This sculpture is formed from thin strips of ceramic clay stacked in rows to resemble a human skull. The ceramic blocks are evenly spaced with broad visible gaps between them. They alternate in direction row by row, with the strips in each row perpendicular to the strips in the rows immediately above and beneath it, giving the construction a honeycomb appearance. The skull rests on an integral circular base. The surface of the sculpture is covered with a cream-coloured glaze with pale yellow highlights.
Neagu was born in Bucharest. In 1970 he moved from Romania to London where he remained for the rest of his life. The cellular construction of Ceramic Skull is typical of his sculptural work in the early 1970s. The grid-like structure provides a visual analogy for the unconscious process of compartmentalising sensory or intellectual information. The cells also function as a metaphor for interrelated parts of the human body and by extension parts of society and the natural world which remain separate yet linked. Neagu’s philosophy stressed the simultaneous distinctness and interconnectedness of everything, from the molecular level to the universal. He described his aim as ‘To constitute on an Art-level, multiple connections of apparently disparate facets potentially high charged in order to underline ... meaningful relationship’ (quoted in Generative Art Group, p.56).
The fragility of the human body is echoed in the delicate medium used in this work. Neagu’s representation of the skull is a modern updating of a traditional memento mori subject. Many of the artist’s cellular constructions were lined with tactile materials which the audience was invited to touch. By contrast the hollow cells of Ceramic Skull may suggest the absence of sensations and memories in death.
Neagu’s intellectually rigorous and object-based approach was influential on a younger generation of British artists who came to prominence in the 1980s. Sculptors who were taught by Neagu at art school include Tony Cragg (born 1949; see Axehead, 1982, Tate T03791), Richard Deacon (born 1949; see For Those Who Have Ears #2, 1983, Tate T03958), Anthony Gormley (born 1950; see Untitled (for Francis), 1985, Tate T05004) and Anish Kapoor (born 1954; see As if to Celebrate, I Discovered a Mountain Blooming with Red Flowers, 1981, Tate T03675).
Sarah Kent, Paul Neagu: Sculpture, exhibition catalogue, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 1979.
Generative Art Group, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, 1975.
Gradually Going Tornado! Paul Neagu and his Generative Art Group, exhibition catalogue, Sunderland Arts Centre, 1975.