Back to Nature
Curated by Nico Epstein
Opening Reception: Thursday 6 September, 6-9 pm
September 7 - October 11, 2018
McNamara Art Projects, Hong Kong is pleased to present Rory Menage: Back to Nature - the artist’s first solo exhibition in Asia. The exhibition is curated by Nico Epstein and includes an interview with the artist.
Rory Menage (b. York, 1988) reflects on traditional facets of statuary, sculpture and portraiture. His work is dedicated towards discovering new possibilities involved in portraying naturalism. Using a variety of raw materials, the artist’s realm of inquiry examines the position of object-making in a digitally biased era.
While many young artists today turn to digital forms of creation, introspection and reimagination, Menage’s practice pointedly centres around a classical form of sculpture. Carving, in his busts and torsos, represents an almost anti-digital mode of working where the imprecisions and imperfections visible in his subjects’ features are diametrically opposed to the airbrushed, backlit, pixel-perfect faces we see throughout our everyday media intake. With Back to Nature the artist moves us away from the original human likeness of his protagonists and into a more abstracted, elemental domain where the essences of raw materials, especially the dark matter of iron and stone, can be re-examined.
For Menage, carving, caving, mining and sculpting relate to his own personal background where land and landscape, specifically that of the northern British countryside, retains an omnipresent place in his life. Growing up on a farm in Yorkshire, England, experiencing the change of seasons there and watching the farming machines cut into the land have profoundly affected the artist. These experiences are felt in his excavatory methods, on both a physical and metaphysical level where Menage seeks to make psychologically oblique works by carving into solid matter and then often casting these works into metal alloys.
The artist’s sculptural repertoire signposts his virtuosity when it comes to the manipulation of natural substances. Bronze (a mix of copper, tin and lead), cast iron, wood bases, alabaster, and limestone form part of a rich symphony of organic and inorganic formants. Take, for example, Head of Leaves Study III, which makes use of foliage to create the contours of a head, transforming the delicacy of ivy leaves into cast iron. The result is an exploration of the intersections between humanity and nature and the metaphorical preoccupation of how humanity will always be a part of nature itself; made of biological and chemical components. Or, consider Head of a Woman (Facets) a bronze sculptural portrait in which the striated removal of styrofoam generates deep trenches that showcase both the porousness of the original material that was used and, perhaps, the way in which the inorganic attributes of our existence both eat away and reveal us.
As well as taking inspiration from his connection to the topography and contours of the landscape he grew up in, Menage’s sculptural work is anchored to both the history of British Cathedrals and canonical tropes of Western Modernist sculpture. When it comes to the former, the artist considers not merely the architectonic nature of their facades, abounded by gargoyles and misericords as they are, but also the quarries from which the mineral is hewn and the rich seam of limestone that forms the spine of England. Also formally, when it comes to the casting processes used to create them, the sculptures that form the core of Back to Nature bear a notable affinity to the work of Jacob Epstein, Alberto Giacometti and Noam Gabo among other celebrated sculptors. When viewing Girl one can’t help but look back at the polished bronze busts of the ground-breaking and influential artist Constantin Brancusi. However, its controlled mistakes and futuristic visage is firmly of the present, if not beckoning towards the future.
Menage brings to the fore his personal past while asking questions of sculptural traditions that are far too often overlooked in contemporary artistic practice. Each fragment, each slice, each configuration, each detailed and cut angle raises intangible and metaphysical ideas as well as certain feeling of sympathy towards the artist’s animate subjects. Clay, lime, iron, bronze, all lead towards a process of (re)discovery and new possibility. As John Ruskin in The Poetry of Architecture described: “For a stone, when it is examined, will be found a mountain in miniature".