Henry Moore Institute, Leeds
Painting in Sculpture,
(includes work by Mamma Andersson, Georgia de Chirico, Anton Henning, William Hogarth, Titian, Yves Tanguy and Eduard Vuillard)
Extract from exhibition catalogue
Tim Braden (b. 1975)
‘Looking at Sculpture’ (2006)
Watercolour on unprimed canvas
176 x 139 cm
Tim Braden, who studied at Wimbledon School of Art, the Ruskin School and the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam, is one of a number of contemporary painters who have consistently made paintings with historic sculptures in them. He has also made sculptures himself, as demonstrated by ‘Platform for Collecting Milk’ (2005), a small- scale painted steel model of an Estonian milk collecting station, and a number of architectural models executed in wood, metal and concrete, including ‘Catapult’, ‘Jozo’ and ‘Teka’ (2005). Interestingly it is the figurative sculptures of other artists, rather than his own constructions, that have featured in his painting, becoming the focal points of a number of works besides ‘Looking at Sculpture’. These include: ‘Monumental’ (2004), a diptych which offers a panoramic view of a sculptor’s studio at the St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Art, ‘Pompon Studio Shelves’ (2008), taken from a monochrome photograph from a book on Pompon, and ‘Derain’ (2009), a painting of one wall in an exhibition that included a bronze bust by the French artist.[i]
Reconstruction is central to Braden’s work and the reconstruction of the art and popular culture of Russia, Algeria, India, France, Holland and other European countries in which he has spent time, simultaneously making their objects and images his own and celebrating their eye-catching otherness. In his two- dimensional work he tends to make large scale watercolour (or thin acrylic or oil) paintings of snapshot views which have originally been captured by him on camera. The shift in scale – from photographic print to one or two metre canvas – both amplifies and monumentalises these momentary glimpses, slowing them down and allowing us to look and to think about looking. In addition to this, the watercolour (‘a devotional medium’ for Braden) applied to unprimed canvas gives the subjects a direct and spontaneous life, but one combined with an intriguing ghostliness, melancholy and nostalgia.[ii]
Braden first encountered Alberto Giacometti’s sculpture as a child on holiday in France. The two small sculptures by Giacometti that feature in ‘Looking at Sculpture’, namely ‘Simone de Beauvoir’ (1945) and ‘Small bust of Silvia on a Double Plinth’ (1942-43), he saw on a more recent trip at the Musée Rodin in Paris. The sculptures were displayed behind Perspex, complete with identifying labels, and in order to see and photograph them more clearly, Braden and his girlfriend stood in front of the works so as to cast shadows which served to block the distracting reflective flare from the vitrine’s acrylic.[iii] This has been carried over into the painting, as we see the shadows of two pairs of legs at the bottom of the canvas and note that there is a subtle doubling and mirroring evoked between the viewers and the viewed, between the two little busts in the vitrine and the two larger gallery visitors outside it.
Braden’s painting thus gives us a fresh view of such internationally known modern sculpture. Giacometti’s sculpture is familiar to us today both through the artist’s own studio paintings and through the mediating lens of its photographers, such as Brassaï, Marc Vaux, Ernst Scheidegger and Patricia Matisse, who regularly captured work in progress in monochrome photography in the sculptor’s Parisian studio at 46 rue Hippolyte Maindron. Braden, however, disturbs these [visual] expectations, giving us disarming ‘photographic’ gallery views in painted colour. Bronze, as opposed to plaster and clay, is the material represented and the act of encountering the works in the gallery and in the present, beyond the studio and outside this canonised visual history is part of his strategy. The moment of catching sight of an object, as his title suggests, is what these ‘animating snapshots’ are all about, as he himself states: ‘these sculptures are mediated by your experience of them and the viewer animates them as he or she glimpses them’.[iv] But if, as his title states, he gives us ‘looking at sculpture’, he also gives us ‘looking through the camera and through Perspex at sculpture in the museum’: a highly mediated kind of encounter which structures and frames the narratives articulated.
What happens to the representation of sculpture in contemporary painting? What stories does it tell about the changing meanings of sculpture in today’s multimedia, highly digitised and virtual world? In Braden’s work ‘sculpture in painting’ in the early twenty-first century is ultimately about the mediation of sculpture and painting: about looking at sculpture through photography in the context and regime of the contemporary art museum. Gone are the earlier tales of metamorphosis and the paragone, and instead we find close, melancholic encounters: narratives of vision and exchange conducted, without touching and through Perspex, between viewer and art work, between sculptures, visitors and their shadows.
[i] Details of Pompon book and the exhibition with Derain bust.
[ii] In conversation with the artist, 21 April 2009.
[iii] Conversely, in ‘Steppe’ (2004) Braden painted three stuffed donkeys from a natural history museum and painted a ‘flare’ over them to suggest the flash of his camera and to make it look as if they were displayed behind glass.
[iv] In conversation with the artist, 21 April 2009.
November 1, 2009 8:41 pm
Sculpture in Painting, Henry Moore Institute, Leeds
By Humphrey Ocean
A suggestion: stop whatever you are doing and go to Leeds and see this exhibition at the Henry Moore Institute. However familiar you may be with Titian’s “Portrait of a Lady” (c1510-12, pictured) in the National Gallery, seeing it here perfectly positioned on modern walls and in unexpected company will result in a fresher, newer you. Sombre, tantalising and glowing in the daylight, the painting of the rose madder dress is like looking into a pond. Something about the almost-smile and lift of the eyebrow is familiar, and then the whole physical thing lands right in your lap. Even the frame looks dandy.
Titian’s ‘Portrait of a Lady’
As the title clearly hints, the exhibition is about painters looking at sculpture and, in one or two cases, seeing sculpturally. It is in fact much more in tune with the John Baldessari show currently at Tate Modern because in both exhibitions there is a transformation, a response to a response. Baldessari uses and sometimes paints words. Words, like art, are a retort. What you say when you hit your thumb with a hammer is not necessarily art but if you were to make a painting of the word “Ouch” you would be observing human behaviour in much the same way as these painters are.
This is the first time the Henry Moore Institute has put on a show only of paintings. Because they are more used to placing sculpture you are somehow aware of the volume of each room, and it almost feels as if you can walk around each painting.
I found myself standing and gawping at the sheer here-ness and slight weirdness of George Scholz’s “Female Nude with Plaster Bust”. This may well be the nearest I get to knowing what it feels like to be a woman sitting in a room on her own, thinking her own thoughts. The skin is warm with the lovely, slightly dirty colour that skin really has. Forget the plaster bust, the girl is the sculpture.
There are such varied things here: the Pre-Raphaelite William Dyce almost drowning in detail, a beautiful chocolate box confection by Louis Gauffier of Pygmalion watching his stone Galatea bloom into flesh – not a great painting but who cares.
Near the Titian is a Euan Uglow. There is no sculpture in it and there does not need to be. Although different in temperament to the Scholz, the naked woman in dabs of thin paint in “The Lightest Painting on Earth” is a becoming presence. It is helped by not being overlit. One evening years ago I sat not so enamoured for longer than I intended with one of his early pictures, a painting of a pregnant girl. I think I was meant to be listening to a lecture. As the light grew dimmer and the girl became more real and heavier, I realised I had misjudged the artist.
In another part of the room is “Autumn” by Jacob de Wit. This really is sculpture in painting, a white discoloration imitating stucco relief and clinging to the wall like a dew drop, the kind of architectural whim they loved in the 18th century. Its mood foretells the Yves Tanguy next to it where surreal forms in unearthly shades saunter across an empty landscape. Suddenly nothing is what it seems any more.
One more juxtaposition: Tim Braden’s recent work “Looking at Sculpture”, an ethereal and watery pigment of a Giacometti block of bronze, sits in a corner with a William Nicholson painted almost a century earlier. In a taciturn encounter Nicholson puts a Rodin bronze against creamy and decorative blanc de Chine, a fox among hens. Rodin and Nicholson are contemporaries. Braden is looking further into the distance, examining what could well be the desk of a collector or an auctioneer with papers and provenance carefully arranged. While they look good together the paintings land a different punch. Nicholson in his understated way is charged, fired up by the Rodin he owns. Contemporary art disturbs in a way the work of dead artists does not. The painting is Nicholson noticing.
Exhibition continues until January 10; Humphrey Ocean’s exhibition of paintings, ‘Perfectly Ordinary’, is at the Sidney Cooper Gallery, Canterbury, UK, until November 7