I know you have long had a high regard for Chillida’s work. Have other artists been an inspiration to you?
Yes, the sculpture of Eduardo Chillida undoubtedly unlocked doors for me. I was especially influenced by his timber constructions, the Abesti Gogorra series. Also, certain of his early works in alabaster. Though I cared less for the more Expressionist aspects of his work, I found his deep knowledge and manipulation of material most persuasive.
I’ve looked at and learnt from many artists, absorbing – or, just as importantly, rejecting – aspects of their work and spirit. I remember being particularly struck at an exhibition in Milan of Robert Morris’s carpet hangings. Brancusi, Malevich, Giacometti, Rothko, and Newman were among the artists who made the heart beat faster. They still do. Further along the road, I think you start to become your own strongest influence! Interests shift and evolve. Places have now become important.
Was Constructivism especially important to your development?
Constructivism is important to the development of 20th century sculpture in its entirety. One way or another, we are all indebted to it. It has been said that it would be necessary to go back to the Early Renaissance to find a moment of equivalent artistic fervour and breakthrough.
The Constructivists were obsessed with lightness – elevation of mass. That’s a fundamentally Russian thing. It permeates Russian ballet, space exploration as well as architecture and sculpture.
This trait was of great interest to me but to develop it further, I felt it would first of all have to be turned on its head and a fresh start made. From quite early on, I consciously decided to give mass back its intrinsic weight and density, and, that done, then to investigate possibilities of defying gravity in another way. This was the single biggest artistic decision I have made and one that shaped all my subsequent work.
Do you see your work as being of a “lineage”?
My work is most often classified as “Minimalist”. This doesn’t bother me much, but it isn’t strictly correct. I love the “matter-of-factness” of American Minimalism, its severely reductive form, it’s piling, and its full, square, ground contact. But I’m at odds with its philosophy. Judd, whom I once met, insisted – to paraphrase Gertrude Stein – that a box is a box is a box. For me a box is only rarely a box; it could be a throne, a sepulcher, an altar. I would side with Paul Klee in this regard. He argues that form, no matter how abstract it may become, never sheds its power of association.
You like working on a large scale?
Yes I do.
Outdoor work stands in “real” space, on an equal footing with the spectator. Sheer physical presence can speak like a trumpet call, directing the sense of our being in the world. Joints and construction methods take on a life of their own. Structure becomes a dominant issue. Material too reads differently. I like to see material as free as possible from the intervention of the artist. Wood, for example, on a large scale reverts to timber, and more closely relates to the mature tree from which it originated. This is especially so when there is no emphasis on its sensuous qualities as a carved and polished medium. The baulks in my large-scale work are just what they seem, but their “woodiness”, density and weight are heightened when they are incorporated into a sculpture.
Having said that, some of my best work is positively small! I am also very aware that monumentality is a function of ratio, not scale.
What exactly do you mean by “ratio”?
The relation of each part to the whole. Proportion. In the case of large outdoor work, it not only applies to the component parts of the construction, but the relation between it, the setting, and human scale. I mean by ratio also the relationships of weight and lightness, absence and presence.
In sculpture, proportion, ratio, can never be “bad”. It’s there or it’s not there. A work devoid of proportion is a good definition of when a “sculpture” is not a sculpture.
Interestingly, the Greek term “logos” which is translated as “word” at the beginning of John’s Gospel, can also mean “relation”, “proportion” and “mediation”.