Denis Mitchell 1912-1993
T01480 Cauca 1971
Polished bronze, 7¿ x 47 x 3¿ (19.3 x 119.4 x 8) on a base, 2¿ x 11¿ x 5¾ (6 x 28.2 x 14.6).
Presented by Mrs Marjorie Parr 1971.
Exh: Marjorie Parr Gallery, October 1971 (18, repr.).
T01480 is the first cast in an edition of five. The second is in a private collection; the others have not yet been cast. The artist made the sculpture by building up the rough form in plaster, and having it sand cast. At this stage the solid block of bronze was larger than the finished work. Mitchell gradually filed, grinded and sandpapered the bronze until it was the intended form. The name derives from the river in Colombia, where Mitchell gave a lecture tour in 1970.
The artist has been working in bronze since 1959: in 1971 he also made several works in wood (e.g. ‘Givendra’, ‘Amalveor’) or slate (e.g. ‘Honister’, ‘Trenear’). Asked why he had decided to make this particular work in bronze, Mitchell wrote: (15 April 1972): ‘Bronze is a material in which one can get both a very pure form and also a terrific range of mass from large to quite thin, which would look wrong in any other material, as each material has its own individual character which dictates its own forms, and this idea was conceived from the beginning to be done in bronze.’
He said that in 1967 he made a sculpture, ‘Cargalver’ (repr. exh. cat. Marjorie Parr Gallery, 1969), with which he was very intrigued as it was a horizontal form. He thought it had succeeded although he nearly always works with vertical forms which reach upwards.’ I am not really sure where the idea came from, I think it was a piece of wood I saw, but I could not develop the idea further until I saw the pre-Columbian ornaments in the Gold Museum in Bogota, and the beautiful nose ornaments.’ He said that he was inspired by seeing these pieces to make five new works including ‘Tumaco’, ‘Cordoba’ and ‘Cauca’.
He titles nearly all his sculptures after place names, generally Cornish; he thinks that it is dangerous to give names to an abstract sculpture, as the viewer can try to read an idea from the title instead of looking at the sculpture itself.
‘I still have the working drawings for “Cauca”, I nearly always work from drawings, some just scribbles which are a shorthand for me, and some I develop into finished ones on gesso on board, and this I did with “Cauca”, and I always work very closely to the drawing.’
Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1970–1972, London 1972.