Barry Phipps, Curator of Works of Art at Churchill College explores artists and artworks from the College’s collection.

The Now (1999) by Nigel Hall RA

Large geometric sculpture on a lawn in a garden on a sunny day

Despite my work being resolutely non-figurative, throughout my life I have made studies of the natural and man-made world around me… As with all my sculpture, I attempt to make the works light on their feet, countering the drag of gravity with a visual uplift, just as nature strives to do.

— Nigel Hall

By placing a wedge and a cone together in a position that individually would be impossible to sustain, Nigel Hall enables them to stand in mutual support. The relative size of the two elements of the sculpture, with the smaller supporting the larger and curve against flat surface, provide visual contrast to their corresponding triangularity. The two triangular points of the wedge and of the cone pull in opposite directions, and some views give the impression that these angles are identical. The line and geometry of the work also give balance and counterbalance within the composition. The balance and tension between the wedge and the cone can be interpreted as reflecting the intellectual or philosophical content of the sculpture, as we are encouraged to think of the fleeting moment of the now. The work does not illustrate; instead, a clear, abstract language of form and an ambiguous title combine to create a chain of associations for the viewer. The visual and the physical experience of the work is joined to the links forged by seeing and walking around it.

Over the last four decades, Hall has distilled his practice into one of sophisticated and refined geometry, which he uses to articulate space. Yet his work is more complex in motivation and appreciation than simple exercises in formal abstraction. Through elegant craftsmanship and poetic reference to the landscape, as in Southern Shade I that sits opposite, Hall has created a body of work that evokes a sense of calm and contemplation.

For the sculptures that make up the Southern Shade series share with the drawings an involvement with interwoven linear elements, some free in space and others entangled in a shadow interior which echo the shaded canopy of the trees and their complex latticework of branches.

Hall is one of Britain’s most distinguished living sculptors. His works, principally made of bronze, wood or steel, are concerned with three dimensional space, mass and line. His abstract and geometric sculptures give as much prominence to voids and shadows as to the solidity of material and each work changes with light and viewpoint reflecting the landscapes that inspired them. He is represented in numerous public collections in the USA, Asia, Australia and Europe including the Tate Gallery, London, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Art. He has also undertaken many private and public large-scale site-specific commissions.

Another sculpture by Hall, Bigger Bite (2010) can be seen at the Sidgwick Site, outside the Law Faculty building.

— Barry Phipps, 2015

The Now can be seen on the front entrance lawn of Churchill College

Find out more about the College art collection

Image: The Now, 1999 by Nigel Hall RA. Bronze H 280 cm. Photograph by: Jonty Wilde (2000).