Rosemary Simmons

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Space engraving: Agathe Sorel

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 it’s 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 instigator.

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 three-dimensional work.

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 viewer.

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 changed image.


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 paper.

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 possibilities.

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 create?

Rosemary Simmons

Banchoff, T.F. (1990). Beyond the Third Dimension. Scientific American Library.
Brisson, D.W. (Ed)'(1978). Hypergraphics: Visualizing Complex Relationships in Art, Science 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, New Jersey.