Santa Barbara

Henry Moore

The Henry Moore show of nearly 100 bronzes, wood and stone carvings, watercolors and drawings at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art is a rare compendium of his works for the West Coast. This great British master is heroic in style and prodigious in output and scale. The show is somewhat weighted with pieces from the post-war years and is not in chronological sequence, but this is of small consequence as Moore did not work in sequence but moved easily back and forth in his explorations of space and theme. His work ranges from the tender and lyrical Mother and Child bronzes to the tough and primitive “Three-part Reclining Figure.” This massive primordial group is an excellent example of Moore’s use of space as a conscious and deliberate planned part of his sculptures; the eye and mind must fill the gaps.

Moore has deeply rooted himself in both primitive and classical traditions and relates these directly to nature and its timeless eloquence and enduring vitality. The human figure commands Moore’s attention continuously, but he also turns to pebbles, rocks and bones for the study of form and rhythms. Some of these are dug up by his gardener in his own back yard, which must have been a butcher shop ages ago. Moore says, “In recent months I have become more and more intrigued with the smooth knife-edge of these bones.” Among his most imposing works are last year’s “Bone Figures,” the result of these tireless explorations.

During the war years and the London blitz, Moore spent night after night in the London subways observing and drawing his fellow man under extreme duress. The first pieces to emerge from this period were the tender, healing “Madonna and Child” sculptures, the protective closed circle of family unity and happiness, an instinctive answer to the people’s need. It was later on that he produced his helmeted horrors and mangled bodies, after people could bear to again view the agonies of mass destruction.

The working drawings permit one to see the progression of the artist through the evolution of the creative process, as he moves from one idea to its variation and then another and another. A 1939 watercolor-crayon, owned by Onslow-Ford is of particular interest in this respect. Moore has labeled the face of the drawing with various comments on his pictorial ideas, i.e., “crowds of people around a tied-up object.” The drawings also help in understanding the relationships of his forms as Moore relates them to their spatial environment.

His magnificent pieces are a rich art experience not only for their esthetic value but also because of the validity and deep involvement of the artist in the human scene. Moore says, “The full hostility of our environment is coming through: the fact, that is to say, that everything around us tends sooner or later towards our destruction: Nature, other people, and ourselves.”

Harriette von Breton