A larger-than-life view of nature

Anyone who has seen much of Henry Moore's sculpture will see the visual reminiscences of it in his graphic work. Moore is well-known for deriving the gnarled, bulbous forms of his sculpture imaginatively from nature. This etching , from a suite called "The Sheep Album," lets us see something of that imaginative process, and the fact that imaginative work is of the hand, not just of the inward eye. (Moore's work reveals this in another way when he carves directly, letting the given grain of wood or stone suggest the course the work should take at points.)

It is no accident that the bodies of the sheep in "Ready for Shearing" look like details of Moore's sculpture. Not only do the shapes of the sheep recall characteristic prominences in some of Moore's bronze pieces, their graphic quality actually resembles the surface quality of the bronzes. There is a material reason for the latter effect. The ridges and scratches cast in the bronze sculpture's surfaces have their counterpart in the scorings on the etching plate by means of which the artist produced the sheep image. This connection between the surface texture of Moore's cast sculpture and the etching technique allows us to understand the striations cast in the sculpture as purely tactile references to light and shadow. For it is clear in the etching that the function of the technique itself is the definition of forms in terms of light and shade. The impression of light in "Ready for Shearing" is curiously dim, as if these sheep were seen under moonlight. You can see, too, how the etching technique allowed Moore to merge the sheep with their surrounding space as much as possible.

Another reminiscence of Moore's sculpture here is the ambiguous sense of scale. Of course, we have a rough idea of how large sheep actually are, but there are no reminders of this in Moore's etching. His sheep look like they could be the size of dirigibles. His observation of their readiness for shearing becomes a metaphor for the immeasurable fulness of nature.

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