Drawing and the Third Dimension

January 01, 2013 · Review-essay

Photograph of sheep next to Henry Moore sculpture

The planes of Henry Moore’s sculptures convey a plasmic organicism. They seem to curve around you as you approach and to spin like a barrel on an axle as you move away. The skill in controlling our impression of these planes is the sculptor’s manoeuvre. It distinguishes itself from the two-dimensional mark-making of the draughtsman as it takes place within the real world of things.

I admire Moore’s drawings: the wire-wool sheep and war-weary sleepers on the London Underground. But until I visited his estate at Perry Green I hadn’t thought about a connection between the textures he inscribed on his sculptures with cheese-grater-like implements and his significant use of another two-dimensional art: photography. These elements of his artistic practice struck me because there is a sense in which they conspire against the three-dimensional nature of sculpture. When Moore hatches a surface, the sculpture asks you (as drawings do) to read that surface as low-key, as being in shadow, no matter what the amount of natural light. Moore not only reminds us how chiaroscuro works, but in some cases, he works against it. This is a technology of sculpture that is rooted in drawing.

Moore used photography as part of his practice. He would set up his sculpture in a studio space, walls stippled with paint to look like clouds (the attendant told me) when photographed in black and white. Some of these images are on display at Perry Green. It’s a tall order, of course, to capture the experience of three-dimensional form in two-dimensional image-making, but Moore’s photographs offer other insight into their subjects. I would argue that they ‘return’ his sculpture to two-dimensional practice. In so doing, they resonate with the incisive mark-making on their surfaces and validate drawing as a two-dimensional mode of expression that informs the experience of three-dimensional forms in space.

So it is instructive to go back to Moore’s drawings and have another look at the way he fixes the mechanics of light on paper. His practice as a draughtsman corresponds with the way he fashioned his sculpture, an agreement that crosses diverse creative media and spatial dimensions. It suggests that his two-dimensional practice exerted a methodological reserve on his three-dimensional artwork, tempering the very element that makes the difference between creating work on paper and working within the physical world of things