Sound and vision blog

17 January 2022

Recording of the week: Norman Ackroyd on Henry Moore

This week’s selection comes from Karen Atkinson, Assistant Librarian at the Henry Moore Institute.

The Henry Moore Institute in Leeds has collaborated with National Life Stories on its Artists’ Lives project since the inception of the project in 1990. Past and present colleagues have interviewed artists, whilst visitors can listen to a small selection of extracts on the NLS sound point in our welcome area. Selected full interviews are available in our Sculpture Research Library.

Part of my role at the Henry Moore Institute is to curate the sound point. This allows me to delve into Artists’ Lives to listen to artists talking about subjects relating to the exhibition, research and library programmes at the Institute. I find these personal accounts provide wonderful insights into topics ranging from their art school experience, views on past exhibitions, to their artistic thought processes.

Currently on display at the Institute is a small exhibition of Henry Moore sculptures, drawings and collages which focus on Moore’s use of natural forms. Whilst thinking about the exhibition I discovered Norman Ackroyd’s interview with Cathy Courtney where the artist shares an encounter he had with Henry Moore’s ‘Reclining Figure: Festival’ outside Temple Newsam House in the 1950s.

Norman Ackroyd on drawing a Henry Moore sculpture [BL REF C466/293]

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The announcement of the sculpture coming to Leeds had drawn negative comments from readers in the local press but the young Ackroyd decided to see the work for himself, taking drawing paper to sketch the work in situ. Ackroyd gained a greater understanding of the sculpture, relating the natural forms Moore was using to similar shapes he saw in bones when boiling meat. Some smaller reclining figures can be seen in the current exhibition at the Institute.

Three Henry Moore sculptures on display in cabinets in an exhibition roomImage courtesy of the Henry Moore Foundation. Photo by John McKenzie.

Henry Moore explained the importance of these natural forms in his work and how he gained inspiration from collecting objects such as stones, bones and shells, which he then drew, modelled or photographed.

For me, everything in the world of form is understood through our own bodies. From our mother’s breast, from our bones, from bumping into things, we learn what is rough and what is smooth. To observe, to understand, to experience the vast variety of space, shape and form in the world, twenty lifetimes would not be enough.

Henry Moore, 1978

Norman Ackroyd was interviewed by Cathy Courtney for the National Life Stories project Artists’ Lives, 2009-2011. British Library Sound & Moving Image reference C466/293.  

This extract is currently playing on the National Life Stories sound point at the Henry Moore Institute. The exhibition Henry Moore: Configuration runs until 23 January 2022.   

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