Teeming with contrasts, ‘Ashes’ references the ephemeral quality of time and space, emptiness and visibility, and ideas of presence. Harnessing and transforming the vitality of our atmosphere, then steeping it in a sense of our own environment, Haddon Grant captures a much darker and more complex story, fit with our times. With sculptures and drawings made from treasuries of raw substances – including charcoal, plaster, stone, bronze, and wood – material is paramount to his most powerful means of expression.
Haddon Grant’s works are inspired by natural organic forms and the human figure. A member of the Royal British Society of Sculptors and a graduate of Camberwell College of Art, Haddon Grant’s work is influenced by time spent studying in Florence. The unfinished vitality of the Academia and the twisting energy of the Rape of the Sabines resided in the artist’s mind when he was making the cloud totems. The sensuous nature of the body has become an undercurrent here, informing the visceral abstractions of the form. Edward Lucie Smith described Haddon-Grant’s Cloud Totems series as “... a paradoxical attempt to give permanent forms to something constantly shifting and impalpable. [They have] a quality of being there and not- there – solid, yet suggesting evanescence. [They] demonstrate very convincingly that sculpture still has the power to move on. The theoreticians in power are, alas for their future reputations, being rapidly left behind by inventive young sculptors such as Guy Haddon-Grant.”
The use of monochrome – created by powdered charcoal mixed with resin – is key to this shifting presence of the Cloud Totems, making them dense, ominous, heavy but ethereal, flattening at a distance like ink blots and emerging up close, to be at the stark opposite end of the tonal scale to the surroundings. The artist’s use of monochrome appears as conceptual as it is stylistic, with the pigment of charcoal and soot provoking strong emotions while conveying mass and form to the ‘void’. The black and the white signify the spatial abstraction of sculpture, dismantling expectations for figuration – even removing the solid object altogether.
Haddon-Grant extends his use of charcoal in his drawings, but rather than direct marking, he coaxes candle soot across the paper, responding to it in an expressive, meditative process, in which external contexts are removed, building up the darks by allowing it to accumulate and creating the space in which the white takes form, the brightness and starkness of the white created by the contrast. Haddon Grant confesses to a moment of recognition when he came across photographer Alfred Steitglitz’s black and white images of clouds, referenced in his title ‘Equivalents’; like the American, he chooses to frame his soots so there is no correct way to hang them.
Haddon Grant moves seamlessly between abstract motifs that are figurative in aspect and visceral works that seem to follow an internal schematic, in addition to portraiture, the three strands providing continuity across his work. Perfecting his drawing, which he describes as ‘the most difficult and exhausting thing I do’ led to an early focus on portraiture, determining the rhythms of a face and how to transmute it faithfully into clay or paint, while leaving room for personal impression and animation within sculpture.
Exploring what he could leave out while creating the impression of the whole – relying on instinct to create more gestural and expressive drawings – led Haddon Grant to focus on the abstract qualities in the pieces, this undercurrent in his work becoming increasingly significant when he returned to London from Florence. It now dominates his work, with the figurations now the undercurrent, informing the work. But the continuity remains: the rhythms, marks, motifs, lines and colour (or lack thereof) all produced with a consistent handwriting.