The sheer heft of a sculptor’s materials – stone, marble, steel – lend it a robustness and physicality that few other art mediums can rival. There’s a bulk to many sculptures that’s capable of filling a room with its presence. At the same time, the practice requires an utmost delicacy and poise – one slip of the chisel and a nose can take a very different form.
With International Women’s Day approaching, what better medium to celebrate the dance between strength and fragility? The four artists below each take quite a different approach to sculpture but each leave an indelible mark on the world.
The up-and-comer: Holly Ryan
Having already found success creating fine jewellery, Australia’s Holly Ryan has turned her hand to pieces of a very different scale. Working with sandstone or hebel, as well as timber and steel, she creates contemporary busts with more than a passing nod to the fragmented style of Cubism. Whether it’s a pair of her silver earrings or a sandstone sculpture, there’s a consistency to Ryan’s organic forms, each revealing different characteristics when viewed from different perspectives. Her early 2018 exhibition at Sydney’s Jerico Contemporary gallery was a near-sellout, proving this talented artist is one to watch.
The established name: Rachel Whiteread
One of the legendary group of Young British Artists (YBAs), Whiteread was the first woman to be awarded the prestigious Turner Prize in 1993 and her forte is making ordinary objects distinctly extraordinary. She does this by working with negative space, casting, for example, the space under the stairs, rather than the stairs themselves. Light switches, hot water bottles and, most notably, the inside of entire houses, become both familiar and strange when their insides are turned out and cast in industrial materials such as concrete, rubber and plaster. Through Whiteread’s eyes, it’s possible to gain a new understanding of the world around us.
The political voice: Doris Salcedo
Born in Colombia, Salcedo was personally impacted by the country’s Civil War, and members of her family were among those who were “disappeared”. Her poignant sculptures speak of loss, trauma and memory, as well as the experience of people displaced from their homelands. At first glance, the works seem ordinary and familiar – a chair and table; a piece of clothing – but in Salcedo’s hands, these objects become a meditation on the people who once owned them, and who have since vanished. One of her most powerful works is the substantial ‘Shibboleth’, specially commissioned for the Turbine Hall in the Tate Gallery in London. The 167-metre long crack in the gallery’s floor is designed to represent the borders and racism experienced by immigrants, or, as Salcedo puts it, “It is the experience of a Third World person coming into the heart of Europe”.
The contrarian: Maggi Hambling
Like a chameleon, Hambling shifts effortlessly between styles and mediums, as comfortable creating abstract paintings as she is intricate works on paper, or powerful, weighty sculptures. She’s not afraid to be controversial, either – this much-loved British artist once turned down a request to paint Margaret Thatcher because, as she told The Telegraph newspaper, “As with any other painting, a portrait has to be a work of love, and that’s not what I felt for Mrs Thatcher.” Hambling’s public sculptures have sharply divided public opinion, with her giant seaside work ‘Scallop’ being called ugly and kitsch, as well as exceptionally handsome and evocative.
Written by Michelle Bateman