When I first met Agathe Sorel she had just
returned from working in Hayter's Atelier 17 in Paris. She showed me the
portfolio of etchings based on Jean Genet's play Le Balcon; it must have been
the third exhibition I put on in the Curwen Gallery in London shortly after
its opening in 1965. I still have a copy of the intaglio poster she
printed for the show. The etchings in the portfolio were undoubtedly
recognizable as coming from the Hayter ambience but the poster was partly
printed from thin metal sheet folded and cut, the inked and laid on top of an
etched plate - the whole printed together.
For some time her prints experimented with
the nature of metal itself as she manipulated it in many ways, ultimately
inking it and printing it. The metal 'plates' were objects of beauty in
themselves and exhibited as such. She moved on to working with acrylic sheet
where neither the print nor the sculpture could be identified as the prime
Soon she was engraving on acrylic sheet on
both sides and filling the lines with coloured inks. The acrylic was bent and
twisted and bore little resemblance to a printing plate. Now the prints which
accompanied the sculpture did not share the same matrix but were still in part
exploring the same idea.
Since then the sculpture has, perhaps, taken
precedence, becoming larger and ever more complex; the use of print however, is
still part of the maturing of a motif. During this same recent period Sorel's
philosophical explorations have also come to maturity and support her new
The advent of image manipulation on the
computer screen has reawakened interest in the early analytical Cubists and the
whole field of non-Euclidean geometry. The concept of the - Fourth Dimension
has been current since the beginning of this century and influenced the Italian
Futurists, the Russian Futurists, Suprematists and Construcuvists as well as
Dada and Surrealism. Initially the Fourth Dimension was a popular feature of
Science Fiction only to be made esoteric by Einstein's Relativity Theory which
was beyond the understanding of the general public.
For all the artists involved, non-Euclidean
geometry represented a break with the past and its established laws. Artists
were encouraged to reconsider the nature of perception and reality as well as
rejecting conventional perspective which presumed one, fixed point, viewer.
Parallel interest in philosophy and mysticism reinforced anti-rationalism in
visual art, epitomized perhaps in the works of Duchamp.
Such is the background to Agathe Sorel's
prints and sculpture. She is concerned with shapes in space seen from various
angles and from inside to outside. Shapes suspended, turning, causing shadows,
distorting, coming and going, though static, imposing movement on the
The acrylic shapes are significant themselves
but the engraved and coloured lines are different on each side of the acrylic
and take up or diminish in importance as you move around the sculpture. It is
both two-dimensional and three-dimensional at the same time. The newer,
provides the fourth dimension by proceeding round the work and perceiving the
It is slightly disconcerting to find these
works originating in a mundane occurrence. Macho the cock came out of the
chance sight of a cockerel perching on a much-chromed and embellished motorbike
in Lanzarote. The mirrors echo the cockscomb; everything shines, there are
three rear-mudguard reflectors; shapes shimmer. It has been transformed into
acrylic and welded steel, as well as print on paper, and watercolour on
Watercolours are frequently the starting
point - all are figurative and of things actually seen. A print may develop
using a variety of methods both traditional and photographic. Though her first
love was intaglio she may now use litho and screen as well as intaglio,
sometimes on the same print. Found objects such as a piece of mesh or
bubblepack may be surface printed. She tends to use thin copper sheet but the
main plate mavbe acrylic with engraved parts very like the sculpture which, in
turn, develops out of the initial experience. This unity of purpose dictates
that she no longer makes use of Hayter's multi-layer viscosity inking on the
plate but prefers to keep the clarity of a single colour film close to the
transparency of the acrvlic sculpture.
Many themes in her work have come from her
visits to Lanzarote with its strange volcanic landscapes. The cooling of the
lava gives petrified evidence of the mechanical stresses and flow patterns in
the semi-liquid mass spewed out of the mountain.
These observations have led to a new
iconography derived from diagrams now made available with computer technology.
The manual pantograph is an ancient tool used by draughtsmen as well as
sculptors to transfer a shape from one material to another or to change the
scale. Now it is computer controlled, giving the artist the ability to explore
real forms hitherto seen only in the imagination, and to tell the machine to
take all or part of the image on the screen and to engrave it on metal or
acrylic. The potential of this tool is only just being explored by artists. A
Sorel work in progress called Torus is influenced by such
It is based upon images of hoi ionized gases,
known as plasma, which make up the doughnut shape of a torus. The computer can
visualize the 'structure* from any angle as well as plotting the stresses
within the mass of agitated particles.
Such manifestations can never actually be
seen by the eye but raise all sorts of interesting questions such as
remote-control image-making and the need to make images which give us control
over evermore complex detail which scientists provide today. When artists, such
as Agathe Sorel, get their hands on Visual Reality machines what will they
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and Technology, West View Pre.
Drew, P. (1976). Frei Otto: Form and
Structure. Crosbv, Lockwood, Staples.
Henderson, L.D. (1983). The Fourth
Dimension and Non-Euclidean Geometry in Modem Art. Princeton University Press,