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Revelation for the Hands

Organised and toured by the Henry Moore Centre for the Study of Sculpture

20 Apr – 16 May 1987

This exhibition invites its audience to touch the twenty sculptures on show which have been selected for their tactile as well as their visual qualities. It includes works by Eric Bainbridge, Reg Butler, Stephen Cox, Jacob Epstein, Barry Flanagan, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Antony Gormley, Barbara Hepworth, FE McWilliam, Henry Moore, Eduardo Paolozzi, Roland Piche, Peter Randall-Page, Julian Schwarz, John Skelton, Keir Smith.

The exhibition’s curator, Adam White, Research Assistant at The Henry Moore Centre for the Study of Sculpture writes,

About the year 1917 the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi exhibited a marble carving in a bag with two sleeves through which it could be felt but not seen. He meant it he said, as a ‘revelation for the hands’ Brancusi believed that sculpture must be ‘lovely to touch, not only well made’ and by this new method of display her forced the public to explore form and surface in a manner familiar to blind people but all too often neglected by the sighted. The purpose of this exhibition is to encourage that same exploration.

The artists represented here include three of the great pioneers of modern sculpture in Britain: Henry Moore, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and Barbara Hepworth. Gaudier Brzeska’s career was tragically cut short by the First World War but during the short period which he spent in England from 1911 to 1915 he worked with ferocious energy to create a kind of sculpture which was only beginning to be seen in this country: rougher, more vigorous, anti-classical and influenced by non-European art. His statement that ‘sculptural ability is the defining of masses by planes’ set out a new aesthetic which he applied to portraiture with startling results.

Gaudier had a passion for carving which was highly unusual at the time but came to be shared by Moore and Hepworth, whose relish for the art during the 1920s stemmed partly from a belief that the sculpture must be responsive to the qualities of natural materials. The sensitivity to wood and stone which was stimulated by this approach can still be seen in Hepworth’s later carvings while Moore maintained the search for bold, simple and expressive forms which the dogma had helped him to create.

One of Moore’s formative experiences as an artist was rubbing his mother’s back when a boy and there is a note in his 1926 Sketchbook which reads, SHAPE/BY/FEEL/TOUCH opposite a drawing of a female figure. He remained convinced that tactile experience was important in sculpture and during the 1950s, when he worked mainly in bronze; he sought new means of enlivening hiss surface textures. One of these was to press common objects such as screws, the claw of a shellfish or the blade of a rasp in to a model before it was cast. The same technique was applied by FE McWilliam to express ideas of an entirely different kind derive from Irish antiquities.

The continuing allure of the ‘found object’ can be seen the work of Antony Gormley, whose ‘Touchstone’ retains the shape of a big pebble from which it was carved but enriches it with human ideas and associations. Keir Smith’s carved railway sleepers belong to the same tradition but they had suffered years of human exploitation before he stated work on them and they take as their theme a landscape which has received similar hard wear. The use of everyday things, natural and man-made, as part of larger works of art has appealed to Eduardo Paolozzi and Roland Piche.

Following this exhibition, works by Keir Smith and Peter Randall-Page were acquired for the University of Warwick Art Collection.