Dr Jon Wood

Hubert Dalwood: Landscape into Sculpture

Text accompanying Hubert Dalwood exhibition at the New Art Centre in 2009

In the mid-1950s Henry Moore began to acquire works by younger British sculptors, amongst them Anthony Caro’s Woman Waking Up (1955), Ralph Brown’s Mother and Child (1954) and Hubert Dalwood’s Tree(1957). Unlike Caro and Brown’s sculptures, Dalwood’s directly evoked the landscape, but did so in ways that also suggested the human form. As viewers looked for the outlines and forms of a tree in this sculpture, so they looked for facial profiles and then for eyes, nose and mouth in the sculpture’s crudely gridded sides. Tree was, and still is, a strange and enigmatic sculpture, and it is not difficult to see why it caught the eye and mind of Henry Moore.

The sculpture was made when the thirty-three-year-old Dalwood was living in Leeds, where after four years teaching at Newport School of Art, he was undertaking a Gregory Fellowship. Appointed as the Sculpture Fellow at the University, he followed the first two recipients Reg Butler and Kenneth Armitage, who had taught him earlier (1946-49) at the Bath Academy of Art in Corsham. His three years in Leeds, between 1955 and 1958, were highly influential, bringing him into close contact with painters such as Alan Davie, Terry Frost and Harry Thubron. Connections between their paintings and his sculptures of the time have often been remarked upon in texts by Norbert Lynton, Chris Stephens and others, and Tree is often cited within this context. Yet Dalwood’s Tree also stands as a bold early statement of interest in the complex relationship between sculpture, landscape and the imagination – a central strand to his work that would continue throughout his career. 

A single tree developed into a variety of more complex object environments and from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s, his catalogue of works abounds with ‘places’, ‘countries’, ‘gardens’, ‘slopes’ and ‘landscapes’. He was also in process of writing a book on gardens at the end of his life. Many of Dalwood’s earlier sculptures, such as Icon (1958) and Throne (1960), come with their own integrated, inbuilt bases and in some, such as the Bonzai Gardens and Landscapes of the mid-1970s, the bases expand horizontally to become the main part of the sculptures themselves. These works underline how the close, interconnected relationship between an object and the ground was central to Dalwood’s thinking not only about sculpture, but also about culture and nature generally. Things double up in his work: objects stand as environments and both ‘architectural objects’ and ‘landscape objects’ have a shared and organically grounded aspect to them. They demonstrate forms of ‘groundedness’, whether geometrically structured or more freely made by hand, whilst acting as temporary enclosures or sanctuaries to harness and enhance further thoughts and imaginings about it. Venusberg (1966), for example, is a temple which has ‘countryside inside it’, like a futuristic ruined city, and his later Plant Pieces and Bonzai Gardens include real sand, earth, gravel and plants, which invite us to consider the chronologies as well as functions of these animate/inanimate arrangements. Were they created for plants or have these built environments been taken over by them?

His interest in the historic towns of Italy and Greece is also relevant: places where ‘a tower grows out of the ground’, as Lynton recalled him saying. We might also recall his fondness for the craggy landscapes of Cornwall and Yorkshire, including the much-loved Brimham Rocks. Such landscapes evoked modern art as much as pre-history, as Dalwood knew. Many of the all-important surfaces of Dalwood’s bronze and plaster sculptures deliberately recall the chunky, lumpy and bumpy weathered but slippery surfaces of their rocks. His shiny aluminium surfaces are of a slightly different order, but should also be mentioned here. Aluminium was often used by Dalwood in the late 1960s and 1970s for his larger sculptures, the reflective surfaces of which ‘mirror’ the insides of the works as much as their surroundings, creating mirage-like internal spaces and dimensions.

However, the rocks, stone walls, hedges (even clouds) that many of his bronze works suggest sometimes blur into one, as these modelled forms often end up standing as shorthand demonstrations of miniature arrangements. They appear to be approximations not only of landscapes but also of strange archaeological excavations that, weather beaten and gnarled, look like they have been dug up themselves. Here Dalwood’s ‘ritual object’ works are never far away in spirit or form: small-scale, asymmetrical objects that carry mysterious, imaginary functions and that can be turned in the hand and examined close-up. The subtle use of miniaturisation and play on distances also helps create these curious sculptures’ potential. Scale is carefully envisaged and manipulated, as we look down at them as we might at once a child’s sandpit and a stretch of land through aerial photography.

Many of Dalwood’s sculptures seem compellingly caught in this uncertain space between landscape and sculpture. They are never simply scale models or maquettes, rather they seem to function as aide mémoireobjects, reconstructing the memories of places and giving tentative shape to their material and emotional lives. Inspired by intuitive recollections of furrows and plateaux, a valley becomes a dip for a paper weight-sized erratic boulder. Whilst indebted to the landscape, these landscape objects don’t wall us in nor bind us to it, rather they seem only to want to hold our imaginations, memories and experiences briefly – mediating our contemplative thoughts and heightening our associations – before sending them back on their way to the world and to ourselves.


Dr Jon Wood is a writer and curator, specialising in modern and contemporary sculpture. Jon worked for many years at the Henry Moore Institute, running its research programme and curating exhibitions, and also as an editor of the Sculpture Journal. Recent publications and exhibitions include: ‘Contemporary Sculpture: Artists’ Writings and Interviews’ (2020), ‘Tony Cragg at the Boboli Gardens’ (2019) and ‘Sculpture and Film’ (2018). He is a member of the Sculpture UK advisory board and a trustee of the Gabo Trust, which supports research into the conservation of modern and contemporary sculpture.

Otera, 1973 at Magic and Strong Medicine, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Catherine Lampert, Review, Studio International September 1973

On view at the Liverpool exhibition ‘Magic and Strong Medicine’ is Hubert Dalwood’s solution to the selector’s request for a sculpture which would fill the room. Dalwood’s matte-red edifice is a commanding structure. Apart from the startling colour the piece itself has great bulk and contrast, beginning with the knee-high platform measuring 32 x 24 feet upon which stand cylindrical columns over 15 feet tall. These uprights support an equally massive beam balanced horizontally which in turn sprouts a large drapery at the rounded tip. In the interior a stepped rectangular block has been sliced in two parts on a diagonal and the gap filled with luscious sod and moss.

The work, titled appropriately Otera (Buddhist for temple) hasn’t merely the Gargantuan proportions to impress a mass audience, but in addition a sealed, smooth surface which seems to radiate messages like a long-emptied ancient tomb. The strong aura, resonant even soporific, derives from the inward pull of the quarter-rounded edges and the clever absence of constructional clues. No nuts, bolts, or anchoring mechanisms are visible. The work’s impregnability tempts the spectator to have an exploratory ramble. One feels a psychological need to sound out the beams for hollowness, strength and scale.

However, the sculptor’s determination to prevent such physical notions of possession or recreation comes across very clearly. Again, the colour plays an essential role as it channels the observer’s mind into an Oriental wavelength. One thinks of the Zen state of mind which comfortably spreads kinship to unlike forms.

Although it is true that Dalwood has used before such unorthodox appendages as the cloth ties and organic matter seen in Otera, lately he seems totally ready to formulate a personal iconography with heterogeneous media. Perhaps the opportunity to see Japanese gardens and temples last summer reinforced his feelings about the role of Nature in 20th-century architecturally-orientated public works. In any case the brass inlays spaced throughout

Otera suggest floating leaves and in one place a puddle. The use of such delicate subsidiary themes helps to articulate the larger, somewhat mundane forms, and to sustain one’s visual curiosity.

What the sculpture requires is a proper context. For its size and magnificence the piece should be outdoors or in a large courtyard. Yet it would be hard for a democratic public to accept or identify with one person’s definition of a monument, religious or otherwise.


Page 100, Studio International, September 1973