The constructed steel sculptural tradition that Peter Hide inherited when he began his career in the sixties was characterized by classical balance, thoughtful placement and, to some extent, delicacy. The personality of steel sculpture in the sixties was largely a reflection of it's chief proponent of the time, Anthony Caro, and even today assembled sculpture is coloured by the classical sensibility that has continued to characterize much of Caro's art. While still firmly rooted in the tradition that has been influenced so strongly by Caro's classicism, Hide's sculpture has been imprinted from the beginning with a personality that in many ways expresses an opposite sensibility. Closer in temperament to David Smith, perhaps, than to Anthony Caro, Hide has reintroduced much of the drama and effect that had been distilled out of modernist sculpture in it's shift to abstraction.

To understand Hide's art it's helpful to compare. Welded steel sculpture of the "classical" post-Caro variety tends to maintain it's visual character of having been assembled out of separate parts. Peter Hide's sculptures present themselves as unified wholes. Instead of developing the composition around a structural armature, Hide will orchestrate the parts into an integrated movement, like a gesture -- a curve, for example, or as in the piece called "Mourning Victory," a hunching movement. Most notably, though, Hide's sculptures resist balance and stability, which is the dominant characteristic of classical art. His pieces lean and twist, or move horizontally in sweeping waves with jagged, angular forms played off against swelling curves.

Often in Hide's sculpture, as when massed clusters of thick steel pieces are set against fluid, wall-like arrangements of plate steel, an impression is created that the parts have found their own organization in response to some natural process. This, of course, is deceiving. The subtle shifts in texture, the slight adjustments in the orientation of planes, are all contrived to develop or mediate the movement, and the relation of part to part is critically, although transparently, controlled. As much as Hide's sculptures depend on the deliberate placement of parts, they don't exploit the appearance of logic as part of their expression. Rather they give the impression of disorder and imbalance, expressing feelings of drama and emotion.

While most modern abstract artists seek to distil associations of representation from their work, Peter Hide is not reluctant to integrate them into the visual content of his sculptures. He often allows references to human posture or gesture to imbue feeling and mood, or impart a sense of liveliness and movement. The tall piece "Radiant," for example, resembles a walking figure with it's swaying contrapposto and approximation of human proportions. The layered planes bring to mind the faceted construction of cubist painting, but also conjure the feeling of late Gothic architecture of the type called Gothic Baroque, a reference that is amplified by the monumental scale. The shard-like forms which seem to collapse into each other create a sense of compression that oddly contrasts with the lifting, reaching effect created by the sweeping movement of the sculpture's silhouette

Vague but powerful references to the figure also appear in "Hindu Laocoon," a radically conceived sculpture that resembles a figure, its weight partially supported by a column-like "leg" which is planted firmly on the floor. The rest of the "body" is stretched across an attached box-like base, as if assuming the hyperextended pose of a dancer exercising at the barre. As with all of Hide's works, the name is descriptive. The connection to Hindu sculpture is easily seen in the unusual combining of awkward angularity and swelling curves that characterizes the whole sculpture. Echoes of Indian sculpture can be seen, too, in individual sections, in the attenuated, tree-like quality of the support leg, and in the hooded form that swells above it to embrace the clustered grouping of steel shapes.

Part of Hide's strength is a certain lack of conventional "good taste" and an accompanying ability to wrestle unity out of asymmetry and imbalance. This is particularly apparent in "Hindu Laocoon" where the orientation of the support leg to the horizontal section seems at first too extremely "at odds." The incongruity and awkwardness of the composition, though, and Hide's subsequent resolution of the problem give the piece it's unique power. This sort of resolution of opposing forces is typical of much of Peter Hide's work.

Drawing attention to the distinct personality of Peter Hide's art takes much of the emphasis off of the main thing, which its quality. It's hard to know exactly what role personality plays in the achievement of quality. In Hide's case, though, personality has combined with ambition to create art of great originality, and the best art has always been original.

Russell Bingham

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