Illustrated companion

Julio Gonz lez was born in Barcelona. His father was a jeweller and metal worker and Gonz lez learnt this trade in his father's workshop. In 1900 the whole family moved to Paris where Gonz lez met Picasso and Brancusi, both of whom became friends. Until about 1927 he supported himself by making jewellery and decorative metalwork but also exhibited paintings and some sculpture. He then began to make sculpture from welded iron, the great tensile strength of this material enabling him to make work of an unprecedented openness, which he referred to as 'drawings in space'. In 1928, Picasso began to use Gonzalez's technical expertise and equipment to construct his own very open, linear sculptures of that time, and Gonzalez in turn was stimulated to start to produce the body of welded iron sculpture for which he is best known, and which had considerable influence on later artists.

Gonz lez's sculpture always retained a figurative reference although it may appear to be very abstract, and 'Maternity' is typical in this respect. The open loop at the top represents the head with strands of hair sticking out into space from the open ends of the loop. Below are two elements presumably representing breasts and below them a configuration which suggests the presence of a child. The conical formation of thin rods is an indication of drapery. The art historian Josephine Withers has suggested that it may be an evocation of the type of Virgin and Child found in the entrance of Gothic Cathedrals.

The implications of the sculpture of Gonz lez were perhaps most fruitfully taken up and developed by the American sculptor David Smith. In the 1940s and 1950s Smith created sculpture from, first, welded scrap iron, and then from stainless steel. In his later, stainless steel works, such as 'Cubi XIX' [Tate Gallery T00891] Smith evolved a new kind of sculpture, abstract, monumental in scale, concerned with light and space and the formal beauty of the material itself, whose light-reflecting properties Smith controlled and enhanced by texturing the surface. With such works Smith, perhaps the most celebrated American sculptor of the post-war era, came to influence profoundly the development of sculpture in the 1960s.

Published in:
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.153