Figuring it out

I recently went to the British Museum, retracing dusty steps from the past, where I used to spend happy hours working from sculptures, like the livid, rather than living, etching below. Several things occur when one works like this – it is not immediately evident from looking at the work that the pictures are from sculpture not actual people, and yet somehow when the knowledge arrives (from a title?) that there is not an actual person depicted, something happens to our perception of the piece. I think the thing that happens is a kind of appreciation of the abstract qualities of the picture. Perhaps we just care more about likeness than about quality of colour or line when looking at what is essentially a portrait, whether clothed or not. Much more fundamentally though, the realisation that this art has been made from work by another artist raises its own tensions and eventually, I hope, its own richness of content. Another thing that happens is particularly pertinent for me, having brazenly written that I could ‘Leave faces in’ The sculptures are already either portraits or representations of mythical or idealised figures. If portraits, the secondhand nature of the image ought to call to mind the use of a photograph of a sitter instead of a seen drawing – it doesn’t though, as the sculpture occupies space in precisely the way a photograph doesn’t. If gods or kings are in the picture, does their presence render the art spurious or ignorant? This also raises the idealisation/choice of perfect figure that so often occurs once an artist commits to the considerable investment of time and energy that sculpture so often requires. On the idealisation question, which had occurred to you, doesn’t the lack of an actual connection with the particular cocktail of genetic imperative of a sitter render a painting of a sculpture empty inside, in rather the way that Giacometti was so worried about making sculpture too life-like, otherwise all we would be aware of was the inert/lifeless quality of the materials the head had been fashioned out of. Hence his near-destruction of his own figurative sculptures, as he alternately clawed at and dobbed on the clay. Nadav Kander is a brilliant photographer who may have an answer, as he covered ‘real’ people in what-looks-like-marble-dust and made things like this: 20140707-185521-68121521.jpg 20140707-190908-68948024.jpg Could one do a life class from a sculpture that was about being human?

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