Brancaster Chronicle No. 50: Anthony Smart Sculptures

The 16/17 Series, No.1, H71cm. [view 1] (all sculptures in mild steel)

22nd July 2017, the artist’s studio near King’s Lynn.

Taking part: Anne Smart, Anthony Smart, Emyr Williams, John Pollard, Alexandra Harley, David Lendrum, Helga Joergens-Lendrum, Robin Greenwood, Sarah Greenwood, Hilde Skilton, Mark Skilton, Noela James.



The 16/17 Series, No.1, H71cm. [view 2]

The 16/17 Series No.2, H88cm. [view 1]

The 16/17 Series No.2, H88cm. [view 2]


The 16/17 Series No.3, H92cm. [view 1]

The 16/17 Series No.3, H92cm. [view 2]

The 16/17 Series No.3, H92cm. [view 3]


The 16/17 Series No.4, H84cm. [view 1]

The 16/17 Series No.4, H84cm. [view 2]


The 16/17 Series No.5, H73cm. [view 1]

The 16/17 Series No.5, H73cm. [view 2]

The 16/17 Series No.5, H73cm. [view 3]


The 16/17 Series No.6, H73cm. [view 1]

The 16/17 Series No.6, H73cm. [view 2]

The 16/17 Series No.6, H73cm. [view 3]


The 16/17 Series No.7, H74cm. [view 1]

The 16/17 Series No.7, H74cm. [view 2]

The 16/17 Series No.7, H74cm. [view 3]


  1. There is a moment in this film when people – I think Mark in particular – are talking about the expressive content in the individual parts of a particular sculpture, to which I respond that such content is entirely speculative until the moment that it can contribute to a total, “whole-work” expressivity. In other words, one cannot make parts expressive in themselves, from the beginning (expressive of what?), no matter what is done to the material at an early stage. All one can do is make stuff that “does” things. As to what they do exactly, I think that has to be left indeterminate for abstract sculpture when it is no longer tied to physical or structural objecthood. Maybe “doing-ness” is all one can describe, and even that cannot be prescribed. I think this is an interesting topic, and in the end perhaps Mark and I are saying something similar from different directions, since he is of the opinion that the parts in the sculpture that began this bit of the discussion are over-expressive and get in the way of what the whole sculpture wants to say.

    There is an example, which I wish I’d made more of at the time, in sculpture No 6 (view 2, just discernible at centre right) where there is a “barley-sugar” twist element, to all intents and purposes made in exactly the same manner as a number of other pieces of metal that we can see in other works by Tony, both this year and last. They are made by taking a strip of metal and twisting it into a long, spiralling, corkscrew shape. I can’t say I have ever liked this element much in previous work, but in this piece the spiralling is further bent into something between a “U” curve and a “V”, and forms the most delicate transition of space, pressurised but resistant (just enough) and entirely, unselfconsciously effective and particular in its activity within this singular sculpture’s whole action… and thus, and only then, does it become expressive. Of what, though? Not “of” anything. I briefly thought that the whole sculpture might exist to support this “moment”, but that’s taking it too far, since the sculpture is full of such things. They come at you from all angles, giving you what you want, to go anywhere, from anywhere.

    Of course, it is true to say that you could never have discovered an integrated place for such a specific bit of metal had you not made it in the first place; but that is not the same as saying you made it to “express” something specific in the beginning. I think there is real advantage in making a variety of “content” in what amounts to a quite disinterested manner to start with. To think that one is, from the beginning, imbuing the material with some kind of expression is both a pretention and a cliché. In fact, to go further, perhaps contentiously, I no longer believe very clearly at all in the idea of the artist deliberately expressing anything in abstract art, a concept which seems more and more like a figurative hangover. I think in abstract art it has to be more along the lines of creating possibilities for the viewer to find their own meaning and expression for themselves, out of the artist’s dispassionate creation of manifold opportunity. This by no means excludes the artist “feeling” their way through the complexities of this new way of working. And Tony makes a really good point on Abcrit recently about working on beyond the literalness of the initial bending and twisting of the metal, to a point where things become properly abstract.


    Then, of course, we come to Helga’s lovely definitions of “form” and “shape”! And Tony doesn’t want to make “forms” (which might also be called three-dimensional “shapes”!), which I quite understand, since in one sense a “form” is often thought of as a representation of something, and in abstract art, tends towards separation rather than unity. I recall years ago Glynn Williams going on about making “clear parts”, as if that was the answer to sculpture. And it’s hard not to be put in mind of the horribly inflated and rather gratuitous three-dimensionality of “forms” in Cubist-type Lipchitz sculptures (and Glynn Williams, come to that).

    However, I’d quite like to reclaim the word “form” when it refers to the whole work, its total overall “shape” (!) rather than to individual parts. And I like this definition:

    From “An A-Z of the Piano: Alfred Brendel’s Notes from the Concert Hall”:
    “According to Hugo Riemann, form is unity in diversity. Aestheticians shortly before 1800 had applied the same formula to musical character. To me, form and character (feeling, psychology, atmosphere, “expression”, “impulse”) are non-identical twins. The form and structure of a piece are visible and verifiable in the composer’s text. The other twin has to be experienced. The visibility of form leads some to see the invisible twin as its subordinate. It is relatively simple to analyse a composition with the help of the written text, more difficult to feel the form, and even more demanding to enter into the psychology of a work.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. tony smart said:

    Very clear and very on it !
    Your last point I do not find contentious.I agree that the artist is not expressing anything only the sum total of what their evolving vision has amounted to and certainly with no idea as to an audience.It is an audience of one and then off it goes, hopefully not immediately to the scrap pile!


  3. Watching this, it struck me that there was rather less discussion about figuration/abstraction than usual. And this got me thinking about the nature of the relationship between formal achievement and abstraction.
    Does figuration get in the way of formal achievement? Does formal achievement eliminate figuration? Or does formal achievement let one forget about the distinction, just as Robin remarks that these works let one forget about the sheet metal of their making?
    By formal achievement I mean the simultaneous resolution of the five aspects (structure, movement, spatiality etc.) mentioned in the discussions.
    Is abstractness a further aspect to add to the other five, or is it in another category – more a way of working towards those resolutions – a ladder to be kicked away upon completion rather than a part of the end itself?
    I’m not a sculptor so these are all questions and no answers, though the question arises in painting too I think (no answer there either).


  4. Or put another way: is the “torso” sculpture less successful because it can be seen as a torso, or does the figuration “pop out” because the work is formally less well resolved? (I’m not making my own judgments here, just following the comments in the film).
    Does our compulsion to make sense of what we see lead us to figurative interpretations whenever the formal properties of a work disappoint?


    • Which is the “torso”?
      Personally, I don’t set any store by formalism. These sculptures at their best are just abstract, and a visual delight. I don’t know what formal qualities they may or may not possess. They certainly don’t follow any formalist rules. I think the distinction is perhaps another figurative hangover, separating form and content (or subject matter). The thing with abstract art is that the form and content are indivisible, otherwise it fails to be abstract. This is another reason why striving to be more abstract is so important. That is the real ambition; there is as far as I know no ambition to privilege formalist concerns. They are as redundant as subject matter.


      • Richard Ward said:

        I think it was number 3 which someone referred to as kind of torso.


  5. tony smart said:

    Sculpture which extended out into or across space has to be supported in that extension by some relationship to the viewer. Whether deliberate or not this dependancy challenges the abstract nature of the work and experience. In this kind of sculpture space is rendered as literal being created by enclosing ,extending ,turning etc. etc. but always in relation to the human, and when you go down that road it is also dependant on the human expectation of that space. Perhaps too much control of the sculpture is handed to the viewer and what they already know?

    Today this direct architectural/object relationship to the human body is being exchanged for a thought built more felt physical fluid three dimensionality. The attempt is to integrate the space via the working of the material to think of space as an active player in the activity. The difference is there to be seen in the fine line being trod by these early experiments .
    For me the ‘compactness’ that is being referred to be it “lump” or “torso” results quite naturally from this bringing of the material and space into ever closer proximity. This allows for multiple views of multiple role changes being experienced across the same material and the same space. These changes are changes to how we see a sculpture and feel it at the same time and it is off this combination of all of the elements being felt and seen in the mind that steers the work to a more abstract experience where all the evolving information is there within a world of its own making being constantly rebuilt in ones own “minds eye “.

    What could happen next to the shape of this sculpture?
    Things that are natural and open to intuitive invention will go where the work will go, forwards or backwards.
    For what I am saying is happening there should be no designed solution.
    For the sculpture of the 60’s that was a credible position.That was then but this is now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mark Skilton said:

      I agree with all that you have said here, my use of the word lumpiness does refer to “the bringing together of space and material in ever closer proximity” . My reservations arise firstly from the resultant lump/cluster becoming a de facto structure with the accompanying predetermined intentionality which also characterises figurative and architectural sculpture as described above. Secondly, I am a bit bothered by the necessity of looking into the work in order to discover its meaning. This seems a bit introverted and not necessarily sculptural. Surely sculpture should be able to declare itself emphatically and immediately. I feel that the lumpiness that has arisen from the production of some fantastic sculptural content in this summers Brancasters, is working against that content declaring itself with emphasis.
      I am finding the whole figurative /abstract debate to be a bit of a pain. Surely it is the. Predetermined intentionality which accompanies figuration, structure,architecture or any other known armature that we tend to use that is the real problem. When the form of the sculpture arises from its content it is proper. So what if it happens to look a bit like a torso to the lazy eye.


      • Strongly disagree. Nice to see you using the term “content”, but what if your content is figurative? And if it looks like a torso, it is surely an issue, and should not be repeated. No, at every turn, figuration is going to creep back in if you let it. Sure, a lump can be figuration too – but these sculptures are not lumps. Neither are yours. I don’t think mine are, but maybe you do. Perhaps you should say who is making lumps.


  6. Sam Cornish said:

    I was going to post on AbCrit, but seems more appropriate here. I think I agree with Alan that there is a tendency toward compactness, to the work turning back in on itself, across the recent work of Tony, Robin and Mark. But this is obviously within (if that is the right way of putting it) a dominant tendency toward openness, and the work turning outward.

    Tony mentions the sculpture of the 60s. This new development seems to be – in very broad and reductive terms – to be in unconscious dialogue with Bill Tucker’s later sculpture’s criticism of 60s openness: it wants to avoid Tucker’s lumpiness by marrying compactness with openness (I don’t think Tony, Robin and Mark make lumpy sculpture).

    In answer to Robin’s comment on Abcrit:
    I don’t see why it is figurative to look at the work as a whole (or am I misunderstanding you)? Looking at the whole of an art-work – or attempting to – seems a very normal thing to do.

    Is it really possible to make a distinction between looking IN and looking AT? If so, why not do both?

    Maybe the question is: assuming it was possible & desirable to make the distinction between looking at and in how would the viewer be encouraged or forced to look IN and not AT?


    • I was quoting Alan: “the overall character of sculpture as an object” as lumpen. There is nothing wrong at all in looking at the whole thing, and of course you should – provided you don’t characterise it in terms of objecthood e.g. they look a bit like a lump or a Rubiks Cube etc. These new sculptures demand a different approach. Tony has already said it above: don’t look to design solutions like the sixties, don’t make overarching characterisations about the general aspects of the work in relation to things you already know about, like images or literal objects or bodily metaphors. Look for other ways to get at the whole thing, perhaps with an empahsis on an imaginative internal spatiality that is a completely new and invented/discovered thing. The sculptures themselves encourage you to do this, as Mark suggests.


  7. tony smart said:

    Everything about one’s sculpture is of concern.
    So the ‘shape’ of my sculpture is at this moment in time the ‘shape’ of my sculpture.
    The whole purpose of making another one is to improve on EVERYTHING that is done and that means ,keep thinking and keep building .


  8. Earlier this year I had the treat of seeing several of Tony’s sculptures, some of which I’d say are on show in this chronicle. At the time, I was particularly taken with the most recent of his works. Tony can probably correct me here, but if I were to hazard a guess, I’d say it might be no.6, because it was relatively dense and quite blackened. Tony had also included some work from the previous “Sidney Series” to give some context. I was amazed not only at the differences, but at how much more I felt myself to be drawn to the recent, denser work. The Sidney series is so open and articulate, and seemed to be very well received in that chronicle. I felt that I was going to England with an expectation that Tony’s work was going to be continuing along such lines, but all my expectations were smashed, for the better!

    I felt, looking at both sets of works, that the amount of space in the earlier ones was too dominant in comparison to the amount of steel. But I could also feel very strongly that it was the pressure of the new works that was informing my take on the old ones. In a way, I had lost touch with the space in the older ones, because there wasn’t enough to hold me there anymore. It was as if the space of the sculptures had become more like the space of the room, whereas in that newer, denser work, and the one from Greenwich, I could stay in those worlds. It made me think that more space does not mean more room, and could mean the opposite. I did wonder at first if the new work was too dense, and risked losing what I thought at the time to be a transparency prized amongst the sculptors. But I adjusted, and it opened up for me. I think it would be an underestimation of what Tony has achieved to assume that I am simply advocating the inclusion of more steel. I think the tighter knitting together of steel and space, and the balance that has been achieved is extremely sophisticated and testament to Tony’s ability to keep challenging himself. They are surprising and rewarding works. Thanks Tony.


    • I think Harry’s comment is pertinent and not a million miles away from my comment on Mark’s Chronicle. The greater complexity of the Brancaster sculptors’ recent work, like the painters, risks the danger of too much density/complication/suppression/coagulation/unclarity/confusion/opaqueness. But when there is clarity the results can give the viewer so much more than simple configurations and relationships.
      So, for me, perhaps complex diversity with clarity?
      (Ideas in progress/process here)


  9. tony smart said:

    Thank you Harry.


  10. tony smart said:

    to JP . Thank you.
    Just read Harry again and your comment on Mark …and I completely agree with all of it particularly with “clarity with complex diversity” …as you said earlier the Brancaster painters are a diverse bunch. For me so are the sculptors so I would not want to speak either in a summary or in a kind of generalisation. I think you and Harry have hit the spot and I for one am on it.
    Cheers….so thanks again to both for the most perceptive of comments with the proviso that no amount of debate will move this on…..just sculpture.I am thrilled .

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