Thom Puckey: Notes on my work
My project: marble figures, life size, female, nude, formally posed, and with attributes in the form of weapons (modern firearms and knives of varying types and sizes). My techniques are anachronistic, following closely those of the late 18th / early 19th century. The sculpture is modelled in clay; it is cast in plaster; the plaster is copied over into marble. The basic formality of the sculptures is that of the period just following neo-classicism. Anti-baroque, a strong feeling of formal stability, very ‘posed’ and composed, with nothing portrayed within the composition which could not in some way or another happen in real life. In this last sense I can accept the epithet ‘realism’. The formal and stylistic qualities of sculptors like Canova, Bartolini, Houdon, Dupré etc. have had their influence on my work. I admire in particular the manner of translating flesh into marble in the work of these sculptors, something which later lost its way amongst the academicism of the late 19th century, and deserves to be restored. The softness and semi-transparency of good marble has a way of almost becoming flesh, in a way as much beautiful as it is obscene. It is also an ideal material for achieving exquisite contrasts between hard and soft, a quality I use more and more both in the figures and in the attributes round them. Many, though not all of the poses in my work are borrowed and adapted from sculpture and painting sources; a good example being ‘A.V. with RPG-7 and Knife’ which was adapted from Ingres’ painting, ‘Oedipus and the Sphinx’.
The nudity in my work is the area where I allow two types of obsession with the female nude to overlap with each other. The ‘classical’ obsession and the cultural obsession which surfaced in the 1960s and which has grown and grown ever since then. The one where the taboo is disguised and allowed by ‘responsible’ artistic tradition, and the other where the taboo is pushed against and aside by ‘irresponsible’, incorrect, commercial and sexual interests. I play directly into these two types of approaches to the nude, I temper the particular obscenity of the one with the particular obscenity of the other. I allow posed 19th century-like formalities bring a kind of order to 20th and 21st century violent indecency. The presence of modern weapons in the sculptures makes them seem contemporary in a cheap kind of way, this I realise. I like this suggestion of cheapness, I play into it. Chicks and guns. At the same time I let the matter overlap with the threatened, threatening, violent female figure of history and myth, from the Papin sisters, through to Diana, Lucretia, Judith and so on. I take great care with the details in the weapons, they need to be as accurate as possible within the carving process. The portrayal of weapons in war monuments has influenced me greatly, and there remains of course an adolescent-like fascination with these things which I rhyme with Klossowski’s analysis of the nude in art, involving in his view a similar type of fascination (‘The Decadence of the Nude’).
Building my works up in clay remains an achingly long process, involving working from a live model, and allowing myself the freedom of a painter to begin with something before I’m completely clear about how I want it to end. I maintain flexibility in the development of ideas and idea-structures, letting the work generate its own ideas as the process goes on. The work must be open to being adapted, with grinder, saw, knife and welding machine, for as long a period as possible. I do the plaster-casting myself. The marble carving is carried out by Studio Stagetti in Pietrasanta. I’m present for long periods during the carving process, particularly in the final stages where I do much of the surface-finishing myself.