Nigel Hall is an interesting artist for a number of reasons, not least of course because of his work, but also because of his generation and origins, continuity of practice and being possessed of a ‘great eye’, (as they used to say about someone who had a rare sense of form).
Hall also intrigues because he is one of the few British Artists of a certain age whose work is demonstrates the most extraordinary capacity for being able to evade the pigeonholes that await the unwary. Pigeonholes that others of our, and his, time have been so unhelpfully deposited in. He is intriguingly fugitive therefore and the work is quicksilver.
This show at Annely Juda Fine Art until the 23 December 2016 reminded me just how important and pivotal a figure Hall is for (British) sculpture and for an approach to the practice of sculpture that originated in the art schools of the 1950’s with Moore and Hepworth, Butler and Tucker. The same sensibility I would assert that pertains and would eventually yield Gormley, Hirst, Shrigley, Emin and the rest of the YBA’s through to MacLean and Gander. This claim may seem at first glance to be either tenuous or a complete misreading of Hall’s work, but if one needed to seek confirmation, then one needs look no further than the impressive floor-based work that lends it title to the show. Hall cleverly subverts the formal penetrations of Hepworth by meticulously excising material volume from grounded ply blocks in a way that shocks the sensibility and ridicules our expectations of lyrical formal sculpture.
The wall-mounted version of ‘Here and Now, There and Then’ , epitomizes the sculptors’ frequent dilemma of which is the more-interesting, the product or the by-product and which is to be presented or discarded; here of course we have both, tantalizingly poised. ‘Here and Now, There and Then’, subverts subtractive sculptural processes such as carving, whilst additive constructed or modelled formal approaches are problematized by the apparent absence of the human hand or sense of facture. A common thread through the work is the extraordinary and near-digital effect of what is, in reality, a fairly rudimentary processing of material.
The works in ‘Here and Now, There and Then’ offer bizarre and dizzying perspectives through dense sandwich forms with Escher-like perceptual impossibilities presented as if of the everyday. Southern Shade V, (2014) offers an effigy of monumentalized reminiscence through the fixed intersections and impeccable loci of summertime hula hoops.
Hall’s sense of form is unimpeachable, the three-dimensional curves drawn in space are immaculate and exquisite, and though they may appear reactionary in reverting or referring back to the halcyon simplicity of the formal concerns of sculpture, they are intelligent and subtle and entirely current; they are also entirely contemporary in their grasp of the changing nature and capacity of materials to hold and carry and posit liminal and subliminal information.
‘One Plus One Equals One (for M.Y.)’ (2016) draws its polished wooden form into an unlikely architectural/typographic logo that confirms Hall’s understated mastery, this hard won over many years; the sophistication a long way from his ‘Vertical Excavations’ and ‘Cave’ forms of earlier days but oddly still very close to the formal equivocations of his work in the 1980’s, so very long ago.
This is really a show to see and work to enjoy for its rarity, conciseness and attentiveness of the artist. This work is consummate and quintessential.