Dwarfed by the gargantuan, anthropomorphic forms thrusting into the bleak sky, a bent figure hobbles on his black-lacquered cane across the mist-shrouded countryside of his Hertfordshire home. Henry Moore stops to study one of the 20-foot creatures, which resembles the unearthed thighbones of some prehistoric beast as much as it does one of Moore’s own heroic sculptures. And indeed The Arch (as the work is titled) and his 11 other creations in the surrounding 30-acre park, evoke a Stonehenge-like awe. A visitor to the site 30 miles north of London feels in the presence of a wonderment of the world.
This is the ultimate legacy of the greatest living sculptor to his British countrymen. It is not a retrospective, though, but rather a work in progress. Moore is constantly repositioning the pieces, and there are still eight to be completed. He broke his ankle and heel two years ago, but at 77, the artist still keeps seven studios working away. The creative habit, Moore confesses, is “almost a drug. I get uneasy if a day or two go by and I haven’t done anything.”
The sculpture garden is his current obsession. “The important thing here,” he says, “is the isolation that permits people to look at each work in peace and solitude—not like a city, where you’d get run over if you paused long enough to contemplate a sculpture.” Why outdoors? “Sculpture’s an art of the open air,” he explains. “Painting is an indoor art. You don’t put a Rembrandt on the lawn.” And this, in Moore’s opinion, is sculpture’s superiority over painting. “Sculpture can have hundreds of points of view. I try to take advantage of this by making my works as varied three-dimension-ally as possible.”
Old Fred Flintstone, as his former Australian-born assistants liked to call the master, considers himself “more of a carving sculptor than a modeling sculptor. I prefer to be cutting something. Carving is a more physical thing than molding.” Despite the Brobdingnagian proportions of some of his works, Moore insists that at 5’6″ he is “just the right size. Michelangelo was around 5’4″ and Rodin around 5’3″. The physical problems,” he cracks, “become worse as you get taller.”
Often, he adds, the same is true of the sculpture itself. How big is enough? “The subject determines the size,” says Moore. “It would be stupid to make a ‘rocking chair’ sculpture colossal. It’s all common sense.” He likes to start with a small scale model. “That way,” he explains, “I can handle it, see it from all sides. It can be complete right from the start. Then I enlarge it to any size I want it to be.” To bring it to proper proportions inevitably requires the help of assistants—for which Moore makes no apology. “You have to have them, just to move the large and heavy pieces. To ask the sculptor to do all the work on monumental pieces is like expecting the architect to do his own bricklaying.” He has two assistants, while Rodin, he notes, required 30.
Though he says, “I don’t have the moral courage to take a holiday,” he nonetheless spends six to eight weeks every summer at the Tuscan seaside resort of Forte dei Marmi (“Fortress of Marble”), near the famed Carrara quarries where Michelangelo found much of his marble. It is a busman’s holiday, however, with several hours every day devoted to working with blocks weighing up to 50 tons in the Henraux marble yard. The regimen also includes a daily swim (he has a cottage on the beach in addition to a villa inland) and a drink at his favorite outdoor cafe, the Principe.
But Moore, the seventh of a Yorkshire coal miner’s eight children, is clearly happiest at his home in England, in a onetime farmhouse inelegantly called Hoglands. There he unwinds by watching the telly, especially boxing, tennis and soccer. Driven away by comments about his work, such as, “I like the line, but what the hell is it?” he no longer frequents the neighborhood pub. But twice a year he does pop into the Prince of Wales—to place bets on the Grand National and Epsom Derby.
Aside from his many projects, it is Moore’s Kiev-born wife, Irina, who commands nearly all of Henry’s personal attention, and with good reason. Irina, who met her husband when he was a part-time teacher and she a full-time painting student at London’s Royal College of Art, is the critic he most respects. “She either likes something I do or she doesn’t,” says Moore, “and most important, she helps me not to waste time.”
Since so much of Moore’s oeuvre depicts the female form, it is surprising to some that Henry has been married to one woman for 46 years. Queried about his preoccupation with earth-motherly figures, Moore replied lightly, “There is a book by Jung’s favorite disciple called The Archetypal World of Henry Moore. The author sent me a copy, but I didn’t get through the first chapter because he was explaining the motives behind my work and what makes me tick. It’s like telling the punch line before the joke,” continued the master. “Perhaps there’s a reason behind what I do, but I don’t want to know it. There must be a mystery.”