There is probably nothing I can write in relation to the work of Henry Moore which hasn’t been said many many times already. Not that I aim for every post to be an original insight, but a rehash of what others have said in a less interesting way would seem to be a pretty pointless contribution to any already over-saturated subject. But I think there’s always a place for personal response, and that’s the direction I go in for pretty much all the art of others that I blog about.
My initial personal response to Henry Moore’s work essentially reflects the nature of his art; simple on the surface but concealing a complexity which is hard to articulate. I am in awe of his monumental sculptural forms, but it is his drawings which really blow me away. When I first encountered them about 10 years ago, it was one of those occasions when I couldn’t believe I had been unaware of something so good for so long.
So I’m thrilled that there is a major show of his work currently on at Leeds City Art Gallery. Despite the presence of the Henry Moore Institute right next door, there are not a lot of opportunities to see Moore’s works on paper. Moore’s shelter drawings were made during WWII when he went down into the London underground during the Blitz, and both these and his drawings of miners at the coal face are extraordinary testaments to what it is to be human in adverse conditions. His figures are virtually sculpted from the paper surface: the marks are worked and layered over and over to create a density of texture which is unusual in works on paper. They have a curious classical form to their features despite their bodies being far removed from classical influence. Perhaps this odd juxtaposition of scale and form is why for me the subjects of his work still present an insistent individuality which I find intriguing.
The exhibition is extensive, taking in nearly all the galleries on the entire ground floor. I did not have time on my first visit to see the watercolour room, but I am glad to have a good reason to go back for another look. There is a huge amount to see, and all of it is worthwhile. Unmissable.
The Henry Moore exhibition is on until 12 June 2011.