Paul de Monchaux was born in Montreal in 1934 to second-generation Australian parents. He spent an itinerant childhood living in Canada and North and South America and studied at The Art Students League in New York (1952-54) before moving to London in 1955 to study at Slade, he taught full-time at art schools for nearly three decades, at The Nigerian College of Arts, Goldsmiths and finally Camberwell, where he was Head of Sculpture until he retired in 1986.
De Monchaux has exhibited extensively and has been included in group shows at the ICA (1960), Camden Arts Centre (1979), Hayward and Serpentine Galleries (1983), The Henry Moore Institute (2012) and had his first solo exhibition at a private gallery with Megan Piper in 2013. Ten Columns is Paul de Monchaux’s second solo show with the gallery and it is running until the 13th of January, so make sure that you catch it in the final weeks!
Yasmine Akim spoke to the inspiring sculptor about his artistic process and what he has learnt from his recent series.
What is your earliest memory of Sculpture?
When I was a kid growing up in America my family was constantly on the move. I was one of six children so my parents had to find ways to keep us occupied. I enjoyed making things so when we hit a new town I would be shunted off to art lessons at local museums where I had to walk through the galleries to get to the classes. I used to go to classes every week at the Corcoran Gallery when I moved to Washington DC – I would look at the art and think, ‘I know the person who made that!’ I had a powerful sense of identification with the artists, even though many were long since gone. That experience was astonishing and has stuck with me ever since.
Where do you get your inspiration?
I begin with a simple piece of geometry which becomes the core of the piece, I then improvise around that core until I find something that works. Because the permutations of geometry are infinite, somewhere in there is a combination that is going to be more than its parts. When I begin I don’t know where I am going to end, so I am always trying to find those links, and this requires constant trial and error. The improvisation is intuitive, but it takes place around a structure which I have set up beforehand, like a musical score. The objective is to bring the two elements into equilibrium.
How do you come up with the idea for the underlying structure?
I suppose that you could say that work feeds work and I have been doing it for a very long time. There are a number of geometrical configurations that I think of as ‘useful’ in that they can yield many variations. For example, these two sculptures
are based on the construction of a root-two rectangle, a unit used by artists & architects since antiquity. It is derived from the diagonal of a square which becomes the longer side of the rectangle. The measurement of one of these two sides will always include a fraction; the other will always be a whole number so it is best constructed with a compass rather than numerically. I use the compass arcs of this procedure to establish the curves of the sculpture’s section right at the beginning and develop it from there. In using this configuration, I make a connection with many artists, architects & mathematicians who have examined its properties and used it in their work, ranging from ancient Greece and India through medieval Arabia and Europe to the present day.
Another structure is the phenomenon of the mitre, where two curves collide at right angles to produce a third and quite a different one.
The core of this series is about colliding circles and their unique & un-drawable junction. They have to be made to be seen.
Is there an emotional implication in regards to the development of your sculptures?
It is something that I don’t think too much about, I just concentrate on the structure. However, the completed work can produce an emotional charge that both I or someone else can experience, and when it does that’s fine as it means that I have got somewhere. There are two sides to it, the conscious invention and there is what comes from goodness knows where, the other side of the street. I think that there is a large part of what we do that is driven by something else. I have no idea what that is but out it comes, it’s more than 50% of what happens. So if you like, I am responsible for thinking of the idea and if it has an affective quality, if it presents a certain feeling to somebody, then that’s very good, but in no way can I engineer that. I just keep working and I can recognize it when I see it; those are the ones that you see, those are the ones that leave the studio and the others go in the bin.
What has your recent project ‘Ten Column’s’ taught you?
Part of the series has developed into one entity, which is interesting as that was not my original intention. With the ‘Eight studies for male and female columns’, although I had a rule about using the same contents and scale when I started the project, my objective was to present the series as individual pieces. I made the sculptures and put them onto a shelf and then gradually I would look up and think, wait a minute, there is something else happening. So about three-quarters of the way through I began to experiment. I spaced them carefully, a bit like lettering, and put them together in a particular way. My colleague Megan Piper was the first person to see the sculptures. Together we decided that instead of eight sculptures it was one sculpture. I believe that you have to welcome these possibilities with open arms, because they are not things that you can easily anticipate.
What advice would you give to Artists who are just starting out?
To love and enjoy what you do. That is necessary advice because it will be a far from straightforward journey. It will be an extremely bumpy road and a long one. I have been at it for sixty years now! You won’t last the distance if your doing it to make a fortune or for some other superficial motive. There will be plenty of seemingly good reasons to quit as you go along; you may go through a period of not being able to do anything good, or you may go through a period where it is impossible to get anything in return for your efforts etc. So, you better like it! You also need to be prepared to give yourself plenty of room to make all of the many necessary mistakes and see them as part of the process.
What was the last thing that really made you stop and stare?
I haven’t really been outside of the studio for the last year or so, as I have been getting all of this lot together. But I saw an extremely good exhibition a couple of weeks ago at The Annely Juda Gallery of work by Nigel Hall, I have known and admired his work for many years but with this show he was breaking new ground in a most impressive and inspiring way.
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