Tag Archives: Sculpture

Blown Away: the Sculpture of Penny Hardy

Metal is often seen as cold, hard and inert, but one artist has found a way to adapt the material so it appears loose, alive and free. British artist Penny Hardy makes life-sized human sculptures from discarded metal, each one exploring an emotion or experience. These are installed in open-air settings, in fields or gardens or overlooking water.

Hardy originally trained as a scientific illustrator, which taught her to examine the intricacies of natural forms and observational draftsmanship. Throughout her consequent working life alongside architects and designers, she developed a deep interest in three-dimensional forms. These skills informed her later work as a sculptor—and here she is self-taught over the last fifteen years. 

You Blew Me Away


She was drawn to creating human forms out of discarded objects and seems particularly attuned to a sense of movement and energy within material form, capturing these in all her pieces, transforming inert materials into sculptures with a tangible energy. ‘The sense of movement and dynamics within sculpture provides it with its own life and vitality,’ Hardy states.

In the Blown Away series, she chose to use old metal machinery parts because these were made to be resilient and strong, yet were thrown away at the slightest hint of failure. Hardy felt that these imperfect pieces should be recycled to show some of the effects machinery has had on our lives and the environment. She says, ‘By using discarded, man-made metal items—which have been so skillfully made and used to create their own mechanical energy—I hope to extend their life in another form, re-use that energy for a different purpose, and exchange their function to create a new entity.’ You Blew Me Away (159cm x 75cm x 55cm) and Erosion (159cm x 45cm x 45cm) are examples.

Angels in Harlem

Hardy’s dance figures are wonderful affirmations of life and movement. Inspired by the dynamic forms of contemporary dancers, they use a flexible material like aluminium to re-create a visual sense of movement. Angels in Harlem (300cm x 200cm x 750cm), for instance, is a sculpture on stilts designed to gently sway in any breeze, creating a sense of constant movement.

Hardy has exhibited throughout the UK since her first public exhibition of dance sculptures in 2006, including at Doddington Hall, Hill House Dartington and Royal West of England Academy. More about the artist can be found on her website here

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Ana Mendieta’s Siluetas

Silhueta series

The Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta (1948-85) is known for her performance art, ‘earth-body sculptures’, photographs and video work, much of which centred on her own body. She was born in Havana, but during the political upheaveals of the early 1960s, she and her sister (along with many Cuban children) were sent to the United States under ‘Operation Peter Pan’, ending up in an orphanage. This dramatic exile, separating her (at age thirteen) from family and homeland, had a formative influence on her art.

Mendieta’s haunting ‘Siluetas’ (1973–81) are among her most powerful works, a fusion of performance and earth art. In these untitled sculptures, Mendieta burnt, dug or otherwise shaped her own silhouette into different outdoor sites. Often she filled in the silhouette with ephemeral materials – flowers, twigs, leaves, fire, gunpowder, candles. Sometimes her body itself, covered with flowers or mud, formed the silhouette. Interested in the earth as a site to address feelings of displacement, she recorded the presence of her body – or the imprint it left – within various environments.

Silhueta series

In a 1981 statement about the work, she wrote: “I have been carrying out a dialogue between the landscape and the female body (based on my own silhouette). I believe this has been a direct result of my having been torn from my homeland (Cuba) during my adolescence. I am overwhelmed by the feeling of having been cast from the womb (nature). My art is the way I re-establish the bonds that unite me to the universe … Through my earth-body sculptures I become an extension of nature and nature becomes an extension of my body.”

The Silueta works – about a hundred in total – were performed as she traveled between her home in Iowa and Mexico during the period 1973-81. As the sculptures were transitory, the documenting photographs and films are considered the artworks.

In the photographs, red flowers or red powder glow against sand, soil or stone; flames burn against the earth. Mendieta drew on knowledge about indigenous rituals and beliefs, including the deities (orishas) of the Afro-Cuban religion of Santería. One beach sculpture consists of red bouganvillea blossoms in the shape of the artist’s body with arms raised; another shows incoming waves covering the silhouette on the sand. For those familiar with Santeria, the symbolism is apparent: Chango, a principal orisha, is represented by the colour red; his mistress, Yemaya, is orisha of the ocean – the frothy white waves represent her lacy petticoats.

Silhueta series

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Mendieta died in 1985 when she mysteriously fell from a 34-storey building at the age of 36, just as her work was becoming recognised outside the specialised world of feminist art criticism. Her Silueta series in particular remains a powerful body of work, an evocative testament to the effects of displacement and to the importance for this artist of an emotional connection to nature.

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Taste the Rain: Anna Gillespie’s Sculpture

Taste the Rain, 2007 Bark, mixed media

Taste the Rain, 2007
Bark, mixed media

The British artist Anna Gillespie (1964) makes figurative sculpture based on the human form. The focus of her work is on emotion, simplicity of form and our relationship to and experience of nature. Antony Gormley is a significant influence as is Francis Bacon, whose paintings helped her clarify how emotional injury can be conveyed through figuration. Gillespie’s figures often reflect the fragility and vulnerability of human beings and being human.

Although she works in media like stone, bronze and even duct-tape, an emphasis has been on sculptures made from ephemeral natural materials. Taste the Rain (2007) is a beautiful example. “This is part of an ongoing series of work using material that has fallen from trees: acorns, beechnut casings, leaves, bark, sycamore keys….For this piece, I found the bark in a wood near my home in the south west of England, from a fallen tree.”

“All these works try to express a moment of connection to nature and this particular piece is about trying to draw the viewer into recalling what it feels like to stand out in the rain and engage their senses.”

“Trees have a skin and so do we. Trees stand up tall and so do we. Trees stand in the rain. This piece asks us to reconnect with this experience which we all share, narrowing the gap between the trees experience and our human experience of nature.”

The Gift Acorn cups, mixed media

The Gift
Acorn cups, mixed media

She also places an emphasis on honouring the unconscious processes involved in making artworks. “One of the crucial things about letting the unconscious have its say is that, being a sculptor of the human body, breathing ‘life’ into inert materials is at the heart of my work. I take inert materials, whether it be clay, masking tape, acorns or plaster, and I make something that for a moment people might believe is sentient, has feelings. Whilst actually what is happening is that our own feelings can be projected into an object, just for a minute the reality is different and a magic transformation happens. The object, the figure, contains life.”

Invisible Breeze, 2010 Acorn cups, mixed media

Invisible Breeze, 2010
Acorn cups, mixed media

More information and images can be found on her website http://www.annagillespie.co.uk

Autumn, 2007 Inkjet print

Autumn, 2007
Inkjet print

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