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Moore magic

Paul Clarke is impressed by a varied retrospective of a local boy done good

Published on April 19th 2011.

Moore magic

YORKSHIRE has produced some great artists but only sculptor Henry Moore has gone on to utterly dominate his genre, towering over the rest of the field.

Anyone who has seen his huge pieces at Yorkshire Sculpture Park can see his brilliance for themselves but this intelligently-curated retrospective at Leeds Art Gallery focuses more on his smaller, more intimate work.

Moore’s native roots in the White Rose county seems to naturally permeate his work but this show takes us through distinct phases of what was a very long career, which really began after Moore survived being gassed in the World War 1.

Like all top flights artists, Moore never sits still and the Modernist movement took his work to a new level in the pre-war period, as he explores both Freud and surrealism.

The first room deals with Moore’s early fascination with world culture and his attempts to fuse Mexican art with local stone. Some of his attempts are successful; others less so - but you can already see an enquiring mind looking for its own voice.

Room two focuses on his early Mother and Child work, a motif Moore returned to throughout his career and the small scale works scattered around the gallery show him grappling with the relationship between small and large forms.

Of particular interest are the detailed sketches of mothers and children that show him to be - like all great artists - an outstanding draughtsman. It will be interesting to see if one D. Hirst shows the same raw ability in his upcoming retrospective.

Like all top flights artists, Moore never sits still and the Modernist movement took his work to a new level in the pre-war period, as he explores both Freud and surrealism. He captures the anxiety of post-war Europe in the still incredibly powerful mute imagery of The Helmet.

Most of Moore’s generation were influenced by their military service so it was natural he would become a war artist when Hitler brought conflict to Europe once more. Moore’s magnificent Shelter Drawings perfectly capture the claustrophobia of scared Londoners, wondering if death was about to rain down on them.

But as the son of a mining engineer his sketches of miners at Wheldale Colliery in his home town of Castleford are even better - brutally honest portraits of a dangerous life in the service of King and Country.

Moore is often seen an artist who worked only in stone but he also produced six large reclining figure in Elm. Walking round them you see how the possibilities offered by the wide grain in the timers allowed him to fully explore his ideas around sexuality and our relationship to the great outdoors.

Genius is often used to describe competent dullards like Tracey Emin, but for Moore there can be no other way to describe an artist who came from humble roots to dominate the world stage. This perceptive retrospective isn’t merely an empty tribute but sets out beautifully how a great career develops and matures as the really talented artist tackles ever larger themes around our own morality.


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