Issue Number: 92
Life force: Royal Academicians discuss Rodin
Rodin has been more of a grandfather than a father figure to today’s sculptors – his influence has been benign and indirect, but it has made an impact. Here several artists discuss why his art still matters
Antony Gormley RA
Auguste Rodin, The Age of Bronze, 1877 Bronze, 181 x 60 x 60 cm.
The one piece of Rodin’s that I always refer to is The Age of Bronze because it’s absolutely on the cusp. It’s a ‘threshold’ work, which relates so extraordinarily to the whole history of the Western school of sculpture. The Age of Bronze is simply about a body in space, naked, that is curiously becoming conscious of its own condition. It’s the ‘closedness’ of the eyes that’s so important. There’s something extraordinary for me about the two gestures: the hand on the head and the tipped ‘backness’ of the head, and then the empty hand that would have held the spear. It’s almost a picture of a sculptor uncertain about what to do next.
When you link that with what it’s called – The Age of Bronze – and the fact that its final form is in bronze, it becomes something else for me. It links with another twentieth-century obsession, which is a connection between the subject or meaning of a work and the material. You think at first that his forms are intrusive and pornographic, but they are not at all, because there is a deep sense of empathy and a genuine sense of immersion. One feels that Rodin tended his studio like a gardener tends a garden and there was a celebration of everything that grew in it, whether it was living bodies or ones that he was in the process of creating.
Life Force Life Force Installation by Antony Gormley RA
Time Horizon: Antony Gormley, Archaeological Museum of Scolacium, Cantanzaro, Italy (+39 096 139 1356), until 8 Oct; Antony Gormley, Xavier Hufkens Gallery, Brussels (+32 2639 6730), 14 Sep–28 Oct; Antony Gormley, Hayward Gallery, London (020 7921 0813), 17 May–27 Aug
Rodin’s The Burghers of Calais were the last monuments that had the integrity of being first-rate works of art and not just monuments. That’s the important thing. The last time when someone who wanted to make a work of art could make a monument as well was in Rodin’s day, and that’s what was challenging about putting the Alison Lapper piece on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square – it made me think about how one could do that again now.
Auguste Rodin, The Burghers of Calais, 1908. Bronze, 231 x 245 x 200 cm.
Presented to the nation by The Art Fund, 1914. Restored and set on a new plinth in Victoria Tower Gardens through the generosity of Nicholas and Judith Goodison, 2004. Loaned by The Royal Parks. Photo The Royal Parks/Roy Fox.When I went to the Musée Rodin and looked at his works, I thought it would be interesting to just make the sculptures in flesh directly: not to make clay like flesh, but to make flesh like clay in a way. So I got some animal carcasses and took off anything that seemed too animal-like, so that they just became torsos and figures, and then I cast them in bronze and gave them a black patina. So these sculptures had a relationship with Rodin’s work that wasn’t ironic, it was direct, but the work itself was completely different.
Marc Quinn: Vernissage, Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Roma, Rome (+39 066 7107 0400), until 30 Sep
Anthony Caro RA
When you are young, Rodin is so emotional and you think that’s the way sculpture should be. Then, after a few years, you want to cast it aside. Over the last few years, I’ve come back to realising how he changed sculpture so totally. Sculpture was Canova and those white marble, empty, cold objects. And Rodin said, ‘To hell with that, I’m going to give them the life that I’ve got inside me,’ and that’s what he did.
When you look at The Burghers of Calais, they’re so human, they’re so full of emotion and he was the first to incorporate all that. The Burghers could be on the ground or they could be very high and they become two completely different things: either they are something that you relate to like another person, or they are something up there that you look up to with respect.
In a way, what’s happening now is a step back, because they’re going back to the idea of the monument. When I was starting to make the sort of sculpture that I make, I was trying to take it more into the realm of painting, more into the realm of something that you look at and that’s it – not like a general on a horse.
Rodin started off so many things that we do now. In fact, we didn’t do it immediately; it took years for us to realise that if you took parts and put them together you could make new sculpture, and you could vary things and change heights. The penny didn’t drop for years about Rodin’s possibilities. The fact is that however romantic or emotional he gets, it’s always sculpture, it doesn’t go over the top: he’s the most sculptural sculptor.
After Olympia: Anthony Caro, Musée Rodin, Paris (+33 140 134 913), until 18 Feb
I often think, wouldn’t it be great to just get into a bag of clay and make something happen using it, like Rodin did. But it’s just not the way that I work; it’s not the way that I think. The thing appears from a series of decisions rather than pulling something out, because everything I do is constructed from some very clear thinking and a lot of time staring into what are essentially voids, whether they’re beneath a table or underneath a bed or inside a box.
The Rodin pieces that I most respond to are the sculptures that are very expressive and internal: crouching figures, legs splayed, they are so erotic and sensual, incredibly emotional. They come from his stomach like regurgitated pieces of work. He looked at dancers and used dance in the work in a way that gave fluidity to the form. Rodin used clay and plaster and wax, and just pulled these forms out of it. It’s very rare to do that in such a fluid way and yet also be able to make an incredibly sensitive maquette, sometimes only three inches tall.
Rachel Whiteread, Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donna Regina, (MADRE), Naples, Italy (+39 081 562 4561), Spring 2007
Tony Cragg RA
Rodin takes a very classical idea of the inner energy of bodies and he brings that out in his work; he makes the energy swell out on the surface of his sculptures. He even manages to do it with The Thinker – I’ve seen people think all my life and I’ve never seen anybody think like that. It is not how you think, with the muscles all tensed up and your back swollen. And what is this person thinking about? He’s not thinking about nature or great philosophical ideas or contemplating science – there’s something morose about that kind of thinking. You have to start to approach the figure from inside, not just make it look as if it’s pushing out from inside. You have to ask the questions: ‘Why do I look like this?’, ‘Why do I look like this when I’m angry?’, ‘What’s the correspondence between the mental state and the subtleties of form?’
You do feel that the life energy of an artist has rubbed up against material. I mean dumb innate material – plaster and clay, whatever it is. So the energy invested and the thoughts, the movements and gestures get invested from this person Rodin onto the material and then he leaves the room and even a hundred years later, people walk into the room and bang!
All sculptors are dusty and scruffy, and it becomes their life’s purpose – it is a drug. But if you want to change material, you have to use energy, and when the energy meets the material there is a noise, there are particles being released – dust and everything else that’s involved with changing the world.
On a very subtle level The Walking Man is a step into abstraction. Suddenly, some of the big things start to get forgotten – like the arms – and Rodin attempts to force the body out of its normal frame of reference.
Rodin takes energised form, which is a very traditional sculptural notion, but he does something more to it; he starts to let it become a little bit impressionist, a bit free. The Walking Man almost looks like he is melting in front. It looks as though he has been made of wax and then roasted in front of the fire, or like a satellite that has re-entered the atmosphere.
Tony Cragg, Galleri Andersson Sandström, Umeå, Sweden (+46 9014 4990), until 4 Oct; Nothing but Material: Tony Cragg, Centro Arti Visive Pescheria, Pesaro, Italy (+39 0721 387 651), until 8 Oct; Tony Cragg: Sculptures, Drawings, Prints, Akademie der Künste, Berlin (+49 302 0057 1536), 16 Sep–29 Oct
All interviews are edited extracts from Rodin: The Sculptors’ View, a film by Jake Auerbach and RA exhibition curator Catherine Lampert, which will be shown in the Academy’s Large Weston Room during the the Rodin show. The film is also available on DVD from stockists including the RA Shop (Jake Auerbach Films Ltd, £12.99)
Click here to buy tickets for this exhibition
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