Interpreting A Henry Moore’s Quote

Henry Spencer Moore once said this in The Listener in 1937:

“The first hole made through a piece of stone is a revelation. The hole connects one side to the other, making it immediately more three-dimensional. A hole can itself have as much shape-meaning as a solid mass. Sculpture in air is possible, where the stone contains only the hole, which is the intended and considered form. The mystery of the hole – the mysterious fascination of caves in hillsides and cliffs.”

Moore is an English sculptor, well-known for his semi-abstract bronze sculptures. Many of the forms appear in reclining positions, e.g., Double Oval (Fig. 2), Mother and Child, Stringed Relief (Fig. 5), etc. What caught my attention is the way he dealt with the negative space. While working on my bibliographic, I found it fascinating most of his sculptures keep certain parts remained as holes, so to say, the negative spaces. It’s interesting to find out how the negative space playing as part of the design in conjunction with the positive space, in term of three-dimensional form.

How does a hole play as a role to connect one side to the another in order to achieve its three-dimensional purpose? In fact, the convexity and concavity could even extensively be stretched from the two-dimensional drawing to the three-dimensional forms. The concavity is not only meant for the incurvated surface, but also a hollow space. Arnheim has particularly uses Moore’s creation for his illustrations. “Their insides looks peculiarly substantial, as though space had acquired quasi-solidity.” Arnheim (1969, p. 242) explains, “The hollow containers seem filled with air puddles, an observation that agrees with the rule that figure character makes for increased density.” A hole is deemed for intruding part for the negative space yet protruding part for the sculpture’s positive space itself. Therefore the opposite dynamics, which were suggested by Edgar Rubin (Arnheim, 1969, p. 242), are working together as a whole view. The dynamics mentioned can often be found in Moore’s work, i.e., The Arch (Fig. 1), Double Oval (Fig. 2), etc.

Fig. 1. Henry Moore, The Arch, 1969.

Fig. 2. Henry Moore, Double Oval, 1966.

On the other hand, I would like to review the hole from the perspective of ground. Rudolf Arnheim (1969, p. 233) explains the depth levels, that found in the two-dimensional art forms, could be viewed as different layers of planes. More precisely, the ground behind the sculptures is even served as an integrated part of the whole scene. We can appreciate a different view via the hollowness. Take an example of the Chinese garden gateway (Fig. 3), the ground can be viewed as a picture within a circular frame.

Fig. 3. Paul M, Key Hole Gateway, 2013.

Note also that the application of hatch lines can also found in some of Moore’s works (Fig. 4 and Fig. 5). The combination of the lines are perceived as an unified whole via the law of similarity (Wertheimer, 1923, p. 301), “the lines cease to be individual objects and acts as hatch lines.” (Rudolf, 1969, p. 219) The holes can be seen from the gap in between the lines or the cavity in between the hatch lines.

Fig. 4. Henry Moore, Stringed Relief, 1937.

Fig. 5. Henry Moore, Bird Basket, 1939.

Is sculpture in air really possible, like what Moore mentioned? Probably a quote from Arnheim (1969, p. 243) would give us a clearer image, “we live at a time when vivid kinesthetic experience has taught us that air is an material substance like earth or wood or stone, a medium that not only carries heavy bodies that pushes them hard and can be bumped like into like a rock.”

Arnheim, Rudolf (1969) Art and Visual Perception: A psychology of the creative eye. Berkeley CA: University of California Press

Friedenthal, Richard (1937) ‘The Sculptor Speaks’. Letters of the great artists—from Ghiberti to Gainsborough—The Listener. 251

Wertheimer, Max (1923) ‘Laws of Organization in Perceptual Forms’, Untersuchungen zur Lehre von der Gestalt 2 (4), 301-350, (visited 15/10/13)


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