Georgia Metaxas Rooftop Shoot © Ahuva Zeloof, 2019
“Before long I see images emerging from the stone. That is when I let my subconscious take over and my hands do the work. That’s how it starts. The more I do, the more I see what is already there….”
Ahuva Zeloof, 73, is a sculptor with a passion for stone carving. Iraqi-born, she spent her early years in Israel, before moving to London in 1972 with her young family.
portrait © Ahuva Zeloof, 2019
25-years ago the family became involved with Brick Lane’s Old Truman Brewery, regenerating the 11-acre site into what is today one of London’s most prominent arts hubs – a hive of galleries, studios and event spaces. After bringing up four children and thirteen grandchildren, Ahuva finally had time to explore her own interest in art and design. She took courses in sculpture then an Art Foundation course. After experimenting with different mediums, she experienced an instant synergy with stone, carving out figures and faces from organic shapes.
Reflection is only her second exhibition, and includes 40 pieces of brand-new work in a variety of media – naturally stone, but now she is also sculpting in bronze, glass and alabaster – all inspired by female movement and energy.
Ahuva’s approach to her work is similar to one of her favourite sculptors, Rodin, who famously said, “I choose a block of marble and chop off what I don’t need.” Likewise, Ahuva believes each stone or piece of raw material carries a ‘story’ contained within its dense shell – she need only coax it out with her chisel. “I ask for the colours and the kilos,” she explains, “and nothing else. Whatever I get sent; there’ll be a story there. Even when it goes wrong, I’ll go back later and find it there, somewhere.” Unusual to other sculptors, Ahuva does not create preparatory drawings, she just picks up her chisel and sees where it leads – always exploring the fine line between what the artist carves out of the stone and what is already there.
During the 1980’s, Ahuva started to practise and then teach yoga, and this has informed a deep understanding of human anatomy and movement which can be seen so clearly through her works.
“There is a freedom that you feel when you practice yoga – the body is serene, but there is also movement. The female figure is incredibly versatile and endless in action.” A standout work in the exhibition is New Movement 4 (above), a large, rustic railway sleeper on which five statuettes have been mounted, each in a different yoga pose to complete a sequence. The statuettes are initially built up little by little, with wisps of wax, before being cast in bronze. The resulting uneven surface makes them all the more real, their outlines appearing blurred as though they were trembling from their acrobatics. New Movement 4 demonstrates Ahuva’s relationship with her femininity – “You can be strong and independent, but also soft with it.”
Central to this new body of work is Life, the rounded torso of a pregnant woman cast in pure white glass, with veils that mimic veins and spark the optimism of new beginnings. Originally carved out of stone, the transformation of the sculpture into a transparent medium represents themes at the heart of Ahuva’s current focus; to create new ways of seeing, and to shine a light on aspects previously hidden.
In Evolution I (bottom, right), a couple are fused together in the warm glow of glass amber whisky, their bodies hot with emotion. This work is flanked by the profiles of people close to the artist (including a self-portrait, Me – top right) in patinated bronze, a rainbow of gold and oxidised green, and white alabaster stone. Elsewhere, smooth crescent slices, Moon Head 1,2 and 3 reveal snatches of faces, the profiles only partially in view. This technique allows Ahuva to “uncover what is already there – my sculptures are not whole or complete, they are organic and open.”
Ahuva Zeloof’s work is characterised by smooth curves and folds that have a sensual, tactile element. Some areas of the stone are filed until they are perfectly smooth, others parts are left rough and raw. Her smooth treatment of facial features gives way to the raw, fossil like texture of materials in their organic state. This reveal-conceal technique heightens the sense of mystery – you want to know more and look closer.
“This exhibition is like giving birth; the work is my baby, my expression, there is a lifecycle to the way each piece evolves and unfolds. When you see it, you see it from all angles and the more you see, the more you look at it.”
Ahuva Zeloof: Reflection 3 – 16 October 2019 The Truman Brewery, 11 Dray Walk, London, E1 6QL