‘Drawing is a concentration on an essential activity and the credibility of the statement is totally in your hands. It’s the most direct, conscious space in which I work. I can observe my process from beginning to end, and at times sustain a continuous concentration. It’s replenishing. It’s one of the few conditions in which I can understand the source of my work’ – R. Serra
C. C. III (1983-4) defines a formidable arc of black. Curving vastly to the very brink of the paper, the imposing form gives no impression of being contained, but engulfs the viewer with its densely textured black surface: the massive, almost geological expanse of paintstick seems to consume the paper. Since the early 1970s Richard Serra has worked with paintstick in situ, creating black fields in site-specific canvas installations as a way ‘to define spaces within a given architectural enclosure’ (R. Serra, ‘Notes on Drawing’ in R. Serra, Writings, Interviews, Chicago & London 1994, p. 178). In C. C. III, a work on paper, we find a different permutation of the artist’s cerebral mastery of shape, space and weight, and a remarkable insight into his creative practice: as part of a magnificent series of post-facto studies, Serra has absorbed and expressed the physical impact of his seminal sculpture Clara-Clara (1983), which is named after his wife. ‘The drawings on paper are mostly studies made after a sculpture has been completed. They are the result of trying to define and assess what surprises me in a sculpture, what I could not understand before a work was built. They enable me to understand different aspects of perception as well as the structural potential of a given sculpture. They are distillations of the experience of a sculptural structure’ (R. Serra, ‘Notes on Drawing’ in R. Serra, Writings, Interviews, Chicago & London 1994, p. 181).
A pair of huge, sweeping fifty-ton C shapes, three metres high and thirty-three metres in length, Serra’s colossal Clara-Clara was commissioned for a retrospective at the Pompidou Centre; deemed too heavy for the floor of the Centre’s Beaubourg Forum, the work was later installed temporarily in the Jardin des Tuileries. Michael Brenson memorably described the work as seeming ‘both to open like magical doors and to squeeze inward like a trap, both to expose itself like a flower hungry for the sun and to curl up like a sunflower at dusk’ (M. Brenson, ‘Art View: Richard Serra works find a warm welcome in France,’ New York Times, 3 November 1985). The vertiginous power of Clara-Clara is due to Serra flipping one of the shapes upside down: walking between the walls, the viewer is disoriented by a parallax effect as the two surfaces lean in the same direction, creating a bottleneck in their midpoint. C. C. III presents a full-size register of Clara-Clara’s awesome weight and surface. Shaping one of the work’s upper corners, this is a looming glimpse of the entrance (or exit) of the structure, promising a contour as inevitable and massive as the curve of the earth.
One of the most acclaimed sculptors of the past century, Richard Serra is best known for his vast, weighty swathes of sheet metal. Bringing their physical context of landscape or architecture into play as much as they implicate the viewer, Serra’s sublime sculptures are an uncompromising and powerful experience – sometimes to the extent that he has fallen out violently with local establishments. The present work translates one such overwhelming form into just as powerful an encounter in two dimensions: C. C. III demands a response. With characteristic authority, Serra reveals the unswerving command of our relation with the physical world that lies at the heart of his work. ‘I don’t really care if people go away remembering how the pieces were configured. I want them to go away with some kinaesthetic equivalent of a hollow in your stomach’ (R. Serra quoted in D. Hickey, ‘Serra’s Parables of Gravity and Architecture,’ in Richard Serra: Weight and Measure Drawings, exh. cat., Drawing Center, New York, 1994, p. 11).