Sublime stone sculptures in Emily Young’s new show

A visually articulate exploration of the connections – or lack of them – between humankind and the natural world

Blue Horizon Line, made of Brazilian Macauba quartzite
Blue Horizon Line, made of Brazilian Macauba quartzite

Emily Young has been carving sculptures in stone since the early 1980s. Now widely regarded as Britain’s greatest contemporary sculptor in this medium, her work celebrates the natural beauty and energy of the stones she uses and conveys profound messages about the connections – or lack thereof – between humankind and the natural world. These themes are clearly manifest in the exhibition of her latest works (£6,000-£220,000), which opens at Bowman Sculpture in London on Friday November 17 and includes 25 sculptures at the gallery, plus seven large-scale pieces in the Southwood Garden at St James’s Church on Piccadilly. Blue Horizon Line, for example, part of an ongoing series of discs representing moons and suns, is a showcase for the extraordinary, ethereal beauty of Brazilian Macauba quartzite, while Kijimunaa II reveals the natural colours of Indian agate in all their complex-hued glory.

Kijimunaa II, made of Indian agate
Kijimunaa II, made of Indian agate
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But this show is more than a reminder of Young’s brilliance; the recently made pieces on display here also reveal a new dimension to her practice. “There has been an exciting development in her style over the past few years,” says Willoughby Gerrish, director of Bowman Sculpture. “Young has always used stones that other sculptors don’t and they aren’t easy to carve in, but she has perfected her technique and this show reveals just how far she is going. The stone heads are becoming more raw and abstract – Contemplative Head is a summation of that contrast between rough and smooth that she has always done so well, and Rainbow Buddha Head is an aggressive chop out of smooth Persian onyx.”

Contemplative Head, made of Spanish alabaster
Contemplative Head, made of Spanish alabaster
Rainbow Buddha Head, made of Persian onyx
Rainbow Buddha Head, made of Persian onyx

There are several new torsos in the exhibition and these too come as a surprise. Night Form I is carved from Kilkenny limestone, a fine-grained carboniferous limestone with a rare, matte denseness, while Torso (Fall) is cast in bronze. Young’s bronze work is seldom seen and this piece, with its movingly flesh-like patina, has not been shown before in the UK.

Night Form I, made of Kilkenny limestone
Night Form I, made of Kilkenny limestone
Torso (Fall), made of bronze and signed E Young
Torso (Fall), made of bronze and signed E Young

“There is always a sense of the unexpected in Young’s work because she uses natural materials,” says Gerrish, “but this show is particularly exciting, both in its scale and content.” He is right. For Young’s many fans, it is a thrilling opportunity to see the full breadth of her current practice; for those new to her work, it is a chance to discover an artist at the very top of her game.

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