6th - 27th April 2019
Lee Grandjean’s new sculptures - Jeremy Hooker
I have watched the development of Lee Grandjean’s sculpture over a period of nearly forty years. I have watched with admiration, and constant surprise. Grandjean never makes the same work twice. He does, however, make what I think of as families of images, which, especially with the new figures, placed in the studio or in a gallery, seem to be conducting a wordless conversation. As his work changes, so it also has a continuity that reflects the evolution of certain themes, such as the relation between abstract and organic form, human making and natural process, and image-making based on the human body.
His new sculptures use the language of the human body, both external and internal, in vigorous action and monumentally still, to construct figures of a new creation, appropriate to our time. These are at once less and more than human. Grandjean is not a literalist, and he has never been interested in producing representational art. He is an image-maker. This, however, does not imply only attention to appearances, for he feels into his material, working with sensation and idea, and discovering the image in the process of making. In the event he will surprise himself, and a viewer’s first response is likely to be: ‘Well, I’ve never seen anything like that before’.
On reflection one gains from the work an enlarged sense of humanity. One may also see influences upon Grandjean’s imagination, from cartoon characters in the comics of his childhood to Philip Guston’s cartoon-like figures, and also the modernist dismantling and reconstruction of the human figure, as in Picasso’s ground-breaking Des Demoiselles d’Avignon. Grandjean has responded keenly to these; he has also been, like Henry Moore and other great modernist predecessors, a student of thousands of years of world sculpture. While keenly aware of traditional art, he is no one’s follower, but an artist of independent mind.
He can be humorous but he is not ludic. One does not go to Grandjean for postmodern irony. He is motivated by powerful creative energy in the working of a highly individual imagination, and in energy and ambition he is in the tradition of Gaudier, Moore, and Jacob Epstein, and other sculptors for whom physical energy is integral to the process of sculptural making. Like these too, he is drawn to primitive sculpture. Like and unlike his great predecessors, what draws him is the dynamism of the primitive image, and the use of distortion and exaggeration to express truths beyond the reach of conventional perspective and representation. He is not afraid of what is commonly thought ugly or grotesque, but sees beauty in all manifestations of life.
The strangeness of Grandjean’s figures – I prefer to think of them as beings – has a dreamlike quality. They might be figures of nightmare, not the sculptor’s alone, but emerging from our common nightmare, formed of the daylight atrocities of our time, and the outrage done to the human body and mind. They may be seen as apocalyptic figures, products of catastrophe, genetic mutation, the final result of our age of the Anthropocene, when our mastery over nature threatens the end of life as we know it. In this sense, they are figures with political meaning which speak of the state of the world we have made. As we look at them, other images may come to mind, but neither Picasso’s prostitutes nor Francis Bacon’s screaming popes are akin to Grandjean’s figures. For a literary analogy, the characters of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame are nearer the mark. Grandjean’s figures are grotesque without being monsters, because they have pathos, and energy, and adaptability; they are disabled survivors. Looking at them, we may be taken aback, but not, I think, ultimately with horror. We may even smile, recognising in them the capacity of humanity to adapt and survive. They are not literal or symbolic; they are new things that embody the sculptor’s imagination and creativity energy, and his sense of embodied being, as a man alive in our precarious time. Individually and in conversation, their vitality may quicken in us a kind of hope, for, as William Blake said, ‘Energy is eternal delight’.
Lee Grandjean, based in Norfolk, was formerly deputy head of sculpture at the Royal College of Art. He studied at North East London Polytechnic and Winchester School of Art.