A happenstance encounter with a piece of clay, the recognition of talent by a perceptive wife and Marke Meyer’s career as a sculptor was launched.
For the last 10 years, barring a fallow two year period, Meyer has been sculpting the nude female form. And he’s in good company. For one could trace the whole cultural history of humankind according to the attitude to and depiction of women. The art critic John Berger defines the difference between naked and nude: intention is the key. Naked is without clothes, and nude is eye candy for the viewer. Meyer falls into the tasteful eye candy category.
“I feel like I can speak through the female figure,” says Meyer.
Archaeologists believe the oldest naked female form to be the 40,000 year old Venus of Hohle Fels, dubbed “prehistoric porn” and probably a fertility fetish. Compared to the ample thighed and big breasted Hohle Fels, the highly idealised Venuses of ancient Greece and her copyist conqueror Rome were far more naturalistic and restrained. Both aspects reflected the prevailing ideologies.
The female nude’s absence was acutely felt in the highly religious Middle-Ages where nudity was associated with sin, and she bloomed again in the realistic Renaissance. Then came the times of the dimpled thighs, rosy breasts and powdered bums of the playful Rococo era. This was followed by the sassy attitudinal nudes of Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass and Olympia from the 19th century. The 20th century included the anorexic nudes of Egon Schiele and the edgy, painterly scrutiny of Lucien Freud. Our 21st century is an era of eclecticism, leaning heavily towards the conceptual.
Apart from their ancient role as fertility fetishes, women have been elevated or denigrated by the male gaze – seen as either Madonna or whore, or in the misogynist Picasso’s terms, “goddesses or doormats”.
In the context of such a history, sculpture of the female form by a male will inevitably come under the scrutiny of the feminist gaze. Meyer had to pass through this baptism of anima fire when he first exhibited, but in subsequent exhibitions this response has abated.
Meyer chose the female nude for his affinity with the female form. He uses it as a vehicle to express his largely autobiographical experiences, and clues to this subject matter are hinted at in his poetic titles.
In Wayward Dreams of the Outside World, Meyer depicts a young girl emerging from the water. Meyer has shown her caught in a spiral of water with goldfish emerging from her hair. In Finding My Feet, he has sculptured an adolescent girl jumping off a chair, her suitcase blown open in the action. And inWeaving Myself Around These Threads of You, a youngwoman climbs upward over a pile of chairs increasing in size, assisted by a piece of rope.
Meyer’s historical influences include the sensuous works of the Baroque sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini, those of classical and romantic styles, and the contemporary work of South African sculptor Angus Taylor.
He counterpoints the groundedness of the corporeal body by introducing a feeling of suspension. “All my work floats around, giving the illusion of weightlessness or lift,” he says. This suspension is in keeping with Meyer’s reclusiveness, a man content with his own company and who lives in his own head.
He explains that most of his pieces evolve from actual night or daydreams which provide him with a complete picture of what the sculpture will look like. “I would see one of my images in a hoop, and the next day I would start to make it,” he explains.
Equally important to the female form, but less obvious, is Meyer’s inclusion of geometry, for example as circles or interlocking triangles. These shapes operate on two levels for Meyer. They have symbolic resonance, such as the circle representing eternity, but Meyer is equally drawn to the beauty of the shape itself.
“I have a very mathematical mind, as well as a creative mind, and to me the geometric form is very pleasing to the eye,” he says. It’s as if the inclusion of these geometric shapes assumes a masculinity which has been utilised in a way that supports the female form, while operating as an underlying counterpoint to Meyer’s more obvious preoccupation with it.
“You will find that a lot of my compositions – even if they are two figures – will have a flowing line that runs through them,” he points out. “You can almost describe them in simple line terms, like a C-shape,” he explains.
In Chocolate and Sushi, where the subject matter concerns “the protective care of one sister or for a friend for another”, Meyer has wrapped the figures around each other. But he points out that were the composition analysed, it would reveal a series of triangles that fit into each other to create a pyramidal structure. This approach is also reflected in his current work of two figures – one which has a rearing scorpion shape and the other with a clam shape – both balanced on each other.
Meyer’s three-dimensional sculptures compliment Louise Almon’s body of two-dimensional, painterly monotypes titled Present in Absence to be shown at Candice Berman Gallery September 2017. They incorporate a new patina technique which distinguishes itself from the heavy bronze colouring and enhances the weightlessness of his figures. An apt pairing focusing on the human condition of isolation verses engagement.