When my other half told me he’d spotted a Modernist sculpture exhibition I didn’t know about in the city, I thought he was just trying to impress me. Quite where he’d glimpsed it was another matter, but then the foyer of one of Bruntwood’s city centre office blocks isn’t an obvious location.
Although Dawn Rowland is a contemporary sculptor, hailing from San Francisco but operating out of Manchester for over 30 years, her exhibition at One New York Street does suggest the simplified, ‘primitive’-inspired forms of the early 20th century. ‘My Sister… Myself’, a pair of marble, Sphinx-like heads, passively sitting nose to nose, immediately reminds me of Eric Gill, who sculpted Prospero and Ariel for the BBC’s Broadcasting House in 1932.
A limestone work of the same name turns the matching heads in opposing directions, while a third piece shows one sibling’s head apparently emerging from the other’s. Sisterhood is clearly a theme, and I can’t help wondering if Rowland might be a twin herself…
Dreaming is another undercurrent in the show, with three works depicting characters in repose. The subject of a fourth, ‘The Warrior Dreams’, seems lost in dreams of a different kind, a sense of defiance, ambition and heroism coming through his up-turned eyes.
The pieces are undated, so it isn’t clear how recent these works are, but their reductionist style would sit easily with early Henry Moore or Jacob Epstein’s more stream-lined work. The bust ‘Despair’, in contrast, has more of the Picasso about it, with its slightly re-arranged features and a displaced breast at its base.
At one time I would have worried about contemporary output apparently so indebted to a movement almost a century old, but these days if I like new work I’m inclined to just enjoy it. And Rowland ploughs a less familiar seam with pieces like the over-sized ‘Boxed In’, in which an apparently Afro-Caribbean head appears blind-fold and encased in a granite frame.
This and a few other works appear in multiple editions, reminding us that this is a working sculptor with commercial imperatives. Exhibiting her work in an airy business-space, also open to the public, should surely bring it to a wider audience than a private gallery would – as long as people know where to look for it.