David’s irreverent sculptures contort into impossible positions, as if offering themselves to passing strangers – or waiting for someone to give them a good seeing-to. He is an imp of the perverse
Legs straight, shoulders flat to the floor, arse in the air and ear to the ground. What a performance: the whole body is folded in an impossible position. It looks as if he is offering himself to passing strangers, waiting for someone to give him a good seeing-to. Unless he just got stuck like that in Pilates class. It’s a sculpture, so don’t worry too much about the anatomical. If only human beings were so pliant.
His eyes are blank and there is something like a smile on his lips. If he is looking at anything at all, it is the two cast-iron balls that have rolled across the floor and stopped near his face. To really see that face, you have to get down on your hands and knees. There are more little balls dotted about the gallery – against the walls, in the corners, alone and in little clusters. With all the different sculptures between them, they punctuate the space and turn what would otherwise be an arrangement of objects in a big white room into a fictive world – a beach, a stage, or even some kind of gym. It is a clever yet simple idea.
Enrico David’s show at the Hepworth Wakefield is full of ideas, images and sculptures from the last five years. His sculptures are all having some kind of workout – though their attitudes range from the sexy to the abject, the tender to the nasty. It could all be a bit twee, but isn’t.
Another body heaves its stomach and pelvis up from the floor. Its legs are like a pair of prongs. Based on the carved mast-step of a Viking longship the artist saw in Norway, it too proffers its bronze rump. Another figure presses its head against the wall, as though eavesdropping the goings-on in another room. It barely has a leg to stand on. This is a lonely image, the bronze figure looking exhausted and eroded, as if it too had been dredged up from some sunken ship or unearthed from a bog. It could be made of rock or fossilised wood rather than bronze. Yet another pallid figure is as bleached and smooth as driftwood or bone. Despite its human scale, you can imagine it fitting smoothly in the hand.
These figures invite close proximity, to see what’s going on in their expressions. I find myself drawn to physiognomies and to their faces. A sculpture is always more than an image, and however much one might be inclined to tell a story, here there is no narrative. This is not expressionism, theatrical though some of David’s sculptures are. This is a situation.
Lifesize figures, little things on plinths, a number of drawings that, with their snaggly and delicate washes, owe something to Joseph Beuys; look closer and we see gullets, intestines, penises, mechanical attachments to the human organism. It is all very peculiar. I like peculiar. These forms migrate into the smaller sculptures and a number of reliefs in the first gallery. Two small sculptures incorporate real and bronze-cast marrowbones, cut lengthways. One of these is a sort of tube inside a forehead, like a tunnel through the soul. The head is a weird amber-coloured ovoid, with an oddly concave face. It looks like a giant’s head, emerging fully formed from a womb.
The other marrowbone forms the chest cavity of a standing figure whose penis is a wicked metal blade. The blade can fold back, like a penknife, into the body. As it does, it slices into the figure’s head. You could imagine this threatening object in a display cabinet in an ethnographic museum: but how old would it be, what civilisation would it belong to?
David runs the gamut of sculptural processes: carving and modelling, casting, making figures, reliefs, tableaux and singular objects. He approaches his sculptural legacy with a freewheeling, irreverent curiosity. It is his awkwardness that gives his work its flavour and distinguishes it. One of the things I like most is its refusal to try and look new. Some of the things he is dealing with are perennial issues for sculptors: how to render eyes, mouths, heads, hands and feet, and how the different parts cohere into a whole – do these hands belong with this head?
One energetic little sculpture is an abstract, penile dancing cross, with metal spokes radiating from the centre. Two more works show multiple figures fusing into one another as they rise from the horizontal to the vertical. Another has a succession of figures all sitting on one another’s laps. This is sculpture as orgy, or a sculptural version of timelapse photography. All the heads of these melding figures have the resigned look of repentant sinners in a medieval fresco. What fun these are, how weird, how strange!
Another mantis-like figure, with a delicate woman’s head, reads a book; it is one of David’s own catalogue essays. A giant fly floats above our heads (based on a drawing by Sigmar Polke). A spindly dragonfly hovers nearby. Why, you ask? But there is no answer. I’m watching my feet for those balls. A benign trickster or imp of the perverse sits on David’s shoulder. He could make a sculpture from that.