Naum Gabo Sketch for a Stone Carving 1933

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Artwork details

Artist
Naum Gabo 1890–1977
Title
Sketch for a Stone Carving
Date 1933
Medium Graphite on paper
Dimensions Support: 140 x 219 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition Presented by the artist 1977
Reference
T02158
Not on display

Summary

This exploratory sketch appears to relate to the series of Stone with Collar sculptures which Naum Gabo executed in the mid-1930s. While it does not relate directly to any one of the five sculptures which Gabo produced on the theme, it seems to depict a solid material surrounded by circular swathes of different textures, and in this sense is broadly similar to the final sculptures, which incorporated a stone centre encircled by bands of plastic or bronze.

Gabo sketched primarily as a means to experiment with new sculptural ideas. A prolific draughtsman, his drawings usually related directly to particular sculptures, as with Sketch for a Stone Carving, and were predominantly produced not as autonomous works of art but as private studies. As Steven Nash has commented, they appear as ‘arrested thoughts in the visual conceptualisation of a construction or carving’ (Preface, in Naum Gabo: Drawings, p.1). Dated 1933, this sketch seems to have been executed at around the same time as two preliminary models for the constructions, Model for ‘Stone with Collar’, c.1933 (Tate T02172) and Stone with Collar, c.1933 (Tate T02147). These two small works were made in Paris and provided the basis for Gabo’s development of the theme after his arrival in London in March 1936, where he produced a further three sculptures, including a version commissioned by the artist Winifred Nicholson (1893-1981) (reproduced in J.L. Martin, Ben Nicholson and Naum Gabo (eds.), Circle: International Survey of Constructive Art, London 1937, p.85), and the highly polished Construction: Stone with a Collar, 1933, this version c.1936-7 (Tate T06975). The dark swathe across the top of the central element in this sketch appears to relate to the presence in Nicholson’s version of an additional strip going over the stone.

The Stone with Collar sculptures broke new ground for Gabo since they introduced direct carving into his work for the first time, and combined his more usual geometric forms with irregular, assymetric lines. Gabo’s conjunction of the natural and man-made in the final constructions was also a significant departure from his earlier dedication to purely industrial materials, and reflected his desire to express what he saw as the hidden forces of nature. Authors of a recent monograph on Gabo, Martin Hammer and Christina Lodder have detected in the forms of the stone carvings the influence of natural rock formations eroded by the wind or sea. Yet Gabo’s interest in technological and scientific innovation was still keen, and the dynamic curved forms evident in both the drawing and the final constructions might also be an allusion to recent discoveries in modern physics about spatial curvature, which posited that space itself was curved.

This drawing was presented to the Tate Gallery by the artist in May 1977, along with sixteen other drawings, seven completed works and thirty-two models. After Gabo’s death in August 1977, hundreds more previously unknown works on paper were found in his studio.

Further Reading:
Martin Hammer and Christina Lodder, Constructing Modernity: The Art and Career of Naum Gabo, New Haven and London 2000, p.390, reproduced pl.268

Steven A. Nash and Jörn Merkert (eds.), Naum Gabo: Sixty Years of Constructivism, Munich 1985, reproduced p.177
Naum Gabo: Drawings, exhibition catalogue, Annely Juda Fine Art, London 1987

Jacky Klein
August 2002

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