Two Forms of Clouds

By Mau Baiocco

Gordon Baldwin, Cloud 2

Are there any subjects in art which demand the artist to capture motion? We could quickly enumerate the following: rivers, seas, winds—and clouds. Among these it is the last which seems to me the least studied; perhaps no convention has developed for these objects which, alone among those populating the landscape, don’t seem to be subject to form. Artists recur to any variety of means and approaches to depict them: from wispy lines to thick brushstrokes, from formations which envelop themselves in shadows to depthless entities. They are accessories to narrative too: God has been shown to part them in order to reach humans; these humans, in turn, are prone to seeing their emotions mirrored in clouds. We know almost by reflex the associations that dark stormclouds bring.

All this is to highlight that owing to their formlessness or ephemerality or ceaseless motion (or any conjunction of these), clouds have rarely been the subject of art. Among artworks which seek to capture them I can highlight two—partly because I don’t know many others, partly because purely by coincidence these have played a part in my personal development alongside art: Calder’s Floating Clouds at the concert hall of the Central University of Venezuela, the Aula Magna, and Gordon Baldwin’s series of clay sculptures bearing the title of Clouds.

3dx8stqAlexander Calder, Floating Clouds

Besides their names there is little in common among them, but I would like to extract the notion of ‘use’ as a relevant concept to draw them together and set them apart. Floating Clouds is a strange object of national pride. Commissioned along dozens of other works by internationally renowned artists to decorate the country’s highest educational institution, the artwork has been touted as decoration and engineering: the flat surfaces, it is said, greatly enhances the acoustics in the room. The clouds are fixed in their place by their role in transmitting sound; one could be forgiven for thinking that usefulness is the redeemer and justification for public art such as this. In this sense, however, they are a failure of representation, relating only tenuously to their subject. It isn’t impossible to imagine an equally fitting name: panels, shapes, jewels. The demand that they be of use and part of the architectural design seems to constrain them from exploiting the full suggestiveness of clouds, their chance forms and lack of fixedness.

Gordon Baldwin, Cloud 1

Baldwin’s forms on the other hand centre their subject more suggestively—and this means that questions of use are abridged or wholly done with. The material is clay, one for which practical considerations have always won out above those of representation. Yet in Baldwin’s hands the materials and gestures towards use such as their small, slit-like openings, remain wholly impractical. The sculpture must follow the demands of its form, an inner logic which on occasion produces works that seem to touch on something external, a referent. Baldwin, who places a lot of thought into the pieces’ names, has no other option than to call them—for they really are—Clouds.

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