Sculptors and artists face a variety of challenges when it comes to accessing materials needed for their projects and installations. Concrete is a material that is extremely accessible to the everyday person, thanks to its reasonable price and common availability in most stores, making it an excellent medium to create and sculpt with. Consequently, concrete art has remained an interesting school of art which has been popular from the 1930s all the way until modern times. If you’d like to know more about the history, famous sculptures, benefits, equipment and tools (such as cement mixers) of concrete art, then read this article.
What is Concrete?
Concrete is made by mixing multiple aggregates that have special chemical properties, including cement, stone, gravel, sand and water. When these aggregates or ingredients are combined and mixed inside of a cement mixer (often referred to as a concrete mixer), they bind and spark a chemical reaction called hydration. At first, the combination of aggregates will appear heavy and pasty, however, the hydration process will cause the concrete to slowly harden.
Many people tend to confuse concrete and cement, so it is worthwhile to point out that cement is an ingredient within concrete. Cement is a powdery substance that is comprised of silicon, calcium, aluminium, iron and clay. It contains special chemical properties that help the concrete to harden and combine with the other aggregates effectively. Cement is an important ingredient for concrete because it contributes to the water resistance, strength and durability of the final product.
The History of Concrete Art
Concrete has been used as a material for the creation of art for centuries, because it is incredibly versatile to work with, and it can easily be moulded to suit your specific needs and wants. The raw materials and aggregates that are required to make concrete can be purchased at any hardware store for reasonable prices. It is considered incredibly accessible, especially when you consider how expensive it is to purchase alternative sculpture materials such as limestone, marble, brass or copper.
Concrete art was popularised around the same time as constructivism and the Bauhaus movements. It was recognisable for its strong tendency to rely on geomatics forms, rejecting romantic interpretations or dramatised symbolism. Instead, it focused more on drawing the viewer’s attention to the mechanical processes and machine-made aspects of everyday, urban life. Contrary to other forms of art which were commonly produced primarily using human touch, concrete art was forged primarily by mechanically mixing aggregates using cement mixers, and formulating structures with steel reinforcements.
Concrete art was considered to be an example of the transition towards modern art, where abstractions were preferred over realistic recounts and simple, geometric forms were preferred to fanciful embellishments and elaborations. Many people trace the beginning of the concrete art movement to the 1930s, specifically to Theo van Doesburg, who was a writer, potter, painter, and architect. Before he died, the wrote a book titled ‘The Basics of Concrete Art’, which championed the use of concrete in modern art.
The book led to many more artists experimenting with the form and using it to create new, innovative works and sculptures. For example, Otto G. Carlsund was a member of the group Art Concret which exhibited a fair few concrete artworks. Max Bill was another member of the movement, and he was a Swedish architect, graphic designer and painter.
The art movement known as concretism emphasised the importance of cold abstraction. The manifesto of the concrete art movement, which was signed by Otto G. Carlsund, Jean Helion and Leon Tutundjian, explained that concrete art was supposed to be non-referential. This meant that the works they created were not supposed to imitate the natural forms and shapes that one saw in their everyday life. Instead, concrete was meant to be used to create cerebral, abstract forms.
Most pieces of art inspired by this movement contain basic visual features and lack any sentimentality. These pieces are unsentimental because they were also supposed to remove the artist’s perspective from the finished product. The concrete art was intended to look as though it was created by a machine, with strong geometrical lines and shapes. Theo van Doesburg’s Concrete Art Movement Manifesto stated the following:
“Art should receive nothing from nature’s formal properties or from sensuality or sentimentality. We want to exclude lyricism, dramaticism, symbolism, etc….”
Today, concrete art is not specific to the requirements and regulations set up by followers of Theo van Doesburg’s movement. Instead, many sculptors use concrete to create a number of other unusual stylistic interpretations. Today, you can see concrete being used in geometric Art Concrete inspired pieces, as well as modern works of art in the form of architecture, and other romantic sculptures and landmarks. Concrete is a limitless material that can be moulded to suit any artist’s needs.
Famous Sculptures Made of Concrete
Reclining Figure by Henry Moore
Henry Moore is renowned for his experimental and unconventional use of concrete as a medium for his sculptures. Henry Moore was a British man who was known for his semi-abstract sculptures of human figures. In 1932 Henry Moore created the Reclining Figure, which showed a woman on her side. This was the largest of all of his sculptures, and it was considered a monumental work in his expansive portfolio.
The sculpture was created with concrete and reinforced by steel rods. To create it, Moore formed a concrete block by pouring large volumes of wet concrete into a mould and then adding red, brown and black powdered pigments to add some extra points of interest and colour. The sculpture was once featured in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and many other similar works such as the Mask succeeded it.
Christ the Redeemer, in Rio de Janeiro
This statue sits on a square pedestal about 8 metres high, which is situated on the 704-metre summit of Mount Corcovado in Rio de Janeiro. It is made of reinforced concrete, and it is clad in a mosaic of thousands of triangular tiles of soapstone. This sculpture is visible all over Rio, and many tourists and locals come to pray at the foot of the statue.
This statue was proposed by the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro in 1921. The church raised funds for the statue and construction began in 1926. Over a period of 5 years, workers transported materials such as concrete and soapstone via railways until its completion.
Arcade Series by David Umemoto
David Umemoto is a sculptor and architect who makes architectural pieces such as the Arcade Series, which features modular miniature houses that can be arranged and rearranged much like lego. Each module can be connected with another. The series allows for playful opportunities to curate and arrange new houses and sets.
Each part and element fits uniquely with another, allowing users to shape whatever bold or modest forms they desire. Made solely with concrete, the pieces have been considered to be primitive and even brutalist. This is because of their similarities to ancient constructions, such as the Roman colosseum.
The Benefits of Using Concrete for Sculpture
- Concrete is highly accessible, and its ingredients can be found at almost any hardware or construction store.
- It can be manufactured or mixed manually according to your unique strength specifications.
- It can be cast to any shape, size or dimension.
- It is highly durable and strong, allowing it to withstand harsh environments.
- Casting concrete can be done on-site with the help of cement mixers, making it very easy and cost-effective to produce
- Concrete is free from defects and flaws, unlike other natural stones and materials.
- Concrete is water-resistant and fire-resistant.
- Concrete does not deteriorate easily, and requires very little maintenance.
How To Use Concrete To Make Sculptures
Three common methods of creating concrete sculptures are by casting the concrete, using wire mesh, or carving the concrete. Casting is the process of mixing concrete using cement mixers and then pouring that concrete into a cast or mould. From there on, you can carve or scrape at the concrete when it is dry.
Wire mesh is also used to help formulate a solid structure and framework for the piece. Many will use wire cutters to shape the wire mesh, and then they will proceed to cover their concrete design with the wire mesh so that it holds better. Carving concrete is the process of sculpting, picking or scraping at a hardened concrete block in order to recreate a shape or structure.
When concrete is still in its semi-liquid or uncured form, it is difficult to handle. However, you can slow down the hydration and hardening process by wetting the concrete more. The wetter the concrete, the easier it is to handle and shape your desired dimensions, depending on what you’re trying to create.
Concrete can be cast in a hollow mould, plaster moulds or even latex. To prevent the concrete from sticking to the mould, artists often opt to use shellac as a lining for the mould, as this prevents the concrete from damaging or binding with it. When the concrete is hardened and cured, it can easily be removed from the mould and incorporated into the artwork.
White cement can be moulded like clay when it is still wet, although some artists are also able to carve white cement even when it has dried. Individual artists tend to experiment with the cement first in order to gauge what sort of moisture levels they require to carve and mould the material in order to achieve the desired shapes and forms they envision.
Tools Needed To Produce Concrete Sculptures
- Bucket or wheelbarrow
- Steel reinforcements or metal rods
- PVC plastic
- Steel wool
- Rotary tools with cutting and grinding attachments
- Concrete sealants
- Clay modelling tools
- Wire cutters
- Cement mixer
- Personal protective equipment
Buy Cement Mixers Today To Assist You With Your Concrete Art Project
Concrete art is a medium for abstract self-expression and reflections on modern brutalism. From urban architectural miniatures in your home and on your desktop to languorous concrete ladies lounging in museums of modern art, to skyscraping saviour figures on mountain summits, there are no limits to the shapes, sizes and forms that can be forged with concrete. But to create these innovative pieces, it is necessary to equip yourself with the right tools for a solid finished product.
For example, it is incredibly important to ensure that your concrete is the right consistency, as this will affect your ability to mould and shape your sculpture. By using cement mixers, you can ensure that you achieve the desired consistency the first time around, saving yourself from time-consuming analogue mixing processes that can be back-breaking and exhausting. Instead, BS Power offers cement mixers that will prove very useful for large-scale projects and installations. Save yourself time and energy today, and invest in cement mixers.