The Reliefs by Andrew Burton – from Exhibition Programme, The Hatton Gallery 1998

Derwent Wise’s interest in relief was prompted in part by a local commission in the late sixties. This was  proposal to improve large blank areas of concrete at the base of tower blocks in the east of Newcastle upon Tyneby attaching relief panels. He produced a series of works,  which still exist ,and this led him to begin to explore the ground between sculpture and painting.

The first studio reliefs were made in card, which he saw as an equivalent to drawing. Wise began to build up a repertoire of shape and line which he explored in these studies. After a time he began to introduce small areas of colour which worked against the neutral background. The importance of these works is in the way they illustrate the process of selecting form, colour and shape which he then used in the finished wood and fibre-glass pieces.

Tailpiece (196g) shows the influence of both nature and technology: the forms could suggest a butterfly or the tail of an aeroplane. The vertebrae­ like form at the top left belongs equally to both worlds. The natural and the man-made are not cast in opposition but find a common identity and language.

relief_1Wise also had a keen interest and enthusiasm for architecture which is apparent in much of his work. Design for Living (1g10) shows how architectural drawings and diagrams could also be important source material. He was fascinated by the London Underground map because of the way in which it directly and simply conveyed a complex idea.

His approach to materials was always led by a keen appreciation for the functional. Card was used for preliminary studies and the finished pieces are made in wood, fibre-glass and metal, materials which are well suited to the curves and planes that he wanted to achieve. This use of materials is, in itself a form of the artist’s natural selection. The reliefs, always fabricated by hand, explore both a sense of positive form achieved through constructing with materials, and the negative space implied through the process of mould making and casting in resin.

Up until the early seventies, Wise had been working exclusively as a sculptor. During this time colour had become an increasingly positive factor in his work. In the reliefs it became central to their understanding. In common with other aspects of his subject matter, colour was always taken from observation, for example from the livery of railway wagons or from the functional paints used in agricultural structures. As he began to work simultaneously in three and two dimensions he became increasingly aware of the difference between the use of colour in the reliefs and in painting and found that painting allowed him to convey a greater emotional depth.
relief_2Music was also a strong inspiration. The work ‘Fugue’ (1g32) uses spatial division, bars and ribs to communicate the artist’s response to the musical shape of the fugue where short melodies are introduced and reintroduced until an interwoven repetitive form is achieved. At about this time Wise was beginning to concentrate increasingly on painting. However the same concerns: division of space, rhythm and colour are equally apparent in this medium. By rotating the painting Interior and Garden, Low Fell (1g82) through 90 degrees the comparison between his sculptural reliefs and painting is striking.

The Hatton Gallery, University of Newcastle hosts an annual programme of national and international touring exhibitions. The gallery also holds and displays a permanent collection of works, these date from Renaissance panel paintings to contemporary works of art and are on display at different times in the year.

For information, contact: Andrew Burton, Director, The Hatton Gallery,
University of Newcastle NE 1 7RU Telephone & facsimile
(01g1) 222 6057.

Hatton Gallery
University of Newcastle
Newcastle upon Tyne
Telephone: 01g1 222 6057

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