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Henry Moore Institute

Nicholas Pope: the Sacred and the Profane (No. 43)

Nicholas Pope: the Sacred and the Profane (No. 43)

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Nicholas Pope's sculptures have always maintained a tense equilibrium of opposites, from the interplay of gravity and weight in his early 'Chalk' sculptures, to more recent works that tackle virtue, vice, and the idea of belief.

In this essay, Jonathan Vickery delves into Pope's artistic career: from leaving Bath Academy of Art in 1973, the early years of his career spent in communist Romania, and the growing demand for his work that followed; through the creative fatigue that led him to Africa, where serious illness resulted in career breakdown; to his gradual re-emergence as an artist with radically different objectives.

In this later period, Pope became concerned with the subjects of belief, spirituality and biblical narrative. Generally subject to a cultural taboo within the art world, Pope combined these elements with an irrepressible sexuality that is considered taboo in places or worship. The resulting works can be at once grotesque and visually stunning; but are they an expression of reverence or an act of blasphemy? Are they sacred or profane?

Vickery argues that questions such as these become redundant, as each object is part of a larger narrative that is Pope's journey, an artist's attempt to retrieve the lost complexity of morality and language through confessions and reflection, and asking taboo questions: what's the meaning of life? My life?

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