Block Test 2: Escher, Gormley, Moore

These are answers from one of my Study of Visual Arts examination papers.

Block Test 2 (2008)

1) One major concept in Escher’s work was that of optical illusions, space and dimensions. For example, “Fountain” depicts a seemingly ordinary waterfall, but upon closer inspection the top and bottom are actually on the same plane. This shows the manipulation of dimensions and planes which he was fond of doing in his work, which created optical illusions. The work was also fairly realistic with lifelike renderings of light and shade, thus creating the illusion of a 3D object coming out of a 2D plane. This use of realistic modelling of form was employed to the same effect in many of his other works – coming out of the 2D plane and becoming three-dimensional.

Another concept in his work was that of using repetition. For example, in “Regular Division of a Plane”, the concept of tessellation is evident. His work utilized the concepts of repetition of a symbol or symbols. In the earliest “Regular Division” work, the pictures showed 8 human heads repeated over and over in a constant and highly geometric fashion. Again there is a sense of manipulation of space and dimensions. Although strictly two-dimensional and confined to one flat plane, the strong contrast between the black ink and the white of the paper led to figures seeming to come closer or recede, again creating the illusion of three dimensions on a 2D plane.

His work was highly geometric and mathematical. Like stated above, his art utilized the concept of tessellation and the shapes were very graphic and geometrical. Even in “Fountain” the lines and shapes of the fountain and building are straight and geometric, and the fountain itself is a play on mathematics, a slight variation of the Penrose stairs.

2a) “Field for the British Isles” shows about 40 000 little terracotta figures. They are vaguely humanoid in shape and each figure has a pair of eyes on it, which makes it seem as though they are looking at the viewer. They are irregular in shape, every one unique, but are all arranged in orderly, neat rows. They are all brownish red in color, a warm color, which contrasts with the cool whites and grays of the gallery, causing them to appear to come forward towards the viewer. The sheer number of figures causes the interior of a whole gallery to be filled by them, as far as the eye can see. This effect is enhanced by the vantage point of the viewer – viewing the sculpture from a threshold, the edges of the work are partially obscured by two columns, which makes it seem as though there is a limitless number of figures.

“Recumbent Figure” is a sculpture made of stone. It resembles a somewhat deformed female reclining nude, with a crude but recognizable face and legs and arms which seem distorted in an unnatural way. It seems to be looking directly at the viewer with a frank and direct gaze. The arms of the figure seem to be embracing a void in the body located around the middle of the torso. The arms curve about the void, and join together at the area where the legs and hips begin, forming an unbroken circle. From here its legs extend seamlessly from the body, almost blending into the arms as one continuous form. The legs are bent at the knee but are not as clearly defined as one would expect human legs to look, joined and fused at places like the thighs and calves. The figure has an organic and continuous shape, the body one seamless element. The sculpture also has a rough and earthy texture.

b) The artist’s intention in “Field for the British Isles” was probably to make the viewer feel as though they were being overwhelmed by the figures, and to involve the viewer in this way. The sheer number of figures creates an artwork that overwhelms the viewer due to sheer scale. They are also positioned in a way such that they are looking directly at the viewer, which involves the viewer in the artwork and makes them feel as though they are an integral part of the work as they are subject to the gaze of the figures. The artist could be trying to make a statement about the power of the populace in numbers, as it rather resembles people turning up in hordes at a political rally or protest march.

The intention of “Recumbent Figure” could be to remind the viewer of the earthiness and how primitive humans really are despite of the technology around us. The material of stone and the earthy colors, as well as the crudeness and primal feeling of the peace evoke this reaction. The artist might also be trying to show the primal love that a mother has for her child. This is because the arms are positioned as though embracing someone, though there is only a blank space there, almost inviting the viewer to step in and fill the void. The use of a female figure suggests a mother embracing her child.

c) Installations involve the viewer more than sculptures do. For example, in Gormley’s installation “Total Strangers” casts of his body are placed about a gallery. As the viewer walks into the space he feels as though he is being silently observed by them and feels more involved than, say, when viewing a sculpture like “Object C” by Han Sai Port. In this scenario the sculpture would be in a gallery setting, perched atop a stand, gallery etiquette forbidding the viewer to step forward and involve himself more with the work. All he can do is admire from a distance, as opposed to wandering around and exploring the space – becoming part of the artwork – in an installation. Another example of this is in “FIeld for the British Isles”. Like mentioned in (b) the eyes of the figures are trained on the viewer, making him feel like he has a part to play in the work. Compare to “Recumbent Figure” where he is just another viewer, regarded coolly by the sculpture’s impassive gaze.

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