Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Hubert Dalwood

The Mead Gallery this term presents an extensive collection of the works of the 20th century sculptor Hubert Dalwood. This prolific, but not widely recognised post-war artist, worked every two to three years towards a showcasing opportunity with a differing approach to sculpture, never resting in on the unsatisfactory, always challenging and changing. The Mead exhibits pieces to represent the artist’s voluminous variety. The gritty fusion of Degas and Giacometti of the lead statuette ‘Woman Washing Arm’ couldn’t appear any starker in comparison to ‘Venusberg’ – a large scale polished aluminium installation that has the crisp lines of contemporary architectural design. Dalwood certainly held no allegiances to one style.

If he had no concerns of style, what was his greater interest? Often it is a fascination of surface, or the mystic. Repeatedly it is people and place. This is no distinct people or location, because as Dalwood urged “What we can and must reinstate is the primacy of the imagination.” What this only emphasises is that his works are the art of exploration, and as people what we enjoy exploring and discovery most is the body and the land.

‘Beginning’ is perhaps the best example of the correspondence between people and place in his work. The aluminium wall hanging in engraved with symbols therefore its appearance, primitive and magical. Its title alludes to ideas of procreation, and its structure could easily be compared to that of a cell. The surface is graffitied with swirls reminiscent of Van Gogh’s stormy skies, which could also quite easily be grassland, and the whole relief, an aerial landscape. It is characteristic of the atmosphere many of his pieces foster – a mysterious combination of an undefined people or place.

While his work appears to jump between textures, materials and forms, it does in fact morph quite gradually over the distinguishable periods of 2-3 years. In most cases, he will develop an approach from the representational to the abstract, and this is most evident in his figurative pieces. ‘Woman Washing Arm’ could be an opening example – this lead miniature is tackled with a flare of Degas and Giacometti, with a kind of ‘kitchen sink’ realism - never idealised. ‘Standing Figure’ shows how Dalwood condenses the figure so that it becomes almost monolithic, gluing its limbs tightly together, and gripping its feet to the floor. The grotesque figure is a slave to gravity – distorted so that a sense of its weight can be felt. In both her skin is a ruptured surfaces, caused by the tactile modelling in clay.

The artist introduces in motif of place in his first non-figurative piece ‘Tree’, which has been made in skin bronze. The link between this sculpture and ‘Standing Figure’ figure could not be more obvious. The tapering body is mirrored in the tapered tree with its bolstering trunk. The structure compacts leaves into squares, yet this seemingly unnatural habitat, still manages to hold a nest suggested the life it can host.

The most intriguing piece is still a blur to me. Hubert Dalwood acknowledged the ambiguity of his works and did not claim to it to be a weakness, arguing instead for the impossibility of simple story telling in sculpture. The question is, even if this sculpture gripped me, will it continue to though remaining unsolved? What could be a clearer example of the mystery of Hubert Dalwood’s art than his ‘Signs’ of 1959? (The answer in this case, therefore, is yes.)


2) ‘'Standing Figure’

1) ‘'The Beginning’

The Mead Gallery, part of the University of Warwick’s art centre, is holding this exhibition until 25th June. Entrance is free!