Type: Feature: Charles is featured in Artist Blacksmith Magazine No 144, 2014
Publication: Artist Blacksmith
Author: Hannah Davies and Vincent Jack
Article Text: Between 2010 and 2012 Grayson Perry undertook a two-year collaboration with the British Museum, which gave him access to its collection of eight million artefacts. Choosing about a hundred objects purely on their aesthetics, he combined his own work within this concept of civilisation, exploring the essence of how a museum functions in today’s society. Grayson is ‘touched by the craftsman through history, and marvels at their skill’. He invited the viewer to enter his exhibition as a pilgrim to wonder at the skilled anonymous makers who span cultures, periods and religions, remarking on their similarities. These cultural connections are articulated through his own practice, most specifically in ‘The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman’, which occupied the final room in the onlooker’s voyage at the British Museum exhibition. In the form of a cast iron ship, it stands as a monument to the artefacts and the artisans who conceived them. Fragments from the collection are entombed within the hull, the oldest being a 250,000-year old flint hand-axe, and from the masts hang vials of blood, sweat and tears of the living artisans who crafted the contemporary artworks for Grayson. In using cast iron he puts precedence on the material, drawing on its historical connections to the British Empire and giving the premise of the Museum’s diverse cultural collection. Cast iron becomes the vessel for expansion and reverence within skill.
For Charles Hadcock, the process and material of cast iron really suits his engineering knowledge and his interest in the “nuts and bolts of construction”. His acquired competency has come from in-depth research into applying these techniques, leading to large-scale constructions in cast iron produced by industrial
foundries. In learning and combining traditional and new skills, there is an ever-increasing complexity within his mould making, using industrial patterns capable of reproduction, and incorporating engineering software to indicate the flow and saturation of metal within the mould cavity to optimise his results.
Charles believes that sculpture “should be a communication of skill which informs you, and therefore you get a better aesthetic from the process itself.” ‘Passacaglia’ (1998), located on Brighton beach, is an example of his use of multiples, tessellating geometric shapes and composing them to suggest the organic, both in composition and surface texture. The interior pattern is taken from a rock surface, inserting an elemental appeal that links to iron’s purity and fundamentality. The piece is settled among pebbles – “the only geological features of any note on Brighton’s beaches are the pebbles, everything else is man-made” – allowing them to scatter across the pattern, directly referencing the texture’s origin, and that both exist within a fossilised state.
This is juxtaposed, on the alternate side, with a man-made injection of oversized, revealed bolts that show a function and formality in their distribution, sequentially placed to inscribe the artwork’s internal geometry. The proportions and symmetry need to be balanced correctly so that the entirety becomes visually pleasing and reveals the dialogue between the engineered and the organic. The fixings highlight the tension within their purpose; they hold together a series of multiples to compose one gigantic structure.
When considering his sculptures in situ, Charles Hadcock negotiates the negative space, using their scale to interrupt the landscape – “what’s not described by the object becomes as important as the object itself.”
A later work – ‘Verticil II’ (2011) – is an 18-ton piece that has been engineered through the industrialisation of one of mankind’s oldest processes, using the compression strength of iron to achieve a colossal form, yet resulting in a weightless appearance and dynamic composition. The fragmented sphere spiralling from a central axis allows the viewer access to comprehend the atomic structure within this mechanical helix.
The atavistic quality within iron conjures questions: what is it doing, what is its function, why is it there? It is there to communicate with the audience. Charles says, “As with all my heavy, cast iron works, I am trying to bring everything together in one piece – a single entity that sums everything up. Having a cavity, or a hollow, light and mass, all in one work, means it becomes self-contained – a celebration of the multiple within a single form.”
It is above function, occupying an elevated existence that is formalised by the plinth. Through Modernism artists became defiant toward this formulated notion, stepping artwork down to a level of accessibility within the everyday. Anthony Caro is of that generation, and incorporates industrial ‘ready-mades’, including cast iron fly presses, within his assemblages. When avoiding suggestions of balance or instability, he attempts to disguise the objects’ true cultural identity by abstracting them. Hadcock’s alliance with skill and active interest in the achievements of the past raises his work above its normal aesthetic into something that is pure thought – “intrinsically beautiful and designed to be looked at”, an object of art.
For him, the plinth has a function to secure the attention of the viewer by framing his sculptures like a painting and monumentalising these inherent associations; his works have been described as “hand-made ready-mades” by critic William Feaver.
Anthony Gormley ultimately believes that art should be for everyone, capable of speaking a language to the individual, and shouldn’t be just an urban experience that is often mediated through institutions or museums. On Crosby Beach in Liverpool, Gormley inserted a hundred inert, silent casts of a distinguishable but unidentifiable human form that gaze out towards the horizon. ‘Another Place’ (1997) was a temporary installation but, due to its appeal within the human consciousness, the local populace demanded its permanence. ‘this sculpture exposes to light the time, the nakedness of a particular and peculiar body, no hero, just the industrially reproduced body of a middle-aged man trying to remain standing and trying to breathe, facing a horizon busy with ships moving materials and manufactured things around the planet’. Each of the one hundred is considered to be a unit of multiples. Mechanically reproduced, they acknowledge being industry made, declared by the un-worked running system that connects them to a product reproduced within a factory and not that of a unique fine art object.
Hannah Davies and Vincent Jack, Artist Blacksmith Magazine No 144, 2014Also see: Charles Hadcock at 60 Threadneedle Street Gallery, London