"The Reclining Figure", frontis piece from
the portfolio series, etching on handmade
chine paper, 17 1/2 x 20 1/2", 1977/78.

 



"The Reclining Figure", plate 2 of 8
from the portfolio series, etching
on handmade chine paper,
17 1/2 x 20 1/2", 1977/78

 



"The Reclining Figure", plate 7 of 8
from the portfolio series, etching
on handmade chine paper,
17 1/2 x 20 1/2", 1977/78

 



"The Reclining Figure", plate 4 of 8
from the portfolio series, etching
on handmade chine paper,
17 1/2 x 20 1/2", 1977/78

HENRY MOORE

by Bill Lasarow

(Leslie Sacks Fine Art, West Los Angeles) One of the central themes that endured throughout Henry Moore's career was that of the reclining figure. It appeared in the early Pre-Columbian- inspired work. It continued as a central part of the crucial 1930s work that opened up the interior space of the Modernist figure. The London Tube drawings done during World War II, which brought Moore in from avant garde exile to make him popular with the British public, feature numerous examples of seated and reclining figures--connecting his formal and historical thinking to direct experience. And through the long stretch after the war, when Moore commanded one major public commission after another, his version of the reclining figure became a virtual icon of public sculpture.

Given the long shadow cast by the ubiquity of this image it is easy now to overlook it as dated or clichéd--and to forget the original freshness of Moore's fusion and the power of his vision. This presentation of prints is devoted entirely to this one subject, and as such The Reclining Figure doesn't demand a revision of Moore's art; it does remind you about the force and variety that is possible within one persistently mined image.

The work featured here consists of an eight-plate etching portfolio--appropriately titled The Reclining Figure--created in 1977/78 (this is late work; Moore was just turning eighty); and a group of over-sized etching/aquatint/drypoint prints done at 2RC Editrice in Rome in 1980. The former are essentially drawings, but are equally rooted in direct observation of the figure and Moore's somatic memory of his own sculpture. The latter are essentially run-ups for executable ideas. The former depict the human image as flesh partially covered by drapery, while the latter abstract that form and translate it into eternal material.

The Reclining Figure portfolio typifies Moore's monumental conception of volume. One leg and arm bear the weight of a hefty upper body and torso as though they were architectural columns. The opposite arm and leg are allowed to rise up and wrap the figure in repose and curvilinear rhythm. The palpable substance that lends great weight to these figures is thus imbued with a balancing grace.

Of far greater interest to Moore than nuance of musculature is the way in which light casts shadow on each volume in order to define it. He often adds a pure linear element, kind of a segmentation, to lend further dimensional clarity to light-saturated areas. Intellectually this reads as the sculptor's crib notes, but visually it provides a necessary counter-rhythm that adds life to compositions that would otherwise be too formulaic.

Each figure in the suite is placed outside the studio into the landscape, emphasizing the pastoral, as opposed to academic, character of Moore's intent. This does not bespeak of a visual identification of the human form with nature, but of a deeply rooted relationship with it that is echoed by his use of simplified, undulating masses.

Landscape and architecture are even further reduced in the larger prints, finally becoming merely a trivial backdrop for the presentation of a sculptural idea. The exception is the Reclining Figure in Dark Landscape, in which the figure begins to melt into the atmospheric darkness, projecting a different spiritual presence than other images. The Stone Reclining Figure is a most comfortably familiar rendition, but the massive closed form remains awkward. Stone Reclining Figure with Architecture Background shows a more inventive side, one in which the eye is tempted to playfully interpret the acrobatically interlocked shapes.

By restricting itself to a single theme this show overcomes it's limitations of quantity and media. It allows you to reflect on the sources of Moore's major work and takes you through the stages by which he arrives at its doorstep.