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The New Review: Agenda: THE LIST: The 10 best: Busts in art: AS CHOSEN BY NICOLE FARHI: On the eve of her debut exhibition of sculpted heads, the fashion designer-turned-artist chooses her all-time favourites

August 31, 2014

Liz Hoggard



1 Eduardo Paolozzi

Shattered head (1956)

I was tutored by Eduardo. He would teach me every Wednesday after we first met at the RCA Foundry in Kensington, London in the late 80s. He taught me how to work in plaster and in wax, but every time I went back to clay. Two years ago I left fashion and began sculpting full time. I just love my life now. This is an early piece, made when Eduardo was only 22. It's one of the first he cast himself in a friend's garden in Hampstead; he made a little bronze foundry there. He created the head in clay first, then wax, then he smashed the wax into pieces, put them back together and cast the whole thing. It's a very important piece - the beginning of him making work about the machine age. In my own show, I think one of my best portraits is the one of Eduardo.

2 Thutmose

Bust of Queen Nefertiti (1340 BC)

Sometimes beauty can mask character but the face of this Queen Nefertiti is mysterious - there is something quite odd about the eyes because they are different. When something is not quite right it makes you wonder more about the personality of the person. I like that beautiful harmony which is disturbed by those eyes, the sensuality of the mouth, those hollow cheeks and that very long neck. She's enigmatic and hides her feelings. The bust is so square, the facial forms are so soft and then suddenly you have the contrast with that severe crown, which is almost like a pyramid.

3 Auguste Rodin

Monumental head of Balzac (1897)

What I learned from the great Rodin is that you don't need to show the exact likeness of a face. Here he wanted to show the creative force of Balzac the writer. He exaggerated all the main facial features - the eyes, the nose, the mouth, the eyebrows, the hair - everything is too strong. But through that mouth, almost shouting, you get a real sense of this character. Rodin had been commissioned to make a full-length sculpture of Balzac and in preparation he did several studies of Balzac's head. When he came to do the body, he did it very simply. It's just a draped gown. So there is also that contrast with the way he dressed him at full-scale, and that very, very vivacious head.

4 Antoine Bourdelle

Beethoven (1902)

The French sculptor Bourdelle was a student of Rodin so he learned a lot from him, and also did a lot of monumental work. Again, here there's incredible hair which is almost not modelled, but swept off fiercely, and this face which is modelled but very expressive. The mouth is tight and the eyes are hollow, and it shows a tragedy. Because, I think, at the very moment that Bourdelle made a portrait of Beethoven, the composer was going deaf. You can almost hear the music of Beethoven; there is something passionate and tragic in that hair.

5 Brancusi

Sleeping Muse (1910)

Through marble-carving Brancusi was trying to find simplicity in his work, and reducing his ideas to the minimum. This sleeping muse is a wonderful witness to his talent. I like the way her head is lying on the side. She's resting peacefully but she's almost held down by the weight of her head. Brancusi has done a lot of different versions, many in bronze, but it's the one in marble I like the most. Maybe because the whiteness reinforces the serenity of the face.

6 Giacometti

Head of Bruno (1917)

This is a portrait Giacometti did of his youngest brother Bruno, an architect. It's not what you'd expect from the master of thin, emaciated figures, but I love the way he shows the strength and willpower of his brother. Giacometti said: "The object of art is not to reproduce reality but to create a reality of the same intensity." It applies so well here because it's more than just a realistic portrait. You get the whole person behind the man.

7 Germaine Richier

La Regodias (1938)

Germaine Richier knew Giacometti and Bourdelle and used a lot of animal symbols in her work. But this is one of her early portraits. The subject is a professional model called Renee Regodias, but it's the way Richier portrays her: she has a very elongated neck, twisted in a different way to the face, and that gives a lot of life to the face. There's something very peaceful and mysterious about both this portrait and the bust of Queen Nefertiti. They talk to me, those two women.

8 Jean Fautrier

Large Tragic Head (1942)

This is my favourite. It's the most painful and touching of all the portraits. Fautrier has made the two sides of the face totally different - one is much more classical, rational, the side with the eye; on the other he wanted to represent the inhumanity of man. Fautrier was part of the French Resistance during the second world war, and was under house arrest on the outskirts of Paris where the Nazis were torturing and executing prisoners, and from the studio he could hear all the screams. And that's when he did this. It's an extremely powerful piece and very painful to look at.

9 Marino Marini

Bust of Igor Stravinsky (1951)

I love his work, and the fact the face is modelled very simply, almost like you would do a mask. There is a feeling of death in that head, and yet at the same time there is a lot of sensuality. But then there is such sadness and understanding in the eyes; it makes you see the tragedy of life. I can feel the soul of the man. Marini said he preferred to do portraits of creative people because they don't have just one facet in their face but hundreds; and what is so difficult is to find the essence in the multiplicity. Here he shows the anxiety, the nervousness, the sensuality, he shows so much.

10 Giacomo Manzu

Portrait of Oskar Kokoschka (1969)

The modelling of the clay is quite sensuous, and then when you look at the hard lines on the forehead, and in the hair, there's a real contrast; you realise the face is intense with sadness. He's not making eye contact or engaging with the viewer. But Kokoschka was a very sad man. He had a very passionate affair witha married woman, which did not go well for him. When you look at Kokoschka's own paintings you can see the violence of expression and the sadness. It's perhaps no surprise that I have picked so many busts of artists here. When I sculpt artists and writers and actors myself, I am drawn to their multiplicity, as Marino Marini describes it, and I find I get something from their art in my work.

From the Neck Up by Nicole Farhi is at Bowman Sculpture, London SW1, 17 Sep-3 Oct, bowmansculpture.com

Captions:

1. TATE 2. OLIVER LANG/AFP/GETTY IMAGES 3. MUSEE RODIN 4. MUSEE BOURDELLE, PARIS 5. HIRSHHORN MUSEUM 6. FONDATION GIACOMETTI, PARIS 7. KUNSTHALLE MANNHEIM 8. TATE 9. GALERIE MALAQUAIS, PARIS 10. THE HENRY AND ROSE PEARLMAN FOUNDATION


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Source: Observer (UK)


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