Cubism and Henry Moore: A Comparison
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Published: Fri, 04 May 2018
The 20th century comprised of artists with a broad array of interests and fortes, causing an overlap of stylistic features in artworks ranging from the drawn, the sculpted and even the assemblage works. Sculptures during this era were radical in nature due to their loosening grip of the conventional sculptures that were prior constructed from marble or bronze and the divergence from representing figures. Henry Moore was a well-known sculptor of this period – living nearly 90 years – who demonstrated this avant-garde emancipation from the standard. In juxtaposition to Moore, Pablo Picasso was associated with the emergence of the Cubism – a movement he is noted for. Both artists incorporate themes in their artworks that are both similar and different to one another’s stylistic specialty. The deviation from high-art materials to low-art materials, the influences of both artists from prehistoric to primitive, and the shared and unshared aesthetic qualities of their artworks have been discussed in relation to the comparison of Cubism (Picasso) and the sculpture of Henry Moore.
Materials were a radical and trans-figurative aspect of both Pablo Picasso and Henry Moore. Both artists had rejected the conventions of traditional art and materials, which were mainly associated with high-art. The aforementioned, Picasso and Moore created their works by breaking these standardizations of the ‘old masters’ by incorporating materials of low art: an avant-garde aspect that personified this era. Cubism uses every day commercial materials such as newspapers, wallpapers, cardboard, and metal, whereas Henry Moore takes a leap – isolating himself from the rest of the sculptors – and uses unusual and unique materials in his sculptures. “Moore’s list of materials include: for stone – alabaster, ironstone, Corsehill stone, African wonder stone, bird’s-eye marble; for wood – ebony, beech wood, walnut, lignum-vitae; for metals- lead and bronze. It also includes terra cotta and cast stone and various combinations of string and wire with wood and metal” (Blackshear, 46). For Picasso and Moore, materials were used to provide a contrast; In Moore’s case paint was not applied or used like the cubists did on their canvases; the use of a variety of materials replaced the act of applying the paint directly in favor of “an element of colour interest often lacking in the accumulated work of a sculptor.” (blackshear, 46). Both Picasso and Moore also believed to give truth to their materials, which later came to be known as the “reduction of means” (Kirschenbaum, 169). To extrapolate, both artists believed that the material used, should represent itself rather than insinuating an exterior notion – “paint should look like paint, wood like wood and stone like stone” (Kirschenbaum, 169).
The colonization of the African continent by the European powers was a stepping-stone for the emergence of primitive cultures and their influence on the Modern art. It was through this massive bloodshed of the colonization and trade, that the African Tribal Masks made their way to Europe. These masks were merely seen as wooden carvings until the hands of Picasso, Braque and Derain and many more were laid on them. The masks had become a hot commodity in the realm of art aiding in the growing interest of Primitive Art. One of these artists was Picasso, whom surprisingly in different accounts has denied his fascination with these Primitive artifacts.
However, this subject is still controversial, because Picasso remains silent about it and his friend, the art dealer Kahnweiler, has denied in his writings that the Cubists “borrowed” from African art. Despite Picasso’s refusal to discuss this subject, it is known from the reminiscences of some of his artist-friends that he was greatly impressed by and collected African art. He may be touchy about this matter, since Gertrude Stein once reproached him of using African art as a crutch (Alfert, 391 – 393).
Although Picasso disagrees with those who state that he is in fact indebted to primitive art, his artwork exemplifies otherwise. His early Les Demoiselles D’Avignon of 1907 would have been incomplete without the primitive aspects of the mask- the shading, the rough contours, and the explicit twisting of bodies. On the contrary, Moore, who too was influenced by these masks, acknowledges that he borrowed from primitive art (Alfert, 391).
In 1930 and just before, he [Moore] produced a number of stone figures whose facial features are characterized by a concave, heart-shaped form in which the eyes protrude as small, raised craters. Such a configuration is common among the works of several African tribes, notably the Ba-Lega of the North- Eastern Congo. (Alfert, 391)
Inevitably, with African sculpture acting as a catalyst in 20th century art, the struggle in art “became one for directness, immediacy, and economy of means.” (Kirschenbaum, 169).
The works of Picasso and Moore have come a long way since their initial exposure to the works of their forefathers of Modern art – namely Cezanne and Rodin. (Elsen, 355). Picasso borrowed many of Cezanne’s pictorial techniques and integrated them into his early cubist works (lecture). He always looked up to Cezanne and admired him greatly since he had initially-before the Cubist movement-deviated from the legacy of the Old Masters; Cezanne instead epitomized new radical practices such as the flattening of the image and the abolishment of perspective-laying the foundation of the Cubist movement. Similarly, Moore looked up to Auguste Rodin who is believed to be the “progenitor of Modern sculpture”. (ucker, William (1974). Early Modern Sculpture. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-519773-9). It was from Rodin, that Moore developed an interest in the integration of nature and body -a repetitive theme of his works. Moore has explicitly accredited Rodin at many instances:
Rodin taught me a lot about the body; its asymmetry from every point of view, how to avoid rigid symmetry, the flexible parts of the body, the head, jaw, neck, thorax, pelvis, knees etc., and that these axes should not parallel each other. These were the ways of giving the figure vitality. (Elsen, 355)
Nature, for Moore became an imperative theme in his sculptures. He frequently places his pieces in a horizontal position, which “devaluates the importance of the head and stresses the abdomen as the compositional center” (Arnheim, 31). By targeting the abdomen, Moore emphasizes his continuous theme of nature, which is also seen in Fauconnier’s Abudance painting of 1910. Fauconnier’s piece is a masterful representation of the womb being the center of life – regurgitating the role of the woman as being the body in which a growing fruit is held for nine months. This theme of nature used by Moore, is also proven by his favorite theme of the Mother and Child – seen in many of his series. Through the integration of Cezanne and Rodin’s techniques and styles into their artworks, both Picasso and Moore demonstrate how they utilized what they learnt from their Masters to create a bridge towards their individual breakthrough.
Aesthetic concepts in the works of Cubism and in the sculptures of Moore are similar in nature. The artists incorporate a sense of uniformity, balance, vitality and emancipation to their pieces to create a dynamic space for it to occupy. The Cubists and Moore have interpreted the occupancy of space by an artwork as being comprised of “the relationship of negative and positive space” (blackshear, 46). The Cubists believed the non-Euclidian theory where space is not comprised just of the first, second, or third dimension but also the fourth, which symbolizes the notion of timelessness, and simultaneity (textbook). In conjunction to the Cubists idea of space, Moore too has come to use space in all its forms (Blackshear, 46): “he uses the dot (zero dimension), line (first dimension), shape (second dimension), volume (third dimension), and movement (form of fourth dimension)” (Blackshear, 46). In contrast to cubist works, in which negative spaces cease to exist, Moore makes the use of positive and negative space- a tenacious quality of his sculptures (blackshear, 46). Moore utilizes the hollows created in his sculptures – the Reclining Figure – as the negative space and relates it to another punctured hole to create uniformity. The holes – filled with dense air of its surrounding – created in his carvings are concave in nature, reminiscent of the concave perforation in Picasso’s Guitar of 1914 (the Guitar’s concavities have been influenced by the Grebo Mask). Moore resists using convexities in his pieces because they would obstruct the space aggressively, countering his obsession with coherency. In accordance of invading space, the Guitar is comprised of protruding planes, which jut out in play of substance and void into the air, disrupting its surrounding space. Homogeny in Moore’s pieces is further achieved through the flow of his units – “the dead ends of the hands and feet [of the body] merge with each other or stream back into the body of the figure, permitting the circulation of energy to continue” (Arnheim, 30). Regularity is also attained by the balance and assimilation of the two antagonistic tendencies – the internal and external thrusts (Arnheim, 35). Vitality – another aesthetic aspect of the work of Picasso and Moore – is not achieved in cubist works because the works are to be seen as what they represent, and nothing more meaningful. The shattered fragments of cubist works deny the possession of energy, in favour of embracing spatial incongruity. To compare, for Moore:
A work must first have a vitality of its own. I do not mean a reflection of the vitality of life, of movement, physical action. Frisking, dancing figures and so on, but that a work can have in it a pent-up energy, an intense life of its own, independent of the object it may represent.
When a work has this powerful vitality we do not connect the word Beauty with it. (3 way piece, 238)
For both artists, the labeling of a work with the word Beauty was unacceptable. They both believed that a work should be viewed simply as what it is, similar to how they brought their materials to reductionism, so that they represented what they were and nothing else. Therefore, through the presence of uniformity, balance and the invigorating vitality in Moore’s works, he complements the surrounding air, by capturing the energy, absorbing it, and then allowing it to evaporate and disseminate into infinity.
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