Bowman Sculpture: Yves Dana in Duke Street

Last Wednesday evening I was asked to the private view of an exhibition of works by the Swiss Yves Dana, at Bowman Sculpture in Duke Street. The Gallery is probably best known for works by Rodin and Emily Young but these were a delight.

It was a thoroughly friendly party: anyone interested in looking around or considering buying a piece of sculpture would find the gallery approachable and not at all intimidating. Dana, who was born in Egypt, was there and spoke interestingly about his training, materials, work and influences.  Over the past forty years he has worked in iron, plaster, stone and bronze. While there is no specific iconography or “meaning” associated with these pieces, and Yves is keen to exclude specific interpretations of his work nonetheless the influence of Ancient Egypt and the sense of a journey seem very present. The works are very tactile and combine clear simple forms with a high level of surface detail. Although not cheap all the pieces are well within the reach of a decent city bonus. The only caveat, and one that applies to nearly all sculpture, is that they will show at their best with a carefully chosen plinth placed where the fall of natural and artificial light works to highlight both form and surface..

Since this was my first opportunity to look at these works I think may be helpful to quote from the exhibition catalogue:

Born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1959, after training at the Ecoles des Beaux-Arts, Geneva, Dana set up his first studio in 1979.

Dana’s first exhibition in 1982 featured twenty mechanical and acoustic sculptures made out of iron. He continued with this approach until 1996, when a six-month stay in Egypt, his birthplace, inspired him to create simpler, hieratic shapes cast in bronze. Dana says: ‘The six months I spent in Egypt really did give me a new lease of life and helped me to set both my mind and my hands free… It was then that I abandoned iron in favour of plaster. I worked under an immense sky on the edge of the desert… the frantic, bustling rhythm of the West gave way to a slower Eastern way of life…’

During this time he produced sixteen sculptures that were radically different from his previous work. The inspiration for the series came from ancient forms seen on that trip and thus the Stele series was born. A stele is an upright stone slab or pillar bearing an inscription or design and serving as a monument or marker. Dana says: ‘Standing upright… the idea of territory, traces and imprints… Steles clearly differentiate between the space that is in front of them and the space that is behind them. They look at us from one space to another, from their “beyond”. Their verticality calls for and questions our presence…’

In 1987, at the suggestion of the City of Lausanne, Dana created his studio in the Orangerie of Parc Mon Repos. The sumptuous nineteenth century Orangery was built in 1824 and is a Swiss national heritage building. This huge double-height space allows Dana to create his sculpture on any scale he chooses. Yves Dana imports blocks of basalt from Sweden, limestone from Egypt, France and Turkey, serpentine from Italy and diabase from Germany. Monoliths weighing up to fifteen tonnes are transported to his studio in Switzerland. His bronzes are cast in Tuscany at the Foundry Mariani.

In 2011 The Editions Cercle d’Art Paris made a film about the artist. The documentary shows Yves Dana at work in his studio in Lausanne in December 2010. It explores his methods such as meditating in front of stone blocks, and discusses his approach and his research. The film was premiered at Dana’s studio on the June 25th 2011.  

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