‘The nature of creation is that you have to go inside and dig out. The very nature of creation is not a performing glory on the outside, it's a painful, difficult search within’
(L. Nevelson, quoted in B.K. Rapaport, The Sculpture of Louise Nevelson: Constructing a Legend, exh. cat., The Jewish Museum, New York, 2007, p. 36).
With the balanced elegance of its black smooth surface, Sky Landscape II is a powerful example of Louise Nevelson’s unique ability to manipulate her materials. Executed in 1976 - at a time when the Russian-born artist was internationally recognised as one of the leading figures of twentieth-century American sculpture - the work’s overwhelming scale and tactile brilliance witnesses Nevelson’s ambition and far-reaching experimentation. Moving away from the use of wood and the intimate dimensions of her first relief-like
works, it was during this period that Nevelson began to strive for the same monumentality which would characterise all her large-scale public commissions. A larger example of Sky Landscape II was commissioned by Macy’s and was relocated in 1993 to the front of The Public Library of Cincinnati, Ohio. The work boldly asserts its presence with the durability and grace of its metal structure. Proudly human-scaled and free-standing on two straight legs welded to the base, the work recalls an anthropomorphic fusion of nature and machine in its geometric, open and systematic flow of angles and swirls. The evocative power of the work springs from references to both the primitive and the futuristic: Sky Landscape II, as the title suggests, is a monument to the future, a totem to timeless strength and speed. Industrial and botanical shapes intermingle, shaping a still garden, both iconic and primordial. This dramatic dialogue between solids and voids speaks of the essence of things, of the origin and end of the world and of artistic creation. As Nevelson has described, ‘The nature of creation is that you have to go inside and dig out. The very nature of creation is not a performing glory on
the outside, it’s a painful, difficult search within’ (L. Nevelson, quoted in B.K. Rapaport, The Sculpture of Louise Nevelson: Constructing a Legend, exh. cat., The Jewish Museum, New York, 2007, p. 36).
The timeless fascination of Sky Landscape II arises from the inspiration Nevelson found in Cubism, and Picasso in particular, whose practice she was introduced to when a student of the Abstract Expressionist artist Hans Hofmann in Munich in the 1930s. The superimpositions and simultaneous dynamic encounters between shapes, vacillating between abstraction and figuration, make Sky Landscape II a monochromatic sculptural embodiment of a Cubist-style still-life painting. The presence of the sculpture, however,
betrays another source of inspiration, namely the native American and Mayan art Nevelson first encountered during a journey to South America. While Cubism drew part of its inspiration from the essentiality of forms found in African tribal sculpture, Nevelson looked at the archetypical presence of the Guatemalan steles, whose cosmologic aura is palpable in Sky Landscape II. The sculpture however is far from being a nostalgic and exotic reverie: its sharp clear lines and play of surfaces are given a unique solemnity by the black opaque colour, a signature of Nevelson’s practice. Hofmann himself encouraged the artist to abandon colour and embrace the constraint of the monochrome as a challenge, a way to discipline her eye and that of the viewer. Black, as both the anti-colour and the sum of all colours, becomes the essence of Nevelson’s artistic endeavours. As the artist has explained, ‘If you paint a thing black … it takes on a whole different dimension. The … black invites different forms. A state of mind enters into it. ... For me, the black contains the silhouette, the essence of the universe’ (L. Nevelson, quoted in Louise Nevelson: Atmospheres and Environments, exh. cat., The Whitney Museum of Art, New York, 1980, p. 105).