Peter Murray
Clare Lilley


Joanna Mowbray and Yorkshire Sculpture Park:
a working relationship

Established in 1977, Yorkshire Sculpture Park is recognised as one of the foremost open air art initiatives worldwide. It was the country's first permanent sculpture park and currently occupies over 500 acres of historic landscape, primarily developed in the 18th and early 19th centuries. It has built its reputation on curating exhibitions and projects in the open air and by working closely with contemporary artists, providing opportunities for showing, making, understanding and enjoying sculpture in the open air. The programme and facilities continue to grow and there are now two indoor galleries and a number of distinct open-air spaces.

Artists are central to YSP and the first artist residency was established in 1978 with the appointment of John Maine. Since then YSP has invited innumerable artists to work in a variety of ways, resulting in publications, exhibitions, CD Roms, web sites or significant installations, as in the cases of David Nash, Andy Goldsworthy, Judith Cowan and Joanna Mowbray. Alongside these are smaller projects by younger artists, such as Kerry Stewart and KIT, together with artists from other countries who have been able to live and work at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, including John McEwen (Canada), Federico Assler (Chile), Mrinalini Mukherjee (India), Patrick Dougherty (USA), Joanna Przybyla (Poland) and Aganetha Dyck (Canada).

The bursaries and residencies vary considerably but are primarily aimed at offering direct financial and technical support to artists, giving many the chance to experiment at a critical point in their development. The technical, curatorial and administrative support offered by YSP staff is unique and often results in ambitious projects. Also, having artists working on site feeds into the culture of the Park, through contact with staff and visitors, and this has been critical to the development of YSP.

Joanna Mowbray's long and fruitful association with YSP began in 1985 when her interest in creating sculpture for the landscape was rekindled by YSP's invitation to her to take up a three month residency, resulting in Movement 1, 2 and 3, an installation of three ambitious and challenging steel and mesh sculptures. Eschewing natural media, she turned to industrial materials so that the work had permanence and resilience, although her abilities as an artist enabled her to retain a sense of transparency and delicacy, reflecting the changing light and rhythmic qualities of the surrounding landscape.

The relationship was further developed in 1991 when YSP offered Joanna a twelve month bursary, part-funded by the Henry Moore Foundation, which provided her with the opportunity to experiment and develop new works. The first results of the bursary were revealed in 1992 when Mowbray collaborated with the dancer and choreographer Gregory Nash and the composer James Beirne to create a series of steel sculptures for a vibrant and dynamic performance, Surface Tension, performed at University College Bretton Hall and Contact Theatre in Manchester.

The bursary allowed Joanna to reconsider her sculpture in relation to landscape and the movement of people, resulting in a new body of work shown in 1995 in the Pavilion Gallery and on Driveside (see project Installation) and accompanied by a publication with an essay by the art critic Mary Sara. The sculptures called for a precise understanding of the landscape and the ability to deal with its grand, nebulous scale. Between sculptures, viewer and space there is a dynamic tension: “The way I position the sculpture in relation to its situation is very important to the expression of the work. The decision to work on groups of forms came about because I wanted to have some flexibility to adjust the relationship between the forms in different exhibition spaces. I perceive this aspect of my work as parallel to the concerns of a choreographer”.

These qualities were also found in Mowbray's gallery works: large steel 'drawings' and their precursors, exquisite hand-held lead maquettes. In Mowbray's stain and graphic drawings on board, simplicity, coolness and honed-down forms were again brought together, grouped in single lines.

YSP's association with this gifted artist continues though providing support for her new ventures in the form of technical advice, references and as a sounding board. In addition, the display of the magnificent and demanding steel sculpture, Beyond and Within as part of its loan collection, where it is shown alongside works by major international artists, is a testament both to the artist's sensibility and to her determination.

  Peter Murray
Clare Lilley

April 2000
© Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Bretton Hall
West Bretton
Wakefield WF4 4LG
Great Britain
T + 44 (0) 1924 830579
f + 44 (0) 1924 830044

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