Naum Gabo born Naum Neemia Pevsner (5 August [O.S. 24 July] 1890 – 23 August 1977)
Gabo grew up in a Jewish family of six children in the provincial Russian town of Bryansk, where his father owned a factory. His older brother was fellow Constructivist artist Antoine Pevsner.
After the outbreak of war, Gabo moved first to Copenhagen then Oslo with his older brother Alexei, making his first constructions under the name Naum Gabo in 1915. These earliest constructions originally in cardboard or wood were figurative such as the Head No.2 in the Tate collection. He moved back to Russia in 1917, to become involved in politics and art, spending five years in Moscow with his brother Antoine.
During this period the reliefs and construction became more geometric and Gabo began to experiment with kinetic sculpture though the majority of the work was lost or destroyed. Gabo's designs had become increasingly monumental but there was little opportunity to apply them commenting 'It was the height of civil war, hunger and disorder in Russia. To find any part of machinery … was next to impossible'. Gabo wrote and issued jointly with Antoine Pevsner in August 1920 a 'Realistic Manifesto' proclaiming the tenets of pure Constructivism - the first time that the term was used. In the manifesto Gabo criticised Cubism and Futurism as not becoming fully abstract arts and stated that the spiritual experience was the root of artistic production.
The essence of Gabo's art was the exploration of space which he believed could be done without having to depict mass. His earliest constructions such as Head No.2 were formal experiments in depicting the volume of a figure without carrying its mass. Gabo's other concern as described in the Realist Manifesto was that art needed to exist actively in four dimensions including time.
Gabo’s vision is imaginative and passionate, over the years his exhibitions have generated immense enthusiasm because of the emotional power present in his sculpture. Gabo said of his own sculpture that he himself was “making images to communicate my feelings of the world.” In his work, Gabo used time and space as construction elements and in them solid matter unfolds and becomes beautifully surreal and otherworldly. His sculptures initiate a connection between what is tangible and intangible, between what is simplistic in its reality and the unlimited possibilities of intuitive imagination. Imaginative as Gabo was, his practicality lent itself to the conception and production of his works. He devised systems of construction which were not only used for his elegantly elaborate sculptures but were viable for architecture as well. He was also innovative in his works, using a wide variety of materials including the earliest plastics, fishing line, bronze, sheets of Perspex, and boulders. He sometimes even used motors to move the sculpture.
Caroline Collier, an authority on Gabo’s work, said, “The real stuff of Gabo’s art is not his physical materials, but his perception of space, time and movement. In the calmness at the ‘still centre’ of even his smallest works, we sense the vastness of space, the enormity of his conception, time as continuous growth.” In fact, the element of movement in Gabo’s sculpture is connected to a strong rhythm, more implicit and deeper than the chaotic patterns of life itself. The exactness of form leads the viewer to imagine journeying into, through, over and around his sculptures.
Gabo had lived through a revolution and two world wars; he was also Jewish and had fled Nazi Germany. Gabo’s acute awareness of turmoil sought out solace in the peacefulness that was so fully realized in his “ideal” art forms. It was in his sculpture that he evaded all the chaos, violence, and despair he had survived. Gabo chose to look past all that was dark in his life, creating sculptures that though fragile are balanced so as to give us a sense of the constructions delicately holding turmoil at bay.