Co-Isolated III by Richard Goodwin and Michael Snape
The Maitland Regional Gallery 23rd February 2013
Opening talk by Professor Lawrence Nield
Acknowledgement of country.
Let me acknowledge and recognise the traditional custodians of this country, the Wonnarua and their elders. I would also like to pay respect to their people both past and present . I acknowledge their loss of land, culture and treasures.
Let me particularly acknowledge my Minister and the local member Robyn Parker, The Minister for Heritage, who is strongly reorganising heritage in this state. This Gallery design by Paul Berkmeier, the incoming National President of the Australian Institute of Architecture is a an excellent example of repurposing an important historic building in an important historic city. As the Minister knows I do not like the words “Adaptive Re-use” – too much of a mouth full – I prefer ”repurposing” Repurposing a building, a house, an old stove or a garden. I acknowledge the Mayor of Maitland Peter Blackmore and the Director of MRAG Joe Eisenberg.
Let me declare an interest - my wife, who is here today with me, and I have some excellent pieces in our own collection by Richard and Michael. Furthermore I have worked with them on projects and in teaching. Both artists have been exhibiting since and are represented in major government and private collections. Given the long afternoon and shortness of time, I will confine myself to their sculpture works because they are an unusual, one might even say, a brilliant contrast. In passing however let me say there is a new freshness in Michael’s paintings on aboriginal themes from his recent time in central Australia. Richard’s Alien drawing and video seem to portray a body transformed by science - or is the figure a deserter of the modern world.
Matisse famously said that artists should have their tongues cut out. They should not talk about their work. I think these are such strong pieces that we can forget Richard’s titles and text and Michael’s Psalms to foam. The origins and many of the transmissions of art are pre-verbal and that I think is where it strengths lie. Sculpture is a matter of how an artist relates to his or her materials.
Adrian Stokes the English poet, painter and critic showed that there is an important distinction between modelling and carving in sculpture. Not only in the way the sculptor relates to his or her materials but also in the way we appreciate the work.
Modelling is additive.
Carving is reductive.
“At its simplest, the carving-modelling contrast turned on the matter of how an artist related to the material. The best art in the carving mode was still and whole and looked back at you from a distance. The best art, in the modelling mode, eliminated distance and enveloped you, swept you away" (Forge).
Carving and modelling are central to the works of Richard and Michael. Richard’s work is modelling and Michael is carving. But before talking further about carving and modeling I want to mention another of the techniques of sculptors (and architects) – another of their box of tricks – it is the transcribing of the body - its balance, its imbalance, its dynamic. I am not talking only about figurative sculpture here but the balance and integration of a whole piece. Painters create illusionistic space; sculptors create illusionistic weight and standing – standing in its many senses including walking or running – kinaesthetic association – the body in remote transposition.
Standing is perhaps the most difficult to understand and to craft. “We transcribe sculpture terms of our selves”. Standing is the technique concerned with somatically conveying balance and stability in the object sculpture (and I would add architecture), and at the same time about standing alone or together, about being part of a family (or not) and thus about scale. Throughout history, of course, sculpture did not only stand - it gave the appearance of moving. Today it moves or gives the impression of moving. Importantly, we need balance when we move.
Richard’s Proof of Consciousness experiment: Prams – a mother looking at a baby – come to my mind - side car attached to a motor bike – again a big and little vehicle for two -I am alive and moving securely with my mother. Video feedback shows it won’t start – you ain’t goin nowhere. This piece is also a vehicle of our time. Cars cut off our legs – or makes our legs super natural - vehicles have altered our environment, our cities and our person more than wars. Vehicles are, therefore, an important subject for artists.
Richard is about modelling, the adding of pieces together, frames is bolted to frame, and wheel is bolted to frame. Apparently real elements – petrol tanks, wheels, mudguards are assembled together piece by piece –an additive installation. Piece by piece installation produces a feeling of envelopment – we join in the assembly. In Richard’s intriguing pram we even seem to sit in it to be surrounded by it. We are part of it not detached from it. Is he asking, “Will we ever grow out of prams?”
Richard has had a long preoccupation with the body and its crutches – with movement and the mechanical, or potential movement, of the body and assisting the body though artificial limbs and exo-skeletons. Is he saying we can only live the modern life with crutches?
Michael’s sculptures are obviously carved pieces. We see and feel these series the blocks being whittled away. As with Michelangelo we feel the forms emerging from the block. Unless we touch we do think they are carved from foam. From a distance they might even be Carrara marble (or perhaps cast in concrete)!
I particularly like how the works reveal and play with the carving process. In one block with the girl is just emerging in the corner. The block is almost in tact with minimum chisel cuts – a hint of what could emerge, while the piece in the centre only one corner reminds us of the original block among the writhing limbs.
I return to where I started we have the works of Richard Goodwin showing the modelling mode and envelopment, the envelopment of baby and mother in the pram, protection and interaction while they whiz along – envelopment and all seeing protection while in dynamic motion. Michael’s work in my view is about detachment about giving weight to the super lightness of foam and in so doing forming a different sort of dynamic balance. It makes a lightweight world into something of substance. In contrast to Richard’s work it looks back at you from a distance.
In this splendid gallery space, it gives me great pleasure to declare open this exhibition of Richard Goodwin’s Modelling vehicle allowing us to feel envelopment (and movement) and Michael Snape’s carving of great blocks creating for us detachment and balance.