Conversation with Heinz Henghes
First published in Southern Arts June 1973

Heinz Heinz Henghes is exhibiting this month at the Winchester Picture Gallery, together with Robert Holding, a colleague from the Sculpture School at the Winchester School of Art. The Exhibition surveys Heinz Henghes' work from 1964 to 1973 and marks the end of nine years, first as Head of Fine Art and, latterly, as Head of the Sculpture School, at the Winchester School of Art.

Heinz Henghes came to Winchester in 1964 at a time when the School had no diploma status; it was very much smaller and was at that time housed in what is now the County Library on North Walls. The School moved to its new buildings in Park Avenue in 1966. Heinz Henghes' first job as Head of Fine Art was to obtain Diploma Status for the School in Painting and Sculpture; once this had been granted he resigned as Head of Fine Art to become Head of the Sculpture School.

You started as a sculptor in New York in the 20's?
I came to New York from Germany and, like everyone else, I started work in clay. It would not be true to say that I started sculpting because I met Isamu Noguchi but he stimulated and helped me and I was very early accepted by various New York Galleries. I had no formal training and Isamu Noguchi did not teach me, but he criticised my work ruthlessly. Basically, I sculpted because I was just in love with sculpture.

Why sculpture?
It's a question of sensuality, the tactile quality of sculpture, which painting does not, and cannot, have. I do not mean tactile in any formal sense -the tactile is something which you can get your claws on as far as I am concerned.

When did you start carving?
I did not start carving in marble until I came back to Europe and then it was very largely under the influence of Ezra Pound whom I stayed with in Rapallo in Italy. Ezra Pound not only acted as patron - providing food, shelter, stone -but he also talked to me.

This was in the 30's at a time when sculptors like Henry Moore were seeking a direct engagement with the material and especially exploring stone ?
Yes, this was a time when there was a general feeling that the quality of the material was an intrinsic part of the work - much more so than today, when ephemeral and perishable materials are often used to express a sculptural idea. We talked constantly about the 'quality of the medium', 'earthiness'......

Were these Ezra Pound's feelings?
Ezra Pound was very didactic - he had no doubt that sculpture is stone. He assumed this as a basic truth and his fascination with Gaudier Brzeska is just one example of this assumption. Also, because of his fascination with the latin countries he saw stone as marble, though not necessarily white marble. For him, sculpture was a monumental thing, expressing some kind of hieratic imagery. Anything that was not sculpture in stone was not sculpture for him - it was merely three dimensional painting.

What did Italy mean to you ?
For me, Italy was contact with these people - people like Ezra Pound - who not only knew how to think, but also knew how to express themselves - who weren't scared to talk and would sling out ideas generously. I stayed for three years.

Whilst you were there, what work did you do ?
My things had titles like `Erda' and `Eothea' - strange hieratic images, pantheistic animal things, voluptuous females and silenic males. Later this transmuted into abstract form quite naturally, because of the need which I felt to explore form itself - rather than form used for the expression of a concept.

What next ?
After three years in Italy I went to Paris. I had a studio there and drifted around with more-or-less the surrealist people - Max Ernst, Yves Tanguy. I continued to work in marble. Then I came to London with an exhibition given to me by Peggy Guggenheim, who then had a gallery in Cork Street.

The work you are showing in the Winchester Picture Gallery Show is made with a large number of different materials - bronze, marble, stone and even a few pieces in resin aggregate. When did you start to experiment with materials other than stone and marble ?
Most of my life I have been a stone and especially a marble carver. About ten years ago I began to use bronze because there are certain shapes which the nature of stone does not permit; for instance my `Three Broken Cones'. So I turned to other materials because of the limitations of stone and these explorations developed here in England. However, a lot of the things I made in bronze - things which for technical reasons could not have been made in stone - do have the same sense of form as my stone carvings had and have. Because in the end the technical processes of bronze casting are more indirect than stone carving, I have returned to marble and accept it finally as natural to me and at present I intend to work in no other material.

I have worked in other materials - I tried working in resin, the new wonder material for sculpture, when it seemed that this would avoid expensive bronze casting and yet be eternal. In fact, at present, people seem to be going off the kinds of fibreglass resin which are easy enough to be usable without expensive processes in studios; they are not permanent materials, they have all the disadvantages of cheap plastics - they scratch, they attract dust from the atmosphere and discolour in sunlight. They smell bad. They are sticky. I would use these materials if something decent could be made with them, but they do not have the quality of marble, that translucency at the edges. Of course, bronze too is an artificial material, but it has a nobility about it.

How did your work develop when you came to England?
I went through various phases of more expressionistic sculpture, linked to my exploration of other materials and this resulted in pieces like the `Three Horses' and the 'Torso'- more, or less, representational.

You've spent many years teaching, both at the Royal College after the war and at Winchester for the last nine years ?
I have always felt that teaching is good for you because it compels you to provide answers to students problems and so forces you to face these problems. It's taken me nine years to find out that the problems one faces are the wrong ones.

How is this?
Teaching of art is better for the students than for the teachers, because the need to provide answers and explain art forces it onto a level of intellectual consciousness and the making of art is very little to do with intellect. The intellect is too often concerned with analysis and rationalisation, rather than with understanding.

Can you say a little about the work in your exhibition ?
The exhibition shows a variety of what might be called `styles'. People tend to identify artists by one type of work or another. I think that in my case the approach to what is my nature has not basically ever varied at all, but that the manner of expressing this has varied widely.

What then is this approach ?
I am interested in expressing the values which lie in the senses of man, through which he relates to nature and which are, in themselves, timeless.

I am firmly convinced of the social function of art as is, I think, any serious artist. There is, of course, no one single function, but humanity needs and always has needed art and I think humanity needs art as a reminder, as a reassertion of its tradition and ethos, as well as a means of visual and physical exploration.

I think that a lot of contemporary art may seem obscure because people expect direct messages, but in fact if a form of art succeeds, even only in making a new sense, even if only a shape, form or line, it acts in its own measure as an agent by which wider horizons become accessible. A work of art is finally like a wide open window onto a full world.

People should not ask so many questions when they look at art. For each individual the simple judgement 'I like it', 'I don't like it' is perfectly correct. It means something to you or it doesn't. The more you have seen, and the more you have looked at, and the more simply you have approached what you see and find, the more likely are you to understand it. In the end the only definition of understanding is love. Love and beauty are words people are afraid to use now.

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