One of the advantages of working in a magazine office is that we frequently receive announcements, catalogues, and books that show us important and interesting artists and sculptures that we hadn’t hitherto been aware of. One such book arrived recently on my desk, Martin Holman’s retrospective of British artist Richard Rome. Rome has been working outside the spotlights of the art world for nearly 50 years, though he’s hardly been obscure (there have been numerous exhibitions and commissions as well as international residencies).
Rome is a metal sculptor who has developed a recognized skill in the casting process (he’s written a book on the subject) and has used various materials in his studio work and in the final casting process, among them plaster, wax sheets, resin, steel, bronze, and more recently iron.
In the mid-1970s, there is a break in his work between early pieces that explore playful, sequential, and conceptual geometries, at human scale and often in site-specific outdoor settings (some of it with an influence from American artists like Tony Smith, Carl Andre, and Sol LeWitt) and work since the late 19702 that is more architectural (with transatlantic suggestions of Caro and David Smith and some affinities with Kirili). By mentioning these affinities, I do not mean to suggest that Rome’s work is derivative: he is in fact a very original artist, but working in a recognizable idiom or territory of the last half of the 20th century.
Holman describes a crisis in which the artist stops working and reconsiders his process. There are elements of literal and metaphorical collage in the later works, taking construction materials as an element of form, an embodiment of the artist’s architectural interests. There is also a frequent figural reference, abstracted and moving back and forth between a constructed and an organic character.
Rome’s best known work is probably the playful fountain-vessel installed in Cannizaro Park in Wimbledon in 2001, an elegantly deformed jar of modestly monumental scale. But his other recent work is more personal and abstract, more improvisational in both method and appearance. Sometimes the steel or iron seems liquefied, sometimes softened and manipulated like clay, and sometimes rigid. Though there is frequently a frontality to the work, there is always an attention to the space within and around the work, as well as to light (a point that Holman makes in explaining the relative simplicity of the works’ forms).
Holman’s text is thorough and informative, and the black and white illustrations throughout effectively portray the work (though some since of patina and materials is lost in the lack of color reproductions). Perhaps Holman and/or Rome, like Richard Serra, wants to deny the illusory transparency of photographic reproduction and send the viewer directly to the work.
By Martin Holman
Aldershot, Hampshire and Burlington, Vermont: Lund Humphries, 2011
96 pages, 80 b&w illustrations. $60. ISBN: 978-1848220812