“Le plaisir delicieux et toujours nouveau d’un occupation inutile.”*
I’m very fond of this quotation from Henri de Régnier, which Maurice Ravel inscribed on the title page of his score for Valses Nobles et Sentimentales. The composer may have been satirising the vacuity of a society on the brink of the Great War, but I feel that the comment is equally as applicable to so many of us and our art! In the eyes of others, who measure success by material wealth, drawing and painting can seem like a useless occupation. Most of my art ends up in our loft or in one of several boxes in the garage, for example. Why I do it, I’m still not sure, but I do know that Henri de Régnier was absolutely right; the pleasure for me is always fresh and perpetually novel!
*The delicious and ever-fresh pleasure of a useless occupation.
If, however, your useless occupation doesn’t seem quite as novel to you as you feel it should be, how about a little challenge to freshen it up?
Take a small cardboard box, complete with lid, if possible, bend and fold it out of shape and fix it in this new shape with strong parcel tape.
Take another box! Twist and bend this box, too, then smersh both boxes together and tape them up so that you can no longer tell where one box ends and the other one begins. Add extra forms using more scraps of cardboard if you like, but try to resist the temptation to decorate.*
*What’s the difference between art and decoration? Decoration changes the appearance of a thing superficially, without altering its essential form. Art, whether sculpture, painting, music, drama or literature, involves a thorough transformation of the elements of compostion.
Paint your sculpture (I used Sennelier Abstract acrylics in a combination of standard, iridescent and metallic colours). Try to create a structure that has all the qualities of a good painting or design (i.e. harmony, contrast, balance, rhythm, movement, unity and emphasis). Place it in the sunlight (if you can find any!) and see how the shadows change both form and colour.
Try it against a different background.
And when you rotate your creation. Does it become more interesting and surprising as you do so?
I hope so!
Note how by cropping my image, the composite elements seem to flatten and the entire structure appears more painterly. Perhaps, I could now use my colour relief sculpture as the starting point for an abstract painting? The Cornish artist Peter Lanyon, made sculptures that were not intended for public view, expressly for this purpose.
This exercise forms part of my five-day residency at Dillington House, commencing 6 September 2021 (more details, here) and is inspired by the work of John Chamberlain, who did for sculpture what the big brush artists of America did for Abstract Expressionism.
“The Galvanized sculptures began with fabricated boxes; they were something like forty-two inches high, eighteen inches deep, maybe twenty-eight inches wide. They had the same proportions as the cigarette packs I’d been crushing when I sat around in bars, drinking a lot and making sculpture out of cigarette packs as we emptied them.”
Sculpting With Colour is inspired by the work of John Chamberlain, who did for sculpture what the big brush artists of America did for Abstract Expressionism.
And yes, his sculpture ‘Untitled 1966,’ is a chunk of polyurethane foam, tied up and twisted into a new form!
“Everyone always wanted to know what it meant, you know: ‘What does it mean, jellybean?’ Even if I knew, I could only know what I thought it meant.”
John Chamberlain (1927-2011)