‘…if a work of sculpture has its own life and form, it will be alive and expansive, seeming larger than the stone or wood from which it is carved. It should always give the impression, whether carved or modelled, of having grown organically, created by pressure from within’ (H. Moore, quoted in E. Roditi, Dialogues: Conversations with European Artists at Mid-Century, San Francisco, 1990, p. 103).
‘The whole of nature – bones, pebbles, shells, clouds, tree trunks, flowers – all is grist to the mill of a sculptor’ (H. Moore, quoted in A.G. Wilkinson (ed.), Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Aldershot, 2002, pp. 221-222).
Conceived in 1962, Henry Moore’s Working Model for Locking Piece is a powerful example of the spatial and visual complexity the artist achieved in his sculptures during the mid-late period of his career. Consisting of two undulating rounded forms stacked one atop the other, and then twisted together to create an intricate, interlocking unit, the sculpture is filled with an inner tension that suggests not only the intense pressure and weight the forms exert upon one another, but also the possibility of movement that lies within the configuration, as if a single twist in the right direction may release them from one another. At once completely solid, and yet carrying the potential to be pulled apart, the sculpture explores a visual conundrum that had captivated Moore for years, and provoked memories of his youth. ‘When I made it, I was reminded of puzzles I played with as a child in which there were pieces that fitted together but were more difficult to take apart,’ Moore explained. ‘To make two parts fit you had to put them together in a certain way and then turn them so they would lock’ (H. Moore, quoted in A.G. Wilkinson (ed.), Henry Moore: Writings and Conversations, Aldershot, 2002, p. 291).
According to the artist, however, the concept for the Locking Piece sculptures was rooted in the natural quirks and intricate relationships of organic material he had discovered around his home in the Hertfordshire countryside. ‘At one time I was playing with a couple of pebbles that I’d picked up, because behind my far field is a gravel pit and there are thousands of shapes and forms and one only has to go out there and I can find twenty new little ideas if I wish, immediately,’ he explained, ‘… and somehow or other they got locked together and I couldn’t get them undone and I wondered how they got into that position …’ (H. Moore, in conversation with Alan Wilkinson c. 1981, quoted in ibid., p. 291). This deceptively simple action sparked the artist’s imagination, leading him to create a series of small maquettes as he searched for the best way to translate this motif into a large-scale sculpture, which in turn led to the present Working Model and the large-scale Locking Piece (1963-64).
In the years following the creation of these works, Moore also linked the sculpture to the interconnected profile of a series of small bone fragments he had discovered in his garden, their unusual forms and dense interlocking profile calling to mind the push and pull of joints as the body moves. Moore’s studio was filled with vast arrays of such material, with rows of fossils and flint, fragments of driftwood and small animal bones filling the cabinets that lined the walls of his workspace. Each piece was kept by the artist as a result of the visual intrigue he detected in its form and his fascination with the ways in which the material had been moulded and shaped, either by the elements or evolution. This environment proved an integral space for Moore’s creative musings, providing inspiration and unexpected encounters at every turn: ‘I like the disarray, the muddle and the profusion of possible ideas in [the studio],’ he once said. ‘It means whenever I go there, within five minutes I can find something to do which may get me working in a way that I hadn’t expected and cause something to happen that I hadn’t foreseen’ (H. Moore, quoted in ibid., p. 63).
While perhaps initially inspired by objects that the artist had discovered in the natural world, the sculptures which resulted from Moore’s explorations of the motif of interlocking forms were not direct translations of these organic fragments, but rather, highly abstracted studies on the interplay of volume and void. As the viewer moves around Working Model for Locking Piece, the character of the sculpture shifts and changes, as different segments embrace, brush and abut one another, and the carefully moulded spaces and gaps between each element alternately open and contract, depending on the angle from which they are considered. At points, the elements appear to merge together to form a tight unit, while in other positions the artist emphasises their independence from one another, posing them as two separate entities twisted into this formation by an unseen hand or force. Taking advantage of the innumerable visual possibilities of the composition, Moore creates a dynamic work of art that slowly reveals itself to the viewer through the act of movement.
In contrast to the large-scale casts of Locking Piece, the entire surface of the present Working Model is filled with coarse hatchings and tool marks, each line a trace of the artist’s hand as it attacked the smooth finish of the plaster model with chisels, rasps, and planes. Working the plaster in this way before casting allowed Moore to indulge his passion for free carving in his bronze works, creating a richly textured surface in the finished work, while also illustrating the central role played by the artist in the direct physical shaping of the material. Striations of varying length and thickness dance and sweep across the sculpture, directing the eye across and around the different elements, inviting us to appreciate the concave curves, sharp edges, and overlapping panels of the finished form, while also subtly referencing the time-worn surfaces of the organic materials which had initially inspired the artist.
Of the ten recorded bronze casts of the present sculpture, five can be found in public institutions, including The Ulster Museum, Belfast; The Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute, Museum of Art, New York; The Museum of Modern Art, Bucharest; The Donald M. Kendall Sculpture Gardens, Pepsico World Headquarters, Purchase, New York, and The Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum, Duisburg. The plaster can be found at The Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto.