Henry Moore was one of the most successful and recognised visual artists of the 20th century, and someone who I had the great pleasure of meeting and working with when I came out of art school in Toronto in the 1970s.
My sculpture teacher in Toronto, Wyndham Lawrence, himself the son of a Welsh miner, was one of Henry Moore’s earliest technicians. When Wyn moved to Toronto, after WW2 the two men stayed in close touch. It is because of this relationship that the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto has the magnificent Henry Moore collection that it does.
What relevance has a sculptor, or indeed sculpture have to my life work in independent film? And what can independent filmmakers learn from Henry Moore’s life and work nearly 3 decades after his death?
1. Use adversity to advantage
Nothing is more uncertain than the current distribution climate for filmmakers.
When Moore’s London sculpture studio was partially destroyed early in World War 2, he rejoiced rather than regretted the damage for it meant he had to change mediums.
And change he did.
For the next 5 years he concentrated on drawing. Commissioned as a War Artist he produced some of the most astonishing images of the 20th century with his Shelter Drawings – works that brought him international aclaim.
He also moved outside of London to the tiny hamlet of Much Hadlon where he rented a farmhouse called Hoglands where he remained until his death.
It was at Hoglands that he erected the large ‘White Enlargement Studio’ (where I worked) and was able to produce the monumental bronzes.
2. View humility as a virtue
Few industries are as devoid of humility as the ego-driven film industry.
The son of a coal mining engineer, Moore was acutely aware of the then current class structure in British society and the fact that he had risen out of his so-called class. Moore turned down a knighthood for the reason that he felt it would alienate him from the very people from whom he had risen, and create a barrier between himself and young struggling artists.
3. Had Moore been a film producer, he would have done a tax deal
Tax planning is very important for today’s film producers. Tax planning allows investors to maximise investments and to legally minimise tax payments.
Such was the success of the British sculptor Henry Moore that he paid over £1,000,000 in income tax in 1972. So alarmed was he at this that he decided on some astute forward tax planning. He formed the Henry Moore Foundation with his daughter, Mary, in order to protect his estate from taxation. The Henry Moore Foundation to this day provides funds for new artists.
4. Court controversy
Cinema is the most powerful medium there is, and with it, filmmakers can change people’s lives. But few dare.
When Henry Moore was commissioned to be a war artist he raised official eyebrows when chose to draw the refugees huddled in the underground tunnels of London. His haunting images were so powerful that not only did they raise awareness of the horrors facing Londoners, they also established him as an artist to be reckoned with on the international stage.
5. Challenge traditions
Nothing is more conservative than film training and education. It has largely been engulfed by academics who fret and stew over meaningless issues like the role of female film directors in the Cuban cinema of the 1920’s.
At the time of Moore’s official sculpture training, Europe art training was equally stiff and formal. An early student exercise was to copy a Greek sculpture into plaster, and then copy it from the plaster into marble using a pointing machine. Moore carved directly into the stone and even added the pin point marks a pointing machine would have made.
I’d be really curious to know what Moore would think about our innovative Postgraduate Film Degree – where our 150+ students on 5 continents are encouraged to explore their filmic passions combining the best of tradition with the latest and newest filmmaking and storytelling developments.
6. Think In Scale
Walk like a duck, get treated like a duck.
Act, walk and talk big, you get treated big.
Moore always thought big.
Even his small models and sculptures were designed to be made larger than life.
7. The general leading the army
Filmmaking is the ultimate collaborative artform. Whether you are working low budget with a few friends, or running a large budget operation with hundreds of actors and crew.
With 40+ technicians at any one time, with art dealers around the world clamouring for new work and exhibitions and commissions happening constantly, Henry Moore was at the centre of a busy hub. He was always very clear about what he wanted and how he wanted it done, but at the same time allowing for the creative input from his army of technicians and advisors.
8. Embracing new technologies and media
Filmmakers are now living in a digital age with a realm of unexplored possibilities.
When More became an war artist in the 1940’s he turned to drawing and explored pencil, crayon, waxes and inks in a way no other artist had used before. His ability to explore (for him) new media distinguishes him as a sculptor and artist.
From a carving point of view, Moore pierced stone, wood, plaster and bronze with a daring never attempted before. His piercings of stone are in themselves, examples of brilliant carving techniques. Fellow scuptors still marvel at the dimensions of the piercings and the skill and artistry with which they were wrought.
His drawings explored shape and dimension.
9. Respect for tradition
Classic filmmaking has a lot of truths for modern filmmakers.
Moore’s return to the lost art of the Greeks: cire perdu (lost wax) bronze casting re-ignited interest in a classical technique nearly lost. His carvings in stone and wood used the techniques discovered and honed by centuries of sculptors before him.
10. Truth to materials
It’s all-to-common that we hear a filmmaker boasting that his or her video looks ‘just like film’. Why not use video for what it was made for? As so too film?
Whatever medium Moore worked in, he used the actual material for what it was. The metal, stone or wood that he used were used for their natural quaalities giving his work a rawness and sensuality that is still emulated by sculptors.
Plaster casts from which Moore’s bronzes were cast in Toronto’s AGO.