John Ernest

Moebius Strip


Not on display

John Ernest 1922–1994
Wood, metal, plywood and alkyd paint
Object: 2440 × 2140 × 585 mm (confirmed)
Presented by Paul and Susan Ernest 2003


The post-war period saw a rebirth of constructivism in Britain. John Ernest was part of a group of artists, among them Victor Pasmore (1908-1998), who were at this time working towards a rigorous sculptural abstraction, notably by producing constructed reliefs. Ernest had worked as a painter, making both abstract and figurative works, before arriving in London in 1951, where he then studied sculpture at St Martin’s School of Art from 1952. He began making constructions in 1954 and from the completion of his studies in 1956 worked exclusively in that medium.

Ernest corresponded with the American artist Charles Biederman (1906-2004), who viewed the constructed relief as the logical development of Mondrian’s abstract paintings. Ernest’s relief sculptures, such as Triangulated Relief 1965 (Tate T03723) and Mosaic Relief No. 4 1966 (Tate T00872), show his interest in examining the relationships between of a small number of predetermined elements. Ernest investigated scientific and mathematical problems as well as aesthetics, and he designed and made scientific models alongside his artistic practice. His artworks were sometimes visualisations of abstract mathematical models.

This sculpture, a large work constructed from painted plywood, is a realisation of a moebius strip. A moebius strip is a one sided or non-orientable surface, an infinite loop with one continuous plane. This seemingly impossible object is often demonstrated by a loop of paper with simple twist in its path. Ernest’s Moebius Strip is unusual, not only in its realisation as a cuboid shape, but that it is a negative rather than a positive representation. Ernest regularly made use of negative space in his constructions, and in this case it is the spaces between the painted wood panels in which the moebius strip is seen. The work was made for Systems, an Arts Council of Great Britain touring exhibition, which was first shown at Whitechapel Art Gallery in London in 1972.

Further reading:
Systems, exhibition catalogue, Arts Council of Great Britain, London, 1972
John Ernest: Exhibition of Reliefs, exhibition catalogue, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 1964

Maria Bilske
February 2005

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Technique and condition

The following entry is based on the conservation record held in Sculpture Conservation.

A large wooden spiral construction with a central cavity and a box like exterior supported by internal metal and wood frames raised off the floor by two smaller plinths.

The artwork was finished in an off white alkyd paint with dolomite extenders. The two plinths are painted grey.

There are no additional marks or inscriptions by the artist.

The structural and surface finish is good following major treatment carried out in 2003 financed by the Henry Moore foundation prior to acquisition. The artwork was previously not suitable for display. The wood armature was failing causing the sculpture to sag. The wood had cracked along the grain leading to significant losses of surface and the underlying structure. An additional metal armature was fitted, cracks consolidated and filled and the surface repainted and finished to replicate the original appearance.

Jodie Glen-Martin
October 2005

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