The work of Ursula von Rydingsvard is not particularly well known in the UK but she’s a big name in America - famed for her often gigantic and organic sculptures formed from chunks of red cedar.
This summer Northern art lovers have had an opportunity to view the septuagenarian artist’s work at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, where one of her mega sculptures, Bronze Bowl with Lace, a wooden piece cast in bronze, greets visitors at the entrance.
The exhibition of her sculptures at the park is on until January next year so there’s still plenty of time to see them in both their open air and gallery settings. This is the first time such a large collection of von Rydingsvard’s work has been seen in Europe. She has been hailed as a great master by the founding director of the YSP, Peter Murray, who believes she is on a par with the West’s other sculptural heros, Moore and Miro. Her pieces are in the permanent collections of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art.
Von Rydingsvard’s sculptures, like Moore’s, have an organic quality, but the similarities end there. The former specialises in producing gargantuan works that almost appear to be natural features – cliffs, crags, fungal growths and hollow trees – while the latter preferred to depict the human form. Von Rydingsvard’s sculptures have the appearance of being rough-hewn and faceted, while Moore’s are smooth and sensual.
Years of sawing, chiselling and shaping wood have given von Rydingsvard an allergy to the very material that has been her life’s work. But the German-born artist is not deterred and in order to continue working she dons protective clothing.
She does not rely on wood alone as some of her works are cast in urethane resin or use graphite. At the YSP, she is showing a piece called Elegantka II, a relatively small sculptural figure, cast in sparkling blue resin, that stands in sharp contrast to the non-reflective solid quality of the wood sculptures.
The bronze bowl at the entrance was made especially for the exhibition - it looms out of the landscape like a jagged cliff face but at night takes on a magical quality, lit from within, accentuating its lacy detail.
Why does von Rydingsvard work in cedar wood? There is a simple reason. She says that unlike other wood, there’s virtually no visible grain to cedar and describes it as: “neutral; it’s like a piece of paper”.
The YSP exhibition can be seen from 10am until 5pm daily.