Andrew Lambirth

Back to nature

By Leafy Ways: Early Work by Ivor Abrahams<br /> Against Nature: The hybrid forms of modern sculpture<br /> <em>Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, until 4 May</em>

By Leafy Ways: Early Work by Ivor Abrahams
Against Nature: The hybrid forms of modern sculpture
Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, until 4 May

The Henry Moore Institute is one of our foremost sculptural venues, a focus for study and scholarship, equipped with an impressive library and archive specialising in British sculpture. Opened in 1993 on The Headrow in the centre of Leeds, it is devoted to telling the story of sculpture in Britain, while also taking into account the context of continental modernism. It regularly mounts small, intense and often provocative (in the sense of intellectually challenging) exhibitions. Among the English artists to have been shown there are the contemporary sculptors David Nash and Stephen Cox, and the somewhat less familiar Frank Dobson (1886–1963), an avant-garde classicist rather out of fashion today. An institute for the promotion of sculpture can do no better than arrange shows of work by those who are talented and worth considering but who have somehow slipped through the net of general awareness.

One such figure is Ivor Abrahams (born 1935). A figurative sculptor who studied at St Martin’s and Camberwell, he also had a practical training as an apprentice at the Fiorini Art bronze foundry and subsequently worked with Adele Rootstein, a pioneer maker of display mannequins. In the late 1960s he discovered the territory for which he was to become known: garden sculpture. Not sculptures to be put in your garden, but objects which took the idea of the garden and explored it as subject. In keeping with the ethos of the Sixties, Abrahams used a great deal of found imagery, trawling through popular gardening magazines, and selecting the more modest black-and-white photographs he found there, rather than the flaming colours of prize displays. He was drawn to marginal, low-key subjects: corners of shrubbery, a stretch of topiary, an overgrown wall.

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