This article was prompted by a remark from a woman I was on a health walk with in Saltwell Park. The metallic sculpture in the park elicited the question, “What do you think of the dog-bone?”
Yes, unfortunately it does resemble a cartoon dog-bone; a comparison I’m sure was not in the sculptor’s mind when he produced the sculpture.
The next week our walking group passed nearby the sculpture which is titled, Rise, and we stopped to talk about it. I put on my art-history hat and explained about abstract art: that it didn’t ‘represent’ anything other than itself, not even a dog-bone! Someone else said, “It can be anything you want it to be.” That innocent remark begs a multitude of questions such as, “Is a work of art successful if its form is so open- ended as to be a blank space upon which we project purely subjective ideas?”
This is getting into more philosophical territory which I will leave for a possible future blog.
Another person in the group drew attention to the shiny material (steel) and he contrasted it with the weathered, rusty appearance of Anthony Gormley’s Angel Of the North. Someone else even said we should keep an open mind and not jump to quick judgements. These last two remarks made me re-assess my own opinions; was I being too hasty in thinking the sculpture underwhelming?
The sculpture is by Stephen Newby and was commissioned by Gateshead Sculpture Festival in 2006. It is what is known as a site-specific sculpture. The title is always helpful when viewing art. So, this is called Rise. We are all used to seeing engineering structures, such as bridges which use cast iron for example, yet nevertheless, appear to be light and buoyant. Think of the Millennium Bridge crossing the Tyne or the Forth Railway Bridge.
The fact that Rise is balanced on one of its four corners and consists of curves and no straight edges suggests lightness and movement. Does it make you think of ‘dance’?
I have found that by questioning my knee-jerk reaction to Rise, I have appreciated some of its qualities more. We should approach art in an attitude of open mindedness and ‘disinterestedness.’ On the other hand I always like to relate art to my own life. This is easier in content-heavy and representational art but more difficult with abstract art. Nevertheless, we can still ask such questions as, “What mood does it engender? What does it express? What effect do the materials have?” Such questions are better than “What is it?” which closes down debate and reveals a misunderstanding of abstraction.
Stephen Newby pioneered a new technique in which he somehow ‘inflates’ stainless steel. His website outlines his aims:
Realism becomes obscured and the unmalleable and clinical appearance of steel is transformed into something soft, fluid and organic.
Elsewhere he is quoted: I like to create objects that confuse the eye and give the viewer the feeling that she has found herself in another dimension.
Examples of some of his other work include a metallic sofa, cushions and an oversized metallic crisp-bag. There is also a huge metallic ‘tyre’ (Titled, Halo) outside the main Tesco in Gateshead.
Is Rise anything other than an ephemeral talking point? Will our grandchildren view it as significant art in 50yrs’ time? Maybe not; but at least it has made a few of us look at it with fresh eyes. The ‘problem’ with a lot of contemporary art is that there is so much of it. There are thousands upon thousands of sculptures all vying for position as it were. Much of it is bland and forgettable.
I hope I have given Rise a bit of a rise and that it can now dance confidently in Saltwell Park for a while.