Stones That Dream of Being Fruit
THE titles given to some of Peter Randall-Page's sculptures are much more revealing than mere identification tags: "Stone Can Dream of Fruit," for example, or "Down Among the Gastropods." Such names succinctly draw attention to the roots of his vision. These roots are both natural and surreal. However, he doesn't name his sculptures before making them: It's not a question of some word-concept being envisioned in stone.Skip to next paragraph
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Stone is this British sculptor's preferred material. In this, he unavoidably links his work with the most ancient and durable of sculptural artifacts - be they Egyptian, paleolithic, or Aztec - and also with the primal activity and character of carving.
Using this traditional material instead of some of the specifically contemporary choices exploited by many 20th- century sculptors, such as steel, fiberglass, or other man-made materials does not mean that he rejects all the aspects of modern sculpture that have become acceptable or even taken for granted. For instance, the direct placing of sculpture on the ground, rather than separating and monumentalizing it by elevation on a plinth, is apparently a normal part of Randall-Page's thinking.
But, in our period of increasing ecological concern, the choice of the "ground" on which a sculpture may be placed can feed its meaning and atmosphere in ways that are even more significant than simply siting a work effectively. A number of artists feel that art should be more modest in its relations with nature; that it should acknowledge that man's aesthetic endeavors are part of the whole system of the earth and not in egocentric confrontation with it.
Randall-Page is such an artist. He brings together the traditional concept of the discrete sculptural object or form with the notions of such conceptual landscape sculptors as Richard Long or Andy Goldsworthy who, with often minimal intervention, leave a trace of their passage in some temporarily visited place, a circle of stones or a snow structure. Randall-Page's stone sculptures, even when placed under trees near a stream with an air of inevitable naturalness, still make a statement of intended perman ence. Moss and lichen may form on them, but their very weight and substance, as well as their scale and carved surfaces, suggest they may stay where he has put them for an age. They also, however much they derive from observation of natural forms, are without doubt "art": What else could they be?
They are "art" in the sense that certain garden sculpture of the past has been "art" - not dominating its surroundings, but a calculated part of the entire scheme of things. They are also "art" in a much older tradition, as we count Stone-Age fertility sculpture as "ancient art." Probably such objects were not "art" in our modern sense at all - unless we are to radically revise that concept. They were cult objects, to do with magical veneration and pagan beliefs. Marina Warner, novelist and art writer, o bserves in an essay on Randall-Page that his most recent work, heavily symbolic in its exploration of knotted and compressed serpentine forms, "illustrates how a new brand of secular mysticism has come to play a strong role in the making of contemporary art."
Randall-Page's sculptures come "out of his head," are virtually abstract, but they are also directly inspired by botanical and biological forms. His work has variously enlarged and reinvented in stone such things as pine cones, snail shells, fossils, butterfly pupae, acorn cups, the crozier of a fern before it uncurls in the spring, the reproductive parts of a flower.