Reading the exhibition booklet, you learn that in the 1920’s, Moore was considered a radical, experimental and avant-garde figure. Words like radicalism, experimental and avant-garde when used in conjunction with Art make me quiver. Considering how popular he is nowadays… I cheekily wonder what went right for him?
In the first few rooms, you see how much Moore took in from his trips to the British Museum. Works such as “Head” (1923) or “Masks” (1928-1929) are clearly influenced by early non-Western cultures.
Other favourites include “Woman with Upraised Arms” (1924-5), which has a distinctly Soviet feel to it, and “Square Form” (1936), which looks like an elephant to me!
In the 1930’s, Moore’s work took more abstract and suggestive forms. Some say erotic, other surrealist. Part of the attraction I have with Moore’s works has to do with the way he experimented with different textures, be it stone or wood, bone or pebbles. Stone is manipulated, as if it was play-doh, to expose the pure beauty of the stone. And don’t you think that the shapes and the smoothness of the statues are inviting you to stroke them and caress them? You want to be involved, touch them, feel them. Engagement of this nature is unusual for avant-garde works.
Moore became so popular that he was receiving commissions from everywhere and his works can now be found in streets and parks all over the world. His appeal transcending cultures and boundaries.
Think about Henry Moore’s work and you’re very likely going to think about reclining figures. These impressive statues indeed have become synonymous with Moore. I was intrigued, however, to discover another side to Moore’s work, a darker side. “Four Grey Sleepers” (1941) from his Shelter Drawings really gives a sense of the nightmares people were experiencing, bundled so closely together in the Tube. “At the Coalface: Miner Pushing a Tub” (1942) is stunning. It conveys the harshness of mining and exposes horrendous working conditions and yet it’s beautifully executed.
“Composition” (1931) reminded me of Amazonian Field by Antony Gormley. Why not? Moore may well have influenced Gormley. Many artists have been and many more will be. But Moore’s influence is far more reaching. Thanks to the Henry Moore Foundation, which Moore started in 1977, literally hundreds of artists benefit from much needed grants each year.
Henry Moore is on at Tate Britain until 8 August 2010. Admission fee.