Helaine Blumenfeld OBE FRBS | Napoleon Garden
28 April 2016 - 2 November 2017
Open daily from 7.30 am until 30 minutes before dusk
Napoleon Garden, Holland Park, London, W8 6LU
To celebrate the work of female sculptors for the fifth year of the collaboration between the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the Royal British Society of Sculptors, we are delighted to present Meridiana (sundial in Italian), a work by the American Sculptor Helaine Blumenfeld, to be unveiled in Napoleon Garden, Holland Park on Wednesday 27th April 2016.
Blumenfeld is a renowned sculptor working in Britain and Italy. She has spent many months carving the sculpture Meridiana from bronze specifically for the garden in which she has spent many contemplative hours during her life. Although not intended as an accurate predictor of time, its shadow will change with each hour and season and acts as a call to visitors to consider the shadow they cast on the world.
About Helaine Blumenfeld
At the beginning of her career, Blumenfeld worked as an assistant to the Russian Cubist sculptor Ossip Zadkine in his Paris studio. Such was the idiosyncratic nature of the sculptural style Zadkine evolved over his long career that critics coined the term ‘the Genre Zadkine’ to describe his work. Today, the same might be said of Helaine Blumenfeld, whose singular vision has brought us the ‘Genre Blumenfeld’, a style forged from a sculptural grammar that is entirely her own.
Finding and developing a unique creative voice in sculpture is not as straightforward as one might imagine. The task is all the more difficult when working in demanding materials such as clay, stone and bronze, which require skills that can only be acquired through decades of persistent experimentation and rigorous discipline. And let us not assume that traditional approaches to making sculpture – the modelling of clay, the carving of marble, understanding the complexities of bronze-founding, and so on – present purely manual challenges that an apprenticeship can bestow. In fact, they demand the union of hand and eye, the harmonious marriage of skill and imagination, sensitivity to both concept and craft.
Helaine Blumenfeld OBE FRBS | Napoleon Garden
Q&A with Helaine Blumenfeld
To what extent does the environment and site affect the conception of your work generally? More specifically, did the fact of creating a work for the confines of a formal garden affect its conception and form?
For many years I have been involved in efforts to bring sculpture out of the Galleries and into the streets where it can affect people in their daily lives. I have been involved with projects that were sited in hospitals, universities, community plazas, libraries, theatres and shopping centres. I have always been concerned with creating something that will provide a reference point to the people who experience it and that will connect the physical space to the conceptual space. I have always believed that beauty is the reason Public Art exists.
For the first time I have specifically created a work that will live within the confines of a formal garden. I spent time in the park observing how people used it, discovering that it was both a place for reflection and place where children played. Sitting on a bench in Napoleon Park one afternoon in September, I was impressed by its beauty and tranquillity. The incredible dahlias filled the space with a magical quality. I watched two children running, chasing their shadows which changed as the afternoon progressed. The idea of a sculpture that would capture and encourage the very special atmosphere that I was observing inspired me to create MERIDIANA.
Why and when did you choose the title Meridiana for the work and what aspect of light and time does the work explore?
Although the title of the work, MERIDIANA, means “sundial” in Italian, I did not take this literally, rather I wanted to explore the way in which light is reflected as well as how shadows change from hour to hour, day to day, and season to season.
To what extent do you think that aspects of feminine are reflected or embedded in your work? Your work seems to exude a thoughtfulness and balance between the creative and the feminine.
I find this question somewhat irrelevant. My sculpture reflects who I am, where I am in my life and the risks I take. If it succeeds, it goes beyond “the self” to express an inner vision that is universal.
How do you intend or envisage people will interact with the work and what do you hope viewers will take away with them? What is the importance of the sensory/haptic in the appreciation of your work?
I am convinced that art can blaze a trail through uncharted territory. Without any words it can translate the subconscious realm of the soul. By inventing new languages, art is capable of capturing a vision which eludes verbal description.
This is what I hope to achieve. I want the viewer to enter into the sculpture. MERIDIANA is a call to visitors, to be present, to cast their own shadows in the world. The sculpture reaches upwards, inviting viewers to take time out to reflect and strive towards their aspirations.
You have exhibited with Henry Moore both in the 1970s and more recently in 2015 in New York. Would you say that he was the greatest influence on your work, or do you believe that the formative years spent in the studio of Ossip Zadkine were more important?
Although I greatly admired Ossip Zadkine and Henry Moore, the great influences in my sculpture came initially from Cycladic and Archaic sculpture and later from the work of the Futurists, particularly Raymond Duchamp Villon
Cycladic sculptures, dating as far back as 2,500 BC, seemed to me to evoke humanity and individuality in a way that surpassed language. They are figurative, but the figure is simplified only the ‘essence’ remains. An individual persona emerges, communicated by only one or two facial features.
These stark, reductive forms convinced me that sculpture was the path I should follow. This feeling was reinforced when I first encountered Greek classical sculpture. The beauty, the pathos and the intensity were communicated silently through details and gestures. Throughout my years as a sculptor I have found myself moving between the paradigms offered by Cycladic and Classical pieces, at times seeking simplicity, at others complexity through detail.
The Futurists, particularly Raymond Duchamp-Villon, introduced me to the power of movement in sculpture. When we were living in Paris and I first visited the Musée d'Art Moderne I saw Le cheval and was overwhelmed. It conveyed a great energy as well as spirituality. The combination of these elements inspired me as a sculptor.
What advice would you give young sculptors and would the advice be any different to female sculptors?
You must discover and develop your own voice. Creating works that are recognizable as yours. This is not about innovation or even originality. It is about individuality. Whatever material you work with, you will only be able to express your individuality if you search within your psyche and develop the ability to draw upon your inner vision. These are your raw materials.
What obstacles do you face when making and exhibiting your work?
The greatest danger for artists is not that they will copy the work of others, this is inevitable, rather that they will copy their own work and never advance. The ability to challenge my own forms has been at the basis of every breakthrough I have made as a sculptor.
I am a severe judge of my own work. I create ten models in clay for every sculpture that I decide to carry forward to a finished work. I have always believed that I should not exhibit until I have completed a new body of work. When I exhibit my work I gain an even more critical perspective. The sculptures suddenly become objects separate from me.
You have said that you almost enter an altered state of consciousness at the beginning of each new work. How does this purely imaginative/creative force marry with the technical and gravitational demands of sculpture? What was the process for making Meridiana and how long did it take from the moment of conception?
For me the struggle between chaos and order is central to the act of creating. To maintain control of what, for me, is an uncontrollable process while at the same time losing control is a continuing paradox essential to creativity.
When I begin a new work I never know what to expect. I have no idea of what I want to create, unwilling to be limited by an armature. This poses enormous problems. Often the delicate sculpture I have built up collapses after several days of intense work.
The initial model for MERIDIANA was very small and arrived very quickly. I always doubt work that arrives spontaneously, almost immediately, and yet some of my most iconic sculptures have begun that way.I then enlarged and refined the initial model and became more convinced by it at every stage. This process took about two months. The actual carving of it in Marble took about seven months.
What are your hopes and plans for the future of your work and your valuable contribution to world of sculpture as a whole?
Recently I was described in The Independent as “fearless” because I have not been afraid to create work which is unapologetically beautiful. In a time when both beauty and, working as I do with my hands -- in clay, in marble, casting in bronze -- often seems to be marginalized by conceptual art, technology, and new materials. There is so much talk about “the cutting edge.” I believe that work in any medium, all types of work, can be at that edge. It is not about using new materials, rather it is about pushing the materials and forms you are using to their limits. Extending the frontiers of the way you have chosen to work -- as a painter, as a sculptor, as a poet or writer. It is about knowing the tools and techniques, about honouring the history and tradition, and then by infusing the energy and originality of your own into the work, transforming it and extending it into another sphere. This is the message I want to pass on to younger generations through my sculpture.
Could you say a few words about Royal British Society of Sculptors?
My life as a sculptor changed when I was invited to become a member of the RBS. Instead of feeling isolated, I felt part of a community. I discovered many sculptors who shared my approach and just as many who had different views, but there was a forum of discussion and enormous encouragementI. I feel passionately about the importance of the Royal British Society of Sculptors and have devoted considerable time and energy helping to promote its mission, which is to educate and encourage the practice of sculpture. Their work with children and young people, with providing awards, residencies and opportunities for sculptors at every stage in their careers, and their organising of exhibitions both in their own headquarters and in other locations has changed the lives of many artists. More than ever the RBS is needed today. I fear that the craft of sculpture is in danger of being marginalized as the Idea becomes increasingly celebrated.