‘To be true to material is to acknowledge being intellectually part of it. If I work with black granite I and black granite are joined. This adds much to the depth of experience I feel when I see works by sculptors like Hepworth. The work… becomes connected to the mountain, the sculptor and to me. And I get to experience a reality of the world that maybe did not exist before.’
The work of Jimmie Durham (b. 1940, USA) is here placed in dialogue with sculptures by Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore. In the 1920s and 1930s, Hepworth and Moore’s exploration of ‘truth to materials’ through direct engagement with wood and stone was closely connected to their interests in traditions of non-Western carving. While these artists’ references to ‘primitive art’ speak of the highly suppressive and exploitative colonial contexts in which they lived, their primary interest was in carving as a tradition of making with an ancient, global history and a profound connection to the natural world. Deeply impressed by pre-Columbian carvings in the British Museum, Moore reflected on their ‘largeness of scale & a grim, sublime austerity, a real stoniness’, and he regarded their makers as ‘sculptors in sympathy with their material’.
Throughout his career Durham has combined wood and stone with everyday materials to question and dismantle Eurocentric views and prejudices, histories of colonialism, and reductive and exclusive notions of truth and authenticity. Here, he presents raw or partially worked wood, sometimes in isolation, at other times combined with industrial metal fragments, furniture or text. Making formal references to the traditions of European modernist sculpture, Durham gives centre stage to his natural materials, from the nodes and grains of an ancient Italian olive tree, a walnut tree or an unidentified Brazilian tropical tree, to the stratifications of petrified wood more than one hundred million years old.
Find out more about the artist by listening to our audio guide at bit.ly/ysi-thw4
Installation shot of work by Jimmie Durham as part of Yorkshire Sculpture
International at The Hepworth Wakefield. Courtesy The Hepworth Wakefield. Photo:
Danny Lawson / PA wire