Installation view of Nick Hornby, Untitled Mask, 2017, in ‘The Curators’ Eggs’ at Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York. (Image courtesy of the artist)
British artist Nick Hornby’s Masks series (2016-present) is based upon a fictitious meeting in 1907 between Matisse and Picasso where it is said a collection of African masks inspired the invention of Cubism only weeks later.
Providing a conceptual anchor for the ongoing series, Hornby’s works explore the grand narratives of art history. Earlier works in the series brought together Matisse’s gouaches’ in direct conversation with manipulated sculptural forms. Hornby says of the inspiration:
“I had learned, in around 1910, a Parisian collector had photographed a damaged Fang tribe mask from his collection… this photo had somehow found its way to mask makers in Africa – who, unaware of its damage, carved copies of what they saw in the image. These new ‘originals’ were then sold in Paris to other collectors.”
For New York’s Paul Kasmin Gallery’s current group exhibition, The Curators’ Eggs, Hornby is presenting a new large-scale sculpture which has been digitally rendered and carved in walnut. Displayed on a plinth, the work can be read as a physical manifestation of disparate histories and material form.
Much of Hornby’s work is rooted in and responds to the traditions of European sculpture, from Renaissance to Modernism. In line with this, an importance is placed on material form; art works are carved in marble, cast in bronze, or modeled in resin. The resulting works are visually seductive — sculptures hand crafted, sanded, or polished to perfection.
However the conflict and much of the success within Hornby’s work is in the collision of his historical touchstones, and the use of labour intensive techniques, alongside digital technologies. Artworks are initially rendered using computer software. The sculptures created manipulate material and form beyond the capabilities of the human hand. Thus, Hornby’s creations are more aligned with science fiction.
Thinking of Hornby’s “Untitled” sculpture at Paul Kasmin Gallery, and the Masks series as “accelerated forms” allows us to shift beyond binary positions in relation to art histories.
“Untitled” shares an aesthetic semblance to US artist Paul McCarthy’s recent carved black walnut sculptures, and points towards the ambition of Matthew Barney’s “Water Castings” sculptures (2015). Citing the work in relation to these artists indicates where Hornby could situate and develop his work in the future.