Review by David Levesley
‘What we can and must reinstate is the primacy of the imagination’ said Dalwood, a sculptor who’s impressive credentials do not seem to match up to the quiet arrival of the new exhibit of his work at the Mead Gallery; considered one of the leading post-war British sculptors after his work was displayed at the Venice Biennale in 1962 and winner of the John Moore’s price twice in 1959, since his death in 1976 Dalwood seems to have faded partially from public consciousness. Yet his art has the strange, ethereal ability to tap into the mind and remind the viewer, the ‘layman’ as he liked to say, of something one can not quite remember but seems oddly familiar. There is something of the prehistoric, of the antique, and of the elemental about Dalwood’s sculptures gathered together for this exhibition which feel like artefacts from an archaeological dig. The exhibit of his work at the Mead Gallery at Warwick Arts Centre comprises a selection of Dalwood’s many metal creations, which display fantastical but architecturally sturdy landscapes. There is the air of an avant-garde set designer about much of what he does; sparse landscapes of columns and strange shapes protruding from slick, reflective metal surfaces.
Stood towards the front of the exhibit and making an imposing figure is the Standing Figure (1957). However, it is a figure of a woman that is not altogether as Valkyrian as first impressions may seem. Her legs are close together and she is armless –signifying a position of timidity, unable to make any sort of gesture. Standing Figure is almost like a whittled figure of an ancient deity with a hint of Degas to the structural design – the figure is subservient to gravity and shows its subjugation to its own weight. Dalwood’s Woman Washing Arm (1956) however is beautifully mundane, the entire sculpture having no aims of seeming as powerful or gargantuan as the former but instead all features either cover the body or are pointed towards the simple task of washing oneself. The entire figure seems to ripple like the skin of an aged woman and it is this lack of smoothness that is so clear in Dalwood’s more architectural sculptures that gives it a real humanity. These statues look all the more startling when they are stood between pieces like the sleek Venusberg (1966), almost Orwellian in its dour silver portrayal of a mythological German utopia as columns and sleek, reflective surfaces; yet one could, optimistically, see these smooth reflective surfaces in a place named after the legendary mountain as a way of seeing oneself as one’s own paradise.
Floating over all these however, like an ancient lithograph dredged up from some ancient tomb, is The Beginning. The piece looks like any number of things; a plant cell, or an aerial plotting of a dig of some ancient locale, or of some antique tablet. Yet it is alive with lines (almost like runes) textures and odd shapes like the nebula of the universe itself although contained in a very rough rectangle. It is both aged and yet very much a modern piece in its ability to throw us into an ambiguous place and time. Dalwood, whilst maybe not as recognisable a name as some other post-war sculptors, manages to use abstract designs to capture something powerful with just as much, if not more, skill than his contemporaries.
Hubert Dalwood is on until 25 June.
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Courtesy the artist and Mead Gallery