RoRobert Schad, sculpture in motion

Standing vertically, literally planted in the ground, at the edge of a row of trees, the sculpture entitled ENFIM (2000) that Robert Schad has installed in his park is emblematic of the aesthetics of the line that underlies his approach. The work is there, as if it were native to this corner of nature, just like the other plants. When you see it, you are immediately struck by the way it is part of the landscape, emerging from the earth, reaching for the sky, animated by a vital movement that makes it fragile and resistant at the same time. The line proceeds from a sensitive geometry whose apparent rectitude is punctuated by the slightly broken succession of its constituent fragments. With a radical economy of means, it imposes itself as a manifesto of a properly ontic thought of sculpture.

“The geometric line is an invisible being”, notes Wassily Kandinsky in his work entitled Point-Line-Plan. And he continues: “It is the trace of the point in movement, and therefore its product. It is born of movement – and this by the annihilation of the supreme immobility of the point. Here the leap from the static to the dynamic occurs.” Even though Kandinsky’s work is more concerned with the question of painting, his words resonate strongly with the intelligence of Robert Schad’s sculpture, not only with regard to the idea of movement of the sculpture object itself but also with regard to the fact that the line is the cardinal vector for a whole reflection that aims to make it the pretext for a philosophy carried by the concept of nomadism.

Indeed, the sculptor apprehends his art in terms of its potential for mobility, its capacity for internal resourcing and its quality of generating links. It is important for him first of all not to freeze it in a timeless sense, which would lock it up and fix it in place, then to remix it, if necessary, to offer it the opportunity of a new adventure, and finally to give it a name to identify it within a corpus. More often than not, this name has a particular tone, either as a sound metaphor, or as an appeal to a word that combines all languages. “A sculpture, for me, he says, is like a personality and I name it to personify it in the context of a form of choreography in which the body is the tool2”. Thus ENFIM, which rises to a height of almost 13 metres and whose consonance suggests its relationship to the idea of in-finitude. It is easy to imagine that, on one side, it crosses the earth, while at the other end, it tends towards the stars. At least it indicates the direction, just like the poplars that are its neighbours and whose quivering in the air echoes its virtual movement.
“The external forces that transform the point into a line can be very different in nature”, writes Kandinsky. “The diversity of lines depends on the number of these forces and their combinations”. In their graphic development, Robert Schad’s sculptures also seem to proceed from a similar dynamic. The pieces of steel that he assembles end to end, filling in their joints along the line that he draws in space, become one and the same piece and their knot-like joints seem to be the result of a torsion committed by the hand of a giant. From one point to the next, the line continues here, branches off there, and finally determines a whole set of interlacing lines. Robert Schad says that he wants to ‘open up the spectrum of forms of [his] line’ and refers to his works as ‘living sculptures’3. All in all, he tries to inscribe the space of all sorts of different situations, without ever refraining from innovation, contradiction or questioning. If he sticks to this line, it is because it is this line that drives him, even provokes him to invention.

Entering Robert Schad’s work is not without risk: that of being caught in the inextricable lineaments that constitute it. The line is the pretext for a whole world of forms and figures in which the eye is invited to move freely, the body to project itself virtually into a space open to all sensations: elevation, suspension, crossing, instability, etc. At the source of the artist’s approach, drawing has a predominant place. It is the place par excellence for the appearance of all sorts of little sketches that his pencil lets fly without prior notice, following certain automatisms. Unlike an architect who draws with a specific goal in mind, Schad lets himself be led by the line he draws on the paper. It is not important to him whether these initial ideas take shape in a sculpture or not, what matters is the vital energy they release about the possibility of a work. In this respect, his drawings can be seen as the rudiments of a plastic language of his own, which he then uses to make small models prior to the feasibility of his sculptures.

In the clutter of his studio, the few sheets of paper on his table speak volumes about the relationship to the body that underlies his drawings. The figures are aligned and superimposed like the notes of an imaginary choreography, and the movement with which they are charged determines the sculptor’s work in terms of a form of bodily expression. Robert Schad says he owes more to his collaboration with choreographers – such as Gerhard Bohner – than to any other type of teaching. Like a dancer who plays with the movements of his arms and legs to be in space, the artist structures his sculptures by accentuating their articulations to better embrace it. And just as the latter walks the stage in all directions in order to be part of it, the latter likes to install his works in the context of different routes so as to make them live in the fullness of their possibilities.

Because they are based on the idea of construction and an experiential relationship of otherness, sculpture and architecture share many common points. Consequently, there is nothing better than to have them enter into a dialogue. This dialogue is all the richer in the light of architectures whose weight of history and memorial charge are dense, beyond any consideration of time, style, form and material. Confronted with the rich heritage of a Romanesque church, a Gothic cathedral, a Cistercian abbey, a Renaissance castle, an industrial forge, a postmodern building, etc., the vivid presence of Robert Schad’s sculptures orchestrates a whole web of subtle and prospective links. Above all, they contribute to highlighting another line, that of time, which inscribes the past, the present and the future in the continuum of a history of forms.

For the past ten years, the artist has been organising a whole series of artistic journeys questioning the place of contemporary art at the heart of heritage. From Germany to France, passing through Austria, Portugal, Italy, etc., he has taken up the involutive game of confronting 5, then 10, then 28, and now nearly 60 of his sculptures with the most different sites, whether identified or not, rural or urban, but always historical. In doing so, he invites the viewer to play with his memory from one place to another, to apprehend his sculpture differently from one route to another and to appreciate its many variations. In short, to think about his own art, but also about the art of sculpture in general, in a moving way, insofar as his struggle is to free it from the straitjacket in which the mind, if not tradition, traditionally confines it.

In the course of this nomadism, if the sculpture obviously does not change in its form, it differs in its relationship to the space where it is located. Unlike any other two-dimensional work, this is one of its most important qualities. Whether in the round or in bas-relief, the sculpture calls for the idea of wandering and is itself the object of circulation. The fullness of its aesthetic truth lies in the singular plastic property that its three-dimensionality confers. Its apprehension is never univocal and the richness of its potential is to offer itself to the gaze from all angles, in a multiplication of viewpoints increased by the diversity of the environment in which it is placed. The sculptor’s works never cease to verify this in their own way, just as they are nourished as a whole by the experience of all the situations encountered.

In a direct relationship with the body, Robert Schad’s art is required by both an irresistible sensuality and a paradoxical utopia. This is why he attracts us while keeping us at a distance. Not only does the airy appearance of his sculptures and the quest for lightness that it suggests in no way conceal their weight, but the sense of touch that they awaken in us is accentuated by their surface quality – some blackened by fire, others rusty. Added to this is the question of scale in that they most often exceed any human reference, reaching that of monumental architecture. Where his work cultivates paradox is in the use he makes of steel, a material that is mainly used for weapons, machines and technical constructions – he reminds us – ¨but which I use to dance, feel and think with4¨. Robert Schad says he wants to return it to nature after it has been ¨torn from the earth by human force and intelligence5¨. These are reflections to which Fernand Léger, a major figure of modernity, would certainly not have remained insensitive, as he claimed that ¨architecture was not an art but a kind of natural event like fish and plants6¨. However, in contrast to the painter, whose architectures are drawn to the line, the spirit of construction that drives Robert Schad proceeds from a fundamentally vital impulse. It is as if he wanted to take the opposite view of that other man – who was a poet – and who proclaimed loud and clear in defence of the idea of beauty: ¨I hate the movement that moves the lines7¨. Between Apollo and Dionysus, Robert Schad has chosen his camp.

1. Wassily Kandinsky, Point-Line-Plan. Pour une grammaire des formes, Editions Denoël 1970, p. 17.
2. Interview with the artist, at the studio in Larians-et-Munans, July 1st 2021.
3. ibid.
4. cf. Catalogue Schad Carré Dix/29 Parcours de sculptures Bretagne, interview with Werner Meyer, Chemins du patrimoine en Finistère, Locus Solus, May 2016.
5. ibid.
6. Fernand Léger, Lettres à Simone, Skira, Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, 1987.
7. Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal – “La Beauté”, 1857.

Philippe Piguet
art historian and critic