Landscape in Man

Henry Moore discussing a two piece reclining figure. Still from the BBC's Monitor programme, broadcast 20 November 1960.

Henry Moore discussing a two piece reclining figure. Still from the BBC’s Monitor programme, broadcast 20 November 1960.

As part of BBC 4’s ‘Talk Collection’, releasing archive television interviews with ‘some of the most influential figures of the twentieth century’, the BBC has made available a couple of episodes of the seminal arts programme of the 1950s and 60s, Monitor.  Having long admired the work of Henry Moore, I was interested to see that one of these was an interview with the Moore, in his studio.

In watching this short programme, I was struck by a couple of things Moore said about his work.  Firstly, his desire not to explore too deeply the psychology and reasoning behind his creative fascinations, in case it should destroy those fascinations.  Secondly, the relationship between man and earth embodied in some of his sculpture, which I had not considered or noted before.

Some of my great interests, artistically, are in the creative act itself, and in the relationship between man and earth, and the embodiment of that relationship in the arts.  This relationship between man and earth is obviously inherent in poetry and visual art, and to some degree in music.  However, while sculpture can often sit within the landscape, I have rarely considered it as landscape itself, and never so in the work of Henry Moore.

In discussing one of his two-piece reclining figures, Moore spoke of it as

‘a mixture of the human figure and landscape […] show[ing] what was in my mind, the connection with mountains.  You could imagine yourself walking along here, climbing up […].  This and the other [two-piece reclining figure] are sculptures in which I’ve tried to amalgamate the figure and landscape and mountains; a kind of metaphor.  Like in poetry you’d say ‘the mountains skipped like rams’, here there is a figure that is connected with the earth, with rocks, mountains.  It’s metaphor.’

For me, this thought opens up a whole new vista in Henry Moore’s work, and I shall revisit it afresh from hereon.

Even if you have little interest in Moore himself, this programme is valuable viewing for anyone interested in the wider arts.  It is also a fine model for arts programmes of the future, with a deep respect for the work and creator, with a sense of space allowed to appreciate the work, such as has rarely been recaptured. (The recent ‘What Do Artists Do All Day?’ series for BBC4 is the only worthy successor that I can name.)  I sincerely hope that we can look forward to a further opening up of the extensive Monitor archive.

You can watch the programme here: