The predominant concern in Michael Shaw’s sculpture is the concept of ‘singular sculptural form’.  The essential characteristic of this is that the sculpture is not made up of parts or forms, but instead becomes a single enveloping form.  The whole is therefore not greater than the sum of its parts; the part is indeed the whole.  As Michael is only too well aware, the concept of singular sculptural form was defined by Donald Judd who saw it as the antidote to what he termed ‘relational composition’, meaning a sculpture that is created through the juxtaposition of one component with another. In this case the intention of course, that the whole should be greater than the sum of its parts.  The degree to which Judd’s sculpture attains singular sculptural form, is however questionable.  For instance, merely positioning the configuration of a sculpture according to a mathematical progression, such as the Fibonacci series, is no guarantee that singular sculptural form will be attained.  Further to this, even the change in the direction of a plane, through the consequence of a corner, can suggest the coincidence of two planes and therefore two elements that are ‘related’ to one another.

Through the work in this exhibition, what Michael has done is to subject the concept of singular sculptural form to a rigorous and uncompromising interpretation.  This has resulted in a sequence of sculptures that have a common formology, which can best be described as a pervasive roundness. In addition, with the exception of one sculpture, there is only one axis, and there is an absence of ambiguity between interior and exterior.  In most examples, the process of making is revealed throughout the sculpture, what you see is the way it was made, nothing is hidden.

The earlier sculpture in this exhibition consists of a series of bronzes (illustrated right).  These are an appropriate introduction because they are an initial attempt to develop a sculptural language capable of exploring what in sculptural terms could be the essence of singular sculptural form.  As such, the predominant sculptural form is that of roundness, they are restricted to one axis, they have a definite interior and exterior, and the way they are made – coiled – is clearly shown. So that the divisions between each layer of the coil act as a line or contour that enhances the definition of the sculpture.  In addition, the bronze is patinated to accentuate its apparent hardness, causing a contrast with the soft roundness of the sculptures.

With the later sculptures in acrylic there is an obvious change in scale from the domestic to the sculptural.  The notion of the sculpture being a derivative of a cup or a beaker is absent, and whilst space is contained within the interior of the sculpture, it is allowed to pass through it and around it.  These sculptures do not attempt to have any direct physical relationship with the surfaces they are on, but rather seem to reject them, appearing to almost levitate above.  Whilst this is a partial result of the form, there are no strong intersections apart from the division between interior and exterior for the eye to focus on, it is of course also due to their translucency. 

These sculptures’ translucency means that their sculptural form is, from some viewpoints, difficult to discern, therefore resulting in perceptual ambiguities.  In these sculptures, this ambiguity has been both accentuated and restricted through the refined use of contour or line.  For instance in the conical, “Untitled”, 2002, (left) the contour line gives further definition to the form, whereas in the figure of eight form, “Untitled”, 2002, (below) the line causes an already ambiguous form, to become more ambiguous.

The work in this exhibition shows a focussed and concentrated rigour in the exploration of the concept of singular sculptural form.  What this has done is to open the concept up, the cone being an obvious example of where this has occurred.  But perhaps the sculpture that suggests most for the potential development and expansion of this is the above form, where the overall quality of roundness indicates a capacity for duplication and regeneration within a single sculpture.  Underpinning this is the departure from one to two axes and the inclusion of a line that sets up perceptual ambiguities with the actual form of the sculpture.

Through this exhibition, Michael is to be complemented on a commendable and successful attempt to articulate and extend the formal language of sculpture, and to open it up for future development.  What the Royal Society of British Sculptors is to be complemented on, is their determination to provide support for a much needed venue for exhibiting object-based sculpture.

Andrew A Stonyer

September 2002