Catalogue entry

T03794 Gethsemane 1982

Relief of 15 carved pieces of peperino stone, overall size 118 × 236 × 3 1/2 (2297 × 5994 × 90)
Not inscribed
Purchased from Nigel Greenwood Inc. Ltd. (Grant-in-Aid) 1983
Exh: Stephen Cox, Galleria La Salita, Rome, May–June 1982 (not numbered); Aperto 82, XL Biennale Venice, June–September 1982 (not numbered, repr.); New Art at the Tate Gallery, Tate Gallery, September–October 1983 (not numbered, repr.); Forty Years of Modern Art 1945–1985, Tate Gallery, February–April 1986 (not numbered)
Lit: Filiberto Mena, ‘La Biennale Arti Visive ’82: Arte Come Arte La Persisteriza dell'Opera', Harpers Gran Bazaar, September–October 1982 (Italian edition); The Tate Gallery Illustrated Biennial Report 1982–84, repr. p.64; R.J. Rees, Sarah Kent, Andrea Schlieker, Stephen Cox, ‘We Must Always Turn South’ Sculpture 1977–85, exhibition catalogue, Arnolfini, Bristol, 1985, pp.8, 33–5, 44, repr. in col.; Lewis Biggs, ‘Stephen Cox’, The British Show, exhibition catalogue, British Council tour of Australia, 1985, pp.33–6, repr. p.36; Also repr: ‘Venice: Artventure Alla Biennale’, Domus, September 1982 (Italian edition), p.90 in col.; Stephen Cox, exhibition catalogue, San Giovanni Valdarno, 1984

Stephen Cox first worked in Italy in 1979 and two years later he returned to embark on a grand tour of centres of Italian stone production, as referred to in Giorgio Vasari's parte teorica (an introductory volume to the complete text of The Lives of The Artists, 1568) which deals with methods and materials. Also during this period, he was reading Adrian Stokes, Critical Writings 1930–7, London, 1978.

T03794 was made between December 1981 and March 1982, at the American Academy in Rome where the artist had taken a studio to work for the La Salita exhibition. The first of a series of ‘broken reliefs’, Gethsemane was made of peperino stone, a volcanic material from Viterbo, a medieval city built of this stone on Etruscan foundations. The material came from the quarry of ‘Anselmi Company’ in Viterbo, for whom the artist has continued to work. The artist worked directly on the stone, having first executed a number of loose drawings of a complete image, broken by dotted lines. Individual elements, which the artist referred to as ‘offshoots’, were exhibited at Galleria La Salita in 1982.

The name ‘Gethsemane’ comes from the New Testament where in St Luke (22:39) it is referred to as ‘the mount of olives’. St Mark (14:32) and St Matthew (26:36) both make direct reference to it. In an interview with the compiler (23 July 1986) the artist commented:

Vasari On Technique mentions peperino and although I had intended to work in ‘travertino’, I discovered that peperino formed the foundations of much Roman architecture. This was even better because of its association with the antique. It was one of the most productive periods I have had in Italy. Gethsemane represented the jelling of lots of ideas, particularly those I had been working on in ‘Soglia’ (threshold) (1981, private collection). I had moved away from the ‘minimal’ work of the leaning slabs, to the lunette and circular shapes as in ‘Tondo: We must Aways Turn South’ (1981, Tate Gallery) where you have a perspectival projection of the circle, which becomes an oval within the classical tondo shape. In ‘Soglia’ you can see within the semicircular archway on the vertical wall, the half elipse, which is the continuation of the foreshortened semicircular step which, it mirrors, which exists in true space. I used this idea in ‘Gethsemane’ but did not need the architectural step as there already existed a threshold into the illustionistic space. I retained the archway.

I was pushing further, populating the abstract space of ‘Soglia’ with landscape. At the time I was looking at Italian landscapes with olive groves, making a sculpture featuring landscape seemed unusual, while the green stone seemed reminiscent of aspects of aridity in southern Italy.

Peperino is cut by using a toothless blade with sand abrasive which oxidises the metal of the blade and creates a discolouration of the stone. Carving into this exposes a lighter under surface which emphasises the drawing in the sculpture.

At this time there was a exhibition of the young David in Rome at the Villa di Medici - I realised the power of titles or narrative reference. Today our vocabulary of narrative is limited, possibly only relative to the New Testament. The use of the narrative added another dimension. The use of ‘Gethsemane’ had a highly charged significance on top of the classical, meditative, stillness. I was experimenting in how strongly a reference could be projected. My point was proved when one article referred to it as ‘the wounded stone of Cox’ (Fabrizio d'Amico, ‘La pietra ferita di Cox’, La Repubblica, Rome, February 1982). This referred also to the central stone where there is a red iron oxide stain.

The fragmentation in ‘Gethsemane’ is formed by solid, irregularly shaped elements fixed to a wall, which create irregularly shaped voids held within the orderly boundaries of the semi-circle. Each disparate element is a self-contained unit yet is an intrinsic part of the whole, creating ‘a matrix of perspective’. While working on ‘Gethsemane’ the artist was consciously looking at his surroundings - the classical ruins and the dispersed remnants of Ancient Rome.

Stephen Cox's work is gallery-orientated and although works have been placed outside they are visualised for interior settings, particularly the contemporary context of the art gallery.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1982-84: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1986