Gaudier-Brzeska: A Memoir by Ezra Pound

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Gaudier-Brzeska: A Memoir Analysis

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Pound’s first encounter with Gaudier-Brzeska gives a clue as to why Pound was attracted to him as a person as well as an artist. Pound and a friend were standing in front of one of Gaudier-Brzeska’s works at a public exhibition. Pound was admiring the work but stumbling over the pronunciation of its creator’s name when a young man, looking “like a well-made young wolf or some soft-moving, bright-eyed wild thing,” appeared out from behind a pedestal and, “speaking with the gentlest fury in the world,” pronounced the name, identified himself as the sculptor, and then “disappeared like a Greek god in a vision.”

Gaudier-Brzeska combined many of the qualities Pound sought in both art and life: energy, daring, passion, intelligence, and precision. Those who knew him testify in the memoir that Gaudier-Brzeska was the most fully alive person they had ever met, symbolized for many by the amazing intensity of his piercing eyes. So poor that he could not afford to buy stone to sculpt, he nevertheless celebrated the life he had and desired no other.

Gaudier-Brzeska’s genius was that he was able to infuse his personal qualities into his art. Energy, precision, intellect, and experimentation with form were qualities Pound was trying to get into his own poetry at the time, and they excited him when he found it in the work of others. In Gaudier-Brzeska he found a young artist of limitless promise.

Gaudier-Brzeska, just past twenty when he first met Pound, had yet to develop a single, mature style. He tried many approaches in drawing, painting, and sculpture—from somewhat naturalistic representation to near-total abstraction—often at the same time. In his last two years, however, he moved toward combining abstraction and rounded, organic forms in an original style that Pound favored and that would prove influential on subsequent modernist sculpture.

The move toward abstraction, or nonrepresentation, in art was one of the primary impulses of the modern art revolution, and one that interested Pound greatly. Gaudier-Brzeska, however, believed that total abstraction was better suited to painting than to sculpture for two reasons. First, painting could incorporate and explore a greater variety of forms than could sculpture, and, perhaps more interestingly, Gaudier-Brzeska thought that machines already embodied abstract form in three dimensions and that sculpture would do better to explore territory unique to itself.

Thus, Gaudier-Brzeska was among the first, and certainly the first in England, to investigate the possibilities of experimenting with abstract planes and masses which at the same time retained suggestions of the natural, organic world. Interestingly, Wyndham Lewis, his fellow vorticist, was doing similar things in paintings such as Timon of Athens.

Perhaps Gaudier-Brzeska’s most famous work in this style is his Hieratic Head of Ezra Pound. Pound admired Gaudier-Brzeska’s preference for chiseling in stone over modeling in clay and scraped together his own meager funds to buy Gaudier-Brzeska the only large piece of stone on which he was ever able to work. Gaudier-Brzeska transformed it into an abstracted but recognizable representation not only of Pound’s external features but also of his inner force. Pound records his own impression of the work in progress in Gaudier-Brzeska: “Before the back was cut out, and before the middle lock was cut down, there was in the marble a titanic energy, it was like a great stubby catapult, the two masses bent for a blow.”

Pound’s primary motivation for compiling Gaudier-Brzeska was to honor and enhance the reputation of his friend and fellow laborer. In the process, however, he put Gaudier-Brzeska in the context of the London artistic milieu and of the larger modernist movement. In so doing, Pound gave the book an importance that goes beyond Gaudier-Brzeska’s own considerable significance. The most important aspect of the English art and literary scene in the second decade of the...

(The entire section is 1,306 words.)