Feature

TWO SCULPTORS WITH MOORE IN COMMON

THE LIVES of two HVAF luminaries overlap once again as Parndon Mill mounts an exhibition bringing together a select group of artists who worked for Henry Moore.

Recent works by John Farnham and Derek Howarth will be included in Four Moore Sculptors from July 1 at the Harlow gallery just across the Herts border, and close to where the sculptors met at Moore’s studios in Perry Green in the 1960’s.

Both artists will be showing work of an abstract figurative nature, but during the intervening years they each followed very different paths.

As John Farnham immersed himself in the world of Henry Moore, moving from young apprentice to invaluable assistant, Derek moved sideways into film and television to not only produce huge sculptural props, but also to build a reputation on a mammoth scale. Indeed, the relentless success of Derek over four decades was so overwhelming it left little time for the artist to turn his attention to his own work.

The works to go on show in Four Moore Sculptors, which coincides with a major exhibition of Moore’s work at Tate Britain, demonstrate the highly evolved practices of both Derek and John. Works by John display a fascination with texture and are characterised by tactility. Carvings harmonise the full range of finishes from coarse to high polish and exploit the specific qualities of the material he chooses to use.

It’s a long way from the early days when John was producing work out of a shed on the Moore estate from leftover material. “I worked in wood and produced one or two bronzes. I often used scraps,” recalls John. “What were scraps of polystyrene to Moore, we could use as a lot were being burned or wasted.”

The distant echo of the distinctive Moore form still resonates in the work of John Farnham today. As John himself observes: “Moore was a big influence because I’d been around it all the time.” Growing up next door to Henry Moore, as a child John was fascinated by the artistic activities in Moore’s garden. Many times he would accompany his father who was building studios in the grounds which remain at the site of the Foundation.

But other influences also came into play. Inspired by Moore assistants such as Anthony Caro, Phillip King and Isaac Witkin, John has also spent more than forty years in travel and research that has taken him from one end of Europe to the other and far beyond. First-hand observations of cultures Asiatic, European and American, both ancient and modern can be found in his work, adding to it a sometimes unexpected quirkiness.

John worked for Moore up until his death in 1986. As his longest serving assistant, he undertook the building of armatures, liaising with foundries, checking works for the big auction houses in London, enlarging and patinating sculptures, and organising and preparing exhibitions that would take him across the globe. John’s portfolio also includes pieces in bronze and steel. Over the years he has exhibited extensively and his work has also featured in numerous publications.

Another early inspiration to John was one of HVAF's founder members Derek Howarth, who arrived at the Henry Moore workplace fresh from four years making sculpture at Manchester Regional College of Art. In the early days Derek was acutely aware of the need to earn an income in order to survive as an artist, and took up an assistant post for 12 months. He also taught at Norwich School of Art. But when work on a theatre set beckoned, producing large scale hands for 18 ft figures designed to hold spears, Derek could not have anticipated what lay ahead.

Countless film credits later with a range of directors to take your breath away, it is perhaps easier to focus on the highlights of Derek’s career creating three-dimensional works for films, theatre, television and public buildings.

“I had the opportunity to work on some huge jobs. In the 1970's I worked very closely with George Lucas and Steven Spielberg on Star Wars and Indiana Jones,” said Derek. “It was always my intention after the next film to start on my own work, but jobs were coming in thick and fast.”

Over the years Derek also returned to Perry Green from time to time to execute large projects for Henry Moore in polystyrene, a medium Derek mastered for creating theatre props and introduced Moore to. The magic of polystyrene was that a big job could be completed in six weeks. To make the same piece in plaster would take 12 months.

With studio time now his own, Derek's ideas are driven by stories from Greek mythology: particularly the “man with a mission with everything crossing his path to create a diversion,” and the universal movement of dance; imagery that crosses boundaries and explores energy and space between figures.

Works manifest as a series of figures with the emphasis on stylised gesture, which are not fixed on a base but intended to be rearranged by the viewer. The component pieces can exist singly, in pairs or even trios: the endless possibilities of such compositions being the owner's prerogative. No complete work exists until the owner makes “his arrangement of the day,” thus the relationship between the owner and the sculptor is active and ongoing. “Every piece has a series of views.”

Four Moore Sculptors runs at Parndon Mill, Harlow from 1 July to 8 August 2010. The show also includes work by Malcolm Woodward and James Copper. For more information go to www.parndonmill.co.uk

John Farnham at www. johnfarnham.co.uk and Derek Howarth at www.filmandtvsculptors.com

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