Exhibition Review: Nigel Hall

Jemima Moore 7 May 2013

The Jock Colville Hall in Churchill College is home, this week, to four sculptures and two large drawings on paper by Nigel Hall RA. The room is bare brown brick with vertical strips of window intersected by white granite pillars. Counteracting this perpendicular space are the curvaceous forms of the sculptures which are suspended in a tense equilibrium between movement and stillness. The large white rectangles of the drawings reflect light back into the room, whilst the dense black forms painted on them echo the lyrical curves of the sculptures.

A celebration of the instalment of Hall’s sculpture ‘Bigger Bite’ at the Sidgwick site, as well as ‘Southern Shade I’ at the entrance to Churchill College, the exhibition shows variations on these two larger sculptures as well as two smaller works.The works are poetic and subjective creations, yet they are an attempt to express the universal laws of physics through their use of geometrical forms.Thus the sculptures express the overlap between the subjective experiences of perception and the objective laws of science that rule us all.The hope is that the sculptures will stimulate conversation between academics in the humanities and the sciences, bridging the gap between what the curator considers are ‘two distinct cultures that need to be reconciled.’

One of the sculptures that clearly express this vision is Soglio VI, which consists of a vertical prism bolting down a tilting section of a conic cylinder. The force of the prism suggests the overriding force of gravity, which pulls even the most precarious elements into order. Hall describes his inspiration for the work as the sight of a village in Italy, perched on a mountain, midway between valley and summit. The vertical prism of the sculpture represents the upward thrust of the bell tower in the village, whose vertical nature expressed the law of gravity that the position of the village on the sloping mountains seemed to deny.

Nigel’s starting point, for all his sculptures, is observation.He sketches incessantly the forms and shapes he sees in nature, filling countless little black sketchbooks that line the walls of his studio.From these shapes he may either work up a large drawing, or he may build it up into a sculpture.

For example, Southern Shade I, outside Churchill, is the product of sketches of parasol pines that Hall made in southern France.He uses these natural shapes as springboards for play, confessing that this is the most indulgent part of the process: playing around with the shapes, finding new compositions and results.The joy experienced during the creation is clearly reflected in the sculpture.Southern Shade III is a variation of the original and one can see the playful energy that went into it in the rhythms of the dancing circles.

Playing with the forms of nature is part of human nature and the resulting sculptures are thus as much a part of nature as they are a recreation of it. The sculptures hover between the worlds of nature and technology, art and science.

Jemima Moore