Anne-Sophie Morelle’s sculptures are human in scale. Whether it is a boy, a girl, a young couple, or an old woman, the atmosphere these sculptures project is classical, though their conception is wholly contemporary. This back and forth reading between the archaic and the contemporary builds a tension in these recent sculptures. As inventive scenarios, they are tinged with a symbolism worthy of the Belgian sculptor George Minne (1866-1941). Minne’s well-known Fountain of the Kneeling Youths has something of Anne-Sophie Morelle’s youthful introspection, a sensitivity to the social side of life that likewise inspired Auguste Rodin and Camille Claudel.
There is a textural immediacy and abstract gestural spirit in Anne-Sophie Morelle’s surface treatment. These recent sculptures, created using the lost wax technique, can have a formal presentational character, but Morelle adds her own creative contextualization to the way she places the bodily form, situates it in space, and situates her sculptures presentationally. Morelle’s sculptures capture the figure with an imaginative ambiguity that borders on androgeny. We can see this in Grace (2003). The undulating surface texture and detail captures light to great effect. Intangible and ambiguous surfaces that look worn by time offer us clues, tell us these are indeed 21 st century sculptures. Le défi (2001) again begins as an archaic study, but then lets the surfaces wear, the textures and material effects take over.
Anne-Sophie Morelle’s sculptures are composed in a simple presentational way. There is a suggestion that these compositions could be part of some more monumental project, emerging as they do as material manifestations of the artist’s working process. The subjects are intimate. The surfaces make them look like ancient works at times, or at least sculptures that reference other places, other times. Some of these sculptures, like Le repos are frozen in time, almost like the figures from the Roman city of Pompeii in the Italian Campania region who were completely buried during the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius over a two-day period in August 79 AD. We have a similar sense with Le retrait (2006), a portrait of aging with a modernist flair.
While so much sculpture of our era extemporizes to express a psychic dimension, Anne-Sophie Morelle’s sculpture returns to our bodily relation to space, a not so common approach these days. There is a sense of the stillness of time in Daphne, a sculpture whose fresh physical vitality recalls Gustav Vigeland’s sculptures of children at Frogner Park in Oslo, Norway. There is a silence and poise to Au-delà de soi, a work that recalls ancient Egyptian sculpture for its hieratic and formal presentation of the human body. Morelle’s sculptures are not simply re-creations of ancient found forms, but contemporary and inventive explorations of some ancient, classical and more contemporary motifs.
Contemporaneity and the classical meet in the fragment, as is the case the L’homme au baton or Carmen. The erosion of the surfaces, and the simplicity of these works, is as much a disguise, and perceptual innovation, as it is a call to awaken a sense of a past. Résonances and D’un soir, un jour capture couples in a moment of quiet reflection.
There is something classic, and symbolist, to Anne-Sophie Morelle’s sculptural intent. And Belgium is a cornerstone of that symbolism, so to see a woman next to a leopard is to situate humans in relation to a mythology, to question our place, our origins, and this is truly a fertile area for a sculptor to explore. Animals are in a symbiotic relation with the people in Morelle’s sculptures, and these compositions look too silent to be real. They are eternal in quality in that they raise questions about our origins, and place within an increasingly mediatized world. Yet there is no conceptual pretense to Anne-Sophie Morelle’s approach, and this is not so common these days.
The way Anne-Sophie Morelle constructs her sculptures is as synthetic as any symbolist painting from the 19th century might have been. The references are now more ambiguous, less captured by the idiom that is their implied narrative. And so these forms are caught in an artificial state, having a classical cadence but now set in a neutral space.
Since ancient times, sculpture has played a role in furthering art’s social role. In the 21 st century, the role of sculpture is to extemporize, to express a psychic dimension outside of consciousness, rather than recognize that which exists as a continuity over time or push away from our physical relation to space. Morelle’s sculpture involves an act of recognition. It is rare for contemporary sculptors to engage the body, to build a relation to our primordial instinctive past. The body becomes an archaic reflection on our place in the present, and likewise for its very unusual classical character becomes a discourse on the language of art in our era.
Anne-Sophie Morelle works, unequivocally, and with a dedication to the craft and technique of sculpture. At her best, Morelle extends the boundaries and language of her sculpture with integrity, furthering a relevant discourse in sculpture. She does so by challenging and evolving sculptural traditions, projecting these further into an ever-evolving future. As intense sculptural portrait studies, Morelle’s sculptures do not internalize, nor objectify their subject, but explore a mythology born of the symbolic potential of our inherent place as a society in relation to history. A fabrication of what that history potentially could be – personally and collectively – accompanies the tactile and visual immediacy of Anne-Sophie Morelle’s sculptures.
John K. Grande