The Moon Cabinet

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Posted 16th April 2019

The Moon Cabinet
An artistic and conceptual approach

Rupert Senior

I have always been intrigued by the artwork of Ben Nicholson, especially his layering of ideas into one abstract composition. Norbert Lynton's authoritative study, The Art of Ben Nicholson (Phaidon 1993), describes his combination of still-life foreground and landscape background within one work, allowing 'BN to explore dualities of several sorts, including spatial and the compositional: flat or flattish still life against receding landscape and centrally clustered still life against expansive landscape'.

'As a craftsman, I have always held the belief that process is important to a successful artistic outcome'

It is this layering of composition that I am exploring with the Moon Cabinet, only in three dimensional form. You can interpret the closed cabinet as a depiction of the moon with its varied craters and sub-craters within its curved surface. Likewise, when the doors open, the solar system and deep space are revealed. Both are equivalents to Nicolson's still life foreground and landscape background. What is interesting to me is when these different and very individual compositions are combined they form new perspectives. For example, the curved join in the doors creates either waxing crescent or gibbous moons against an expansive deep blue night sky depending on which door is opened; while the craters, as part of the secondary composition, transform into planets, seemingly floating in space, perched as they are on stainless steel pins, similar to those in an orrery.

This work could be seen as having a conceptual approach but conceptualism suggests, “the concepts or ideas involved in the work take precedence over traditional aesthetic, technical, and material concerns" (Sol Lewitt, Artforum, June 1967). As a craftsman, I have always held the belief that process is important to a successful artistic outcome, whether it be the work of an experienced painter with their deft control of brush and paint; or, in this case, the bringing to bear of years of experience of traditional and cutting-edge methods and materials. In this work, meticulousness of process - from the careful selection of the swirly burr ash timber and the almost impossible lamination of it to part of a sphere, to the development and making of unique hand-made hinges and crater mounts and the constructional precision required to align the craters between their background and the holes in the doors - is all integral to the success of the idea.

Futhermore, the piece's functionality as a key cabinet does not diminish its form or the strength of the overall concept. The polished steel key hangers hidden behind the craters suggest mini satellites spinning off from the planets, and as such contribute to the overall composition.