Sunday, March 13, 2016

“What is real is not the appearance, but the idea, the essence of things." --Brancusi

I fell in love with the work of the Romanian-born sculptor Constantin Brancusi who lived most of his life in Paris. 

Last week I returned from a trip to Paris and visited the Brancusi Museum, built next to Pompidou Centre, that houses much of his work. It is not so much a museum as a sacred space and my visit felt more like a pilgrimage than a tourist visit. The museum recreates his original atelier where he worked for 50 years. The main difference is that the external walls are now glass. The contents of his studio have been faithfully arranged as Brancusi stipulated in his will when he left his work to the French state that his workshop be rebuilt as it was on the day he died.

Seeing his sculptures alongside the tools of his trade creates a powerful environment. His sculptures are very simple yet there is a compelling, almost hypnotic quality to them. His fellow artists testify to his remarkable work. Barbara Hepworth described, on visiting his studio in 1932, “the miraculous feeling of eternity mixed with beloved stone and stone dust”. She goes on to describe the inspirational character of Brancusi and his workshop and reflects on her own feelings to what she beheld: “all this filled me with a sense of humility hitherto unknown to me”.


I took many photographs of Brancusi’s work and his studio as it felt like a unique opportunity to capture a bit of the spirit of the place (although sadly the photographic quality may not be that good as the photographs were taken with an old iphone and through the glass walls).
Interestingly, and to my surprise, I found the act of taking images made me more aware of the sublimity of his sculptures. Each image revealed a subtle aspect of his sculpture that was not so evident shielded behind a glass wall. Although I could only spend an hour there the experience has left a powerful imprint on my memory.

Constantin Brancusi is not a well-known artist in the UK yet his influence is immense. He is known as the “patriarch of modern sculpture”. He is perhaps best known for his philosophy of “Truth to Materials”. He sought to understand and express the intrinsic nature of the materials he used. His philosophy was adapted by the British Arts & Crafts movement and is a value that I have regarded as part of the craftsman’s ethos. However, it was when I was researching and experimenting on Ideas in the Making that this approach began to expand into new dimensions.

I’ll stop here as I plan to develop the theme in Ideas in the Making for my Oxfordshire Artweeks Open Studio exhibition (weekends 14/15 and 21/22 May). I will also be putting some examples of Ideas in the Making on my website soon.

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