My near neighbour has a fine spreading Indian bean tree under which in the warm evenings we sometime sit and take our apperitifs. Storms in the early part of the year brought down a great many old trees in our region and my neighbour considered the lean on the bean and it's proximity to his french windows and decided to err on the cautious. A large heft of oak was purchased and fashioned to act as buttress for the old bean, and the crutch as it were, has I think, added enormously to the charm of the garden. It also put me in mind of the work of an interesting Italian sculptor, Giuseppe Penone, who is currently showing his work at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
Penone has had a long and successful career, born in 1947, he actively continues his practice. He has certainly done all the 'right stuff', getting impaled on barbed wire, crawling around in the dark, lumps of concrete in streams, loaves containing metal letters, and so on. It's all so bloody significant, it may do it for you but for me it's same old same old, artifice, clever and smart deception. A nomination for the Turner says it all. I do have a but, for despite my cynicism there are moments when Penone takes a piece of wood, a few twigs, a branch or often a tree and does, makes, concocts some thing brilliant. You have to be some kind of city rat pigeon not to love a good tree, wood has few rivals, and Penone can really do trees.
The works on paper don't bear a lot of scrutiny, a bi-product, but if you can get to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park soon, you really should, right now wood is king.
My real man of wood is Peter Startup. What Penone does is often fascinating, startling, unexpected sometimes heroic but Startup is the real deal, down the line Brancusi, no artifice here, it's head and soul all the way.
Peter Startup was born in Fulham in 1921. I love Startup's sculpture but I really love his C V and I know this is a generational thing, you probably need to be of the time to get it but for some of us it reads like a list of campaign honours.
Studied at Hammersmith School of Arts and Crafts 1935 -1939, studied at Central 1943-1944, Ruskin School of Drawing 1944-1945 and the Slade 1945-1948. In 1948-1949 he studied in Brussels on a British Council scholarship.
He taught at Guildford School of Art 1949-1959, Willesdon School Art 1954-1958, Bath
Academy, Corsham, 1960-1962, Ealing School of Art 1960 and Head of Sculpture at Wimbledon School of Art until his death in 1976. This is dogged determined stuff, teach I will if make I can, brilliant. If all those small locally supported Schools of Art, long since swept up, served a real purpose it was to foster and enable talents like Startup. They were the lifelines, one day's teaching here, a couple of night classes there and you could just stay in business, the art business.
The material can be completely beguiling but Startup was no narrow craftsman, the material does not get treated with reverence, he treats it with a truly creative disrespect. The timber, the wood, was garnered from all quarters, natural timber, discarded furniture, architectural salvage, pine, deal, mahogany, beech all were grist to the endeavour. The works often have a monumental quality but are invariably fractured, broken, teetering totems. The bold statements contrast with the smaller works sometimes plaster or white painted wood, Morandi like. Whatever the scale the works share the same contemplative, ever thoughtful and sometimes mystical qualities, brilliant.
AGED AND AWKWARD