Anish Kapoor with As if to Celebrate I Discovered a Mountain Blooming with Red Flowers and Barbara Hepworth with Oval Sculpture (No. 2)

Wednesday, 22 April 2020 | Art Practice

This post is part of a series of blog posts called Noteworthy Artists and Artworks. For more information about the series, please read Series Breakdown: Noteworthy Artists and Artworks. You can find the link at the end of this page.

For this post, I will focus on two artists: Barbara Hepworth and Anish Kapoor. The works I will spend my time discussing here are Oval Sculpture (No. 2) by Hepworth and As if to Celebrate I Discovered a Mountain Blooming with Red Flowers by Kapoor. Throughout this post, I will explain how my understanding of mass, volume, location, positioning, surface and traversing space have been influenced by them.

Before continuing, I would like to add a quick note. At the time of writing, you will find only one sculpture in my body of work. This does not mean I do not think in sculptural terms. If given the opportunity, I would focus more of my time making sculptures. The reason I do not is because I do not have the space to do so (storage or work). What this means is there is a less immediate mapping between the works discussed and mine. Thus, my general thoughts and observations will be my main focus and not direct examples of the topics discussed in my work.

Oval Sculpture (No. 2)
Figure 1: Oval Sculpture (No. 2), 1943 (cast in 1958) by Barbara Hepworth.

I will begin by looking at Oval Sculpture (No. 2) (fig. 1), by Barbara Hepworth. If you are unfamiliar with her and this piece, here is a quick summary. She was born in Wakefield, U.K. on the 10th January, 1903 and died 20th May 1975. Hepworth was known most of all for her sculptural work, but she did work in other media. Oval Sculpture (No. 2) (fig. 1) was completed in 1943 and cast in 1958. Tate acquired it in 1967 and it has been part of its collection ever since.

One of the most notable aspects of this sculpture is how shapely it is. Physically speaking, it appears solid and to be carrying a fair amount of weight. Upon closer inspection, the “holes” seem to be misleading. They appear to be as confident as the form itself. And, in a sort of contradicting manner, they act as non-physical physical members of the mass. One could argue, this is an effective example of negative space.

The non–physical aspect of this piece has made it easier to pierce the surface and traverse within the solid matter – conceptually speaking. This is a nice visual and mental sensation in and of itself. With that said, I think the more important point here (for me at least) is it has helped train me to view mass/volume as a way to define space – and not just consume it.

A key feature of a surface is its ability to act as a barrier, separating the inside from the outside. With that said, what the empty space has done is force me to reconsider what I mean when I say/think “inside and outside”. Please consider the image below to help explain my point.

Oval Sculpture (No. 2) (detail)
Figure 2: Hepworth has managed to weave a duality between what is considered "inside" and "outside" the piece.

What the image (fig. 2) highlights is how the empty space (A.K.A. negative space form) is part of the overall structure, regardless of its immaterial nature. Its lack of form is its form. It is both inside the overall form and outside the physical boundary of the sculpture itself.

My last point on Hepworth’s Oval Sculpture (No. 2) (fig. 1) is how it has developed my understanding regarding how I traverse, locate and position myself within a relativity-type context. The most noticeable example being when I speak/think of things in a “that which is within this which is within that” manner.

I will now move onto Anish Kapoor and his work: As if to Celebrate I Discovered a Mountain Blooming with Red Flowers. Kapoor was born in Bombay State, India on 12th November, 1954 and is based in London, UK. Kapoor is known for his sculptural work. As if to Celebrate I Discovered a Mountain Blooming with Red Flowers was completed in 1981 and is part of Tate's collection. It was acquired by them in 1983.

As if to Celebrate I Discovered a Mountain Blooming with Red Flowers
Figure 3: As if to Celebrate I Discovered a Mountain Blooming with Red Flowers, 1981 by Anish Kapoor

Upon inspection of the image above (fig. 3) you will notice the powdered pigment covering each form and the immediate area around them. What this arrangement creates is a blurring between where the sculpture begins and ends. This is not the main point/observation I want to highlight, though. What I would like to do, instead, is talk about its surface and what I have come to think about when doing so.

By blurring the boundary of a form, you are left in a state of doubt. How much of this is a lie? A façade? What you see on the surface can be a separate entity from the material beneath. This can lead to more questions: How solid is the underneath? Is it the same all the way through? Because the pigment is only covering the material underneath it, a different idea of negative space presents itself. With the laws of physics being the way they are, a three-dimensional framework/skeleton is requires for the pigment powders to rest on. Without it, the pigments could not take the forms they has. Therefore, the mass below maybe solid but it is only a means to an end. In other words, the material (underneath) as a whole is irrelevant, the fact it has the property of being solid is what we care about. In other words, whether its colour is blue or not is something we do not need to know.

As a side note, the emphasis on certain properties of a material and not the material as a whole is something I find difficult to reconcile with – especially with regards to sculpture. This is because I have a preference for celebrating a material as a whole. If you try to utilise a particular property at the expense of masking others I believe an opportunity has been missed. Also, if I am in a bit of a strop when this topic comes up, I would probably argue (complain really) the idea is too complicated and might be worth re-thinking.

Having viewed Oval Sculpture (No. 2) (fig. 1) and As if to Celebrate I Discovered a Mountain Blooming with Red Flowers (fig. 3), it is clear both are concerned with surface, mass and volume. Nevertheless, both artists handle these concerns in their own way.

When viewing Oval Sculpture (No.2) (fig. 1), you get a sense of solidity. This is caused, for the most part, by its emphasis on defining volume through mass. With As if to Celebrate I Discovered a Mountain Blooming with Red Flowers (fig. 3), Kapoor adopts a different approach. He defines volume by prioritising surface. When viewed together, the differences in each artists take of negative space emerges. This is the bit I find most interesting. Oval Sculpture (No.2) (fig. 1) defines a space using non-physical means. The prime examples being the “holes” within the form itself. Whereas, As if to Celebrate I Discovered a Mountain Blooming with Red Flowers (fig. 3) emphasises surface and suppresses the involvement of the space (I.E. volume) that lies beneath it. This, in turn, makes the negative space more apparent. By trying to hide it, it is brought to your attention.

What both pieces have helped me do is move past the idea of a surface and into the mass itself – in a mental capacity. I am much better at identifying the space within a volume as well as positioning and relocate myself within it.

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