships with the outside environment.