Sculpture Portraits continues my interest in representation, but moving from architecture to sculpture. For the past three years, I’ve been analyzing the work of British sculptor Barbara Hepworth in a series of detailed papier-mâché reproductions of her stone carvings. Hepworth believed that abstract art had the purest political potential in that it could symbolize rather than merely represent (in the pictorial sense). She recognized that abstract forms were the ideal containers for abstract concepts. This notion parallels my research on modern architecture’s symbolic attributions and, as in my architecture work, has also led to this new body of work on the representation of modern sculpture.
The tradition of the artist’s portrait or self-portrait, in which artists are seen posing with their work, goes back many centuries. Brancusi set the standard for modern art in his studio self-portraits of the early twentieth century. The conventions of artist portraiture established by Brancusi were expanded upon throughout the 20th century as can be seen in the poster that accompanies my Sculpture Portrait project. The poster is a taxonomy of modern sculptors’ portraits, with a special focus on mid-twentieth century Latin American artists like Lygia Clark, Helen Escobedo, or Gego. I’ve also included well-known modern sculptors such as Alexander Calder, Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore because of the large number of well-known portraits of these artists posing with their work. These artists also had a strong presence in Latin America due to projects in Caracas and at the Sao Paolo Biennial. Looking at this group of portraits, categories emerge, such as “through the hole”, “artist working”, “cradling”, or simply “intense concentration”.
The appearance of the artists’ work as “props” in these modern artists’ portraits is the inspiration for the seven sculptures I realized for this project. These “prop” sculptures—made of polymer-coated polystyrene—were carved with the single criterion that they look “modern” and that their vibrant colours be reduced to a purely tonal play in the resulting black and white portraits. In the same way, the highly-coloured architecture of Luis Barragán was reduced to its tonal and planar qualities in the early black and white documentation of his work (the subject of an earlier work of mine). The centerpiece of my research has been the portraits of Brazilian sculptor Bruno Giorgi, who created some of the best-loved sculptures in Brasília. The iconic Jean Manzon photograph of Giorgi peering through the hole of a serpentine sculpture seems to contain all the intensity and conviction demanded by the viewing public. It also contains all the artifice demanded by the genre, which is so carefully reproduced in my own self-portraits.