You Could Argue
I Have Wavered From The Task
The title of the blog is The Sydney School of Sculpture. My task was to establish what that was and in so doing reinforce it, in order to make it more real, more understood and perhaps more appreciated.
I have so far, in my attempts to describe it, explored the outer edges of it, perhaps because it is in those regions I am most comfortable.
I would not be able to be there, on the outer edge, without the benefit of the core. Perhaps I hesitate to define it narrowly, because in so doing I become stained with the purity of the core, that it might bruise some more elaborate sense I have of myself.
To bring it down is to dry it out, to make it simply what it is. Sculpture by its nature is elemental. That should be more a pleasure than a struggle. To find at the end of it all, from all the questioning, from the beating around the bush is only to have strayed.
Let me be free to embrace the core. (Memo to self).
We have established that The Sydney School began from the building on the tradition of sculpture practice taught at The National Art School at East Sydney. We can accept that that tradition was informed largely by the history of western sculpture, which included all the other "sculptures" which had informed and influenced it.
We accept that the history of sculpture and the innovations correspond to the same innovations that happened in all the arts and sciences through the centuries. The line as it moves along is fuzzy at its leading edge. One struggles to identify precisely the shape of it as it digests the events presented by the changing times.
The leading edge of the line as it emerges is blurred and time is needed to focus on it. Each age requires us to take out a new prescription. We strain and then finally we say, ah. That's what it was and it was obvious all along. There is a box of glasses I have as I have struggled to focus on the various strains as they have emerged, whether it was New York abstraction, or conceptual art, (never spelled with capitals), or whether it was Post Modernism or Contemporary Art. I have further fuzzied it recently with the evocation of the Extemporary .*
Ultimately though, as time passes, the shape of it is clear again. At a certain point in our lives we find 'newness' distracting and ironically blinding. I often wondered how Monet could paint those scenes of the countryside without being distracted by what Picasso was up to down on the battle fields of youth.
Perhaps at a certain age, curiosity simply fails to spark. Ultimately ease yields as much fruit.
Let me be free to embrace the core.
The Sydney School explored a new language of sculpture as defined by the promise of what was in the 1970's still a new sculpture material, even though Picasso, Smith and Caro had seemingly roughly mapped the whole area.
It was the view of sculptors and teachers that the language that the new material, (steel), provided was able to shed the extraneous, to bring sculpture nobly down, not only metaphorically, but also literally, off the pedestal, to bring it into an unelevated, human space, that was more democratic, more real and seemingly eternally full of potential.
It was a cause and there were champions, and believers and those who would fight and those who would die by it. It seemed like we we just beginning a voyage of discovery our lives could not exhaust.
There was a certain point, when I was still a young sculptor, that the area was perceived by others to be already bereft and barren. Steel had had its turn in the limelight. The world could not keep making space to accommodate the ambition and expanse of it.
Being that the area also was largely, with very notable exceptions, being explored by men, in the context of a very persuasive and strong emerging feminism that this view of sculpture was very quickly given its marching orders by the central art machinery.
Like Christians and vanquished soldiers, the sculptors stole away into the undergrowth and the catacombs and the expensive restaurants. We continued to ply our wares and our strong beliefs. We stole lives as sculptors invisibly, without much support at all from the art world. From having a power withdrawn from us we prevailed. The empowered seventies gave way to the expressive eighties and the calculating nineties where the sculptors had no part to play. As time passed I grew older so that by now, forty years have passed. This millennium has seen the emergence of the new young.
So in the core of The Sydney School we have the sculptors who use steel, who embrace what they believe to be the absolute best of what history can provide by way of example. In that commonly shared belief they have enjoyed a conversation about sculpture.
There was a time when Braque and Picasso's work was unable to distinguished, one from the other, when style and identity were unnecessarily paired.
This moment was viewed by the sculptors as sacred. Those artists set a standard of modesty and purity of intent that defied individual progress or career. Commerce was completely removed from these ideals.
Throughout history these moments of flowering are the moments of vulnerability. The focus brings a loss of vigilance. Standards set are at their most vulnerable. They are there seemingly in order to be usurped.
Hankering for the new as we do, in the west, we are predictably mesmerised new sets of emperor's clothes.
The sculptors have learnt to be patient, to be a distant voice, to hold faith unaided by support or glory. It is somehow in keeping with the nature of the activity after all.
The task I have set myself to explain The Sydney School of Sculpture is almost anathema to that process. Its continuing life seem to require its being concealed in the undergrowth. Any light shedding will induce the sculptors and sculpture to burrow further.
*See post that discusses a possible emergence of the Extemporary.