Brancaster Chronicle No. 37: Mark Skilton Sculptures

Brian the Boa Constrictor, 203x192x160Hcm steel

Brian the Boa Constrictor, 2016, steel, 203x192xH160cm.

9th July 2016, the artist’s studio near Bath.

Those present: Hilde Skilton, Mark Skilton, John Bunker, Anne Smart, Anthony Smart, Alexandra Harley, Nick Moore, Robin Greenwood, Sarah Greenwood, Charley Greenwood, Emyr Williams, Shelley Latham.




Brian the Boa Constrictor, 2016, steel, 203x192xH160cm. [view 2]


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Brian the Boa Constrictor, 2016, steel, 203x192xH160cm. [view 3]


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Brian the Boa Constrictor, 2016, steel, 203x192xH160cm. [view 4]


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Brian the Boa Constrictor, 2016, steel, 203x192xH160cm. [view 5]


Billy The Skink 225x146x154Hcm 2016 steel

Billy  the Skink, 2016, steel, 225x146xH154cm.


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Billy  the Skink, 2016, steel, 225x146xH154cm. [view 2]


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Billy  the Skink, 2016, steel, 225x146xH154cm. [view 3]


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Billy  the Skink, 2016, steel, 225x146xH154cm. [view 4]

  1. Alan Gouk said:

    Tony is really on form in this film, rising to the occasion of the piece under discussion. Although I haven’t seen it yet unfortunately, I am happy to go all the way in accepting his take on it. I am sure he is right, and he has articulated all that is hoped for in this ambition for full three-dimensional articulation. Many good things were said all round too, from Alex and Mark himself. Mark has once again saved the day. I too like the range and variety of the steel elements, and their fashioning of larger 3D segments. The comments on instability, diagonal thrusting torsions etc. all ring true. If I may make so bold, it seems as if the sorts of density that Tony achieved in his Tamarinds and Untitled 1979, in the Stockwell book, have been exploded outwards making a truly 3D spatial experience, with added twistings and turnings, a continuity that may not be so evident to those close to it. Call it development, evolution, “progress”, what you will, a communal kind of progress, if you like. Or I may be wrong about that. Whatever, it does not detract in the least from the achievement. Congratulations, Mark.


  2. Jock Ireland said:

    Very quickly: Mark’s work is great; the discussion is great; it’s great to have Alan commenting here—BUT Alan is still making comments that stop me in my tracks on an Abcrit thing that has been up for ages. I’m still trying to come to terms with Robin’s recent Brancaster. There’s Tim’s piece. I just listened to Hilde’s Brancaster yesterday: I’m going to have to listen to that again AND again.

    Think of poor little old me! And of other people new to Brancaster! Does it not maybe make some sense to slow down just a little bit? I disagree with Alan’s recent “silence is golden” statement: silence is death in my book—but I can’t spend 24 hours a day trying to catch up with you guys.

    Yes, Tony is great here—and Alan’s tying Tony’s ‘70s work to Mark’s new work is an exciting—or at least not an unexciting—thought. But Tony also seems to dismiss Degas’s figures as “frozen bodies.” (I’ve only listened to this Brancaster once, late last night.) Mention “frozen bodies” at the Studio School: I will stomp on your throat! But then (I think) Tony talks about being thrilled by exactly the kind of movement he refuses to see in Degas when it’s in Mark’s new piece. I’m not trying to get into a figure sculpture vs abstract sculpture fight now. I’m just suggesting everybody slow down some. I think I see a whole lot of Degas in Hilde’s painting—and NOT the movement/balance Degas Tucker introduced years ago, a more “contemporary,” a more “tragic,” a less boyish Degas. But I need more time to look.


    • I think you should give up the day job, Jock, just concentrate on what’s important.

      Yes, amazing; “Brian” achieves density through the nature of its transparency. Or is it the other way round? There is no central core to this sculpture, unlike in the last two years from Mark. No “inside” action surrounded by supporting stuff working against gravity, no form following some literal “function”, no over-determinism; in fact, it’s just “UP” and on with it! And no inside and outside, just “right through” (but not “straight through”) from pretty much any viewpoint. Great stuff.


      • Robin, I follow everything that you say here from ‘There is no central core ‘onwards. But the use of ‘ transparency” is giving me some trouble. Do you mean a transparency of purpose that is physically manifest in the sculpture in the way that you describe (no ‘inside’ action etc.) ? Or to put it another way that nothing in the work has a purpose that is merely practical in engineering terms. Tony Smart also refers to transparency (over on Abcrit).and seems to be suggesting that in any given work there will be an optimum amount of actual material content (as opposed to space or nothingness) beyond which density becomes an inhibiting factor in the ‘success’ or ‘failure of a work to achieve a true three dimensionality. There seems to me to be a really significant difference between what you both mean by transparent in a sculptural context. Or have I got that wrong?


      • I think Tony and I use the word transparency in a very similar non-metaphorical way – to mean simply being able to see all of the sculpture all of the time from different viewpoints. There is some talk of “blocking” (which goes back to Mark’s previous film, if not beyond), where one part of the sculpture prevents you seeing stuff happening on the other side of the work (as in Mark’s other sculpture). Mark says he doesn’t mind that, but nevertheless in this work there is no blocking occuring. So, as Tony describes on Abcrit, you can see all of the material in all of the sculpture in 360degrees, hence get at more of the three-dimensionality and spatiality, which is “multiplied”.

        Obviously in a solid sculpture you can only see one side at a time. So steel gives you the ability to open the thing right up. But what’s different here is that the transparency is combined with a very intense density of stuff to look at – yet it all remains coherent. The work has a kind of relentlessness of expression throughout its varied and amplified three-dimensionality.


        • Jock Ireland said:

          Very good question. Very good answer. The word “relentlessness” pops out. I’m going to go and look for moments of “UNrelentlessness” in Robin’s and Mark’s and Tony’s sculpture. . .soon (I’m stuck on Hilde’s paintings now). The little Donatello Lamentation that’s usually at the V&A is in New York now. It’s figurative; it’s pictorial—but isn’t it also interestingly transparent?


      • Yeah… it’s a wonderful little Donatello… but as a relief, it has no need of transparency, because like a painting or a drawing you can see it all at once anyway. It has non of the problems of reconciling actual three-dimensionality with sculptural illusion. I always think that relief is more akin to drawing than to sculpture. Nothing wrong with that, but I don’t think it’s an apt comparison.


        • Jock Ireland said:

          Maybe. But why did Donatello make it? He made it—and then didn’t make anything else like it (as I understand things). Maybe he came to exactly the same conclusion you did: no need for transparency. On the other hand, I think you can be too quick to tie relief to drawing and painting. Relief is different precisely because it can engage with sculptural illusion. Alan Gouk has made some tantalizing remarks about relief NOT being something in between sculpture and drawing. Rhys Carpenter is pretty good at distinguishing between “sculptural” and “pictorial” relief. You’re right: comparing Donatello’s relief or ancient Greek relief to Mark’s sculpture isn’t really apt. Nor is bringing in cubism—and what Alan has said about cubism. Still, these things are bugging me.


  3. Noela James said:

    This seemed like a very intense and inspired Brancaster. The ‘Brian’ sculpture looks really well ‘discovered’, as Robin says should be the way to approach abstract work, and again I understand what Anne says around not thinking about how the sculpture is constructed. There do not seem to be any obvious straight supports holding complex parts and the inter connecting forms look varied, interesting and intricate, creating different kinds of space within.
    Tony mentioned instability and I was wondering if that can become problematic when using ‘looser’ forms or handling (so much to consider when making sculpture!).
    I like some of the angled flatter forms in ‘Billy’, it seems to have a more directional rhythm running through it.
    Well deserved handclaps for Mark!


    • Mark Skilton said:

      Thanks for your comment Noela. The instability that Tony refers to is visual instability, not physical or structural instability. This is also linked to Anne’s comment about the lack of any obvious construction or support. In turn this is all summed up very succinctly by Robin’s phrase “predetermined functionality ” or the lack of it in this case. For me, the crux of this talk is that abstraction can be freed up by getting rid of functionality in all of its manifestations, not just structural but also compositional, cause and effect, which Tony refers to as storyline at the end of the talk.


      • Noela James said:

        Thank you for clarifying that Mark. I might have to rewatch the film and pick up the finer points of the discussion.


  4. Lots of interesting stuff here:
    The idea of something being “more convincing”.
    Easier to say why, how, something doesn’t work than how it does: “work so strong it is hard to articulate it.”
    Process appearing when object doesn’t work.
    The importance of a whole work being greater than the some of its parts (relevant to both sculpture and painting). Although it seems that a good work also has lots of interesting ‘parts’.
    Not being at the talk it was frustrating not being able to see the work properly. When the panaromic ‘walk around’ shot came at the end of the talk the sculpture seemed transformed. Something to think about when filming.


  5. Jock Ireland said:

    I’ve brought up the Hofmann connection/disconnection between the Studio School and Brancaster before: Hofmann being important to both gangs—but important more for drawing to Studio Schoolers, more for color to Brancasterites.

    This is a great Brancaster. I’m over-simplifying things ridiculously saying Mark talks about his “interest” in working with space and material loosely—mixing up space and material—giving them equal “weight.” But this is the way I have to talk to Studio Schoolers who don’t have time to listen to complete Brancasters. One Studio School response to this was: de Kooning was the master of that kind of thing—especially late de Kooning. Maybe all great painters and sculptors “master” this kind of thing. Still it’s fun for me to look at Mark’s new piece with late de Kooning in mind.

    Also these words, from the “fringe” of the Studio School, are a response to my endless yammering about Brancaster in general:

    “Spatial articulation can be compared to two people speaking. The communication if it occurs is between – in the space. It is synonymous with human to human articulation or, even thing to thing articulation. It –the conversation – takes place in between – in space and the clarity of dialogue is a between – ness that is carefully articulated – at a distance, in space. The lack of depth or absence of space, the spilling out of the individual ego onto a flatness is monologue. The flat space that the single person spills out onto is the flat plane on which ersatz products are displayed and sold. (Greenberg)

    “If we compare the things, (figures or forms) in a painting or sculpture to two figures communicating in the world (in space) we can understand that the poor articulation of what is between the forms of a work of art- the lack of articulation or embodiment of the space between is equivalent to a conversation that does not communicate and each speaker (for a work of Art read forms) suffers from an inadequate sense of being. This is why drawing matters. The pure evocation of color without drawing is the same as inarticulate moans – emotional but not communicative – a kind of emotive monologue.”

    Again, not looking to pick a fight. We’re close, but we’re different. That’s exciting for me. Any truth to the rumors you all are going to start meeting to do some life drawing???


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