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Sense and Reference

After sunset and shortly before sunrise Venus reaches its brightest point in the sky, a phenomenon that led to it being known as the ‘Evening Star’ and the ‘Morning Star’ by many ancient cultures. In the nineteenth century the logician Gottlob Frege saw the planet’s duality as an expression of his argument that sense and reference are distinct, claiming that ‘the evening star = the morning star’ does not have the same sense as ‘the evening star = the evening star’, as ‘the evening star’ and ‘the morning star’ are the same thing. However ‘the evening star’ and ‘the morning star’ refer to the same object, so the reference of ‘the evening star’ is distinct from its sense.

Malcolm Franklin’s series of carvings began with Hesper, from ‘Hesperos’, the Greek name for the evening star. The others followed as multiple expressions of an idea. The next in the series was Ishtar, the Babylonian name for Venus, and then Helel, the Hebrew name for Lucifer, a more opened up version of its sister. In sparkling white alabaster, Ishtar and Helel present a sharp contrast to Hesper’s dense black mass – purer, yet more imposing.

Eosphorus and Phosphorus also originate from the same idea and, indeed, the same slab of oak, but end up as two different sculptures. Whether in stone or wood these works are impressive for their use of positive and negative space: a single block is carved into what appears to be separate sections that allow light to shine through the middle, recalling the luminous origin of their name.

As well as being a smooth, solid sculpture Hesper became a print, finitely reproduced, recoloured and reimagined as both a linocut and a stone lithograph. Just as Venus becomes the sense, so too does Hesper, generating multiple references to the original form and idea. There are also disparities with the idea of Venus in Franklin’s work: the sculptures are solid and masculine in form, antithetical to the ideals of delicate femininity attached to the goddess of love and fertility in nearly every culture that named it. This is indicative of Franklin’s process: he begins with an idea of an abstract form, which is later named and developed into other manifestations. What began as a sculpture in Hesper is repeated as a print, which was developed from the artist’s sketches for the work. Echoing the original material of black alabaster, the print was monochrome for many editions until the recent introduction of turquoise, orange and brown ink which transform the print with a glorious marbling effect.

Another interesting variation in colour comes with Vespertino which is carved out of a small block of serpentine stone. The original shape of the block, which was rather elongated, but with an obvious centre of gravity, gives the finished work a triangular aspect and an exceptionally dynamic impression of negative space.


The penultimate sculpture in the series represents a further evolution of the original sense. Cast in bronze, it is named Hesper IVa and is another expression of the original idea: its textured surface combines the marbling of the coloured lithograph with the solid form of the sculpture.

Esperia completes the cycle returning to stone. Instead of alabaster, however, this work is made of pietra d’Istria, a stone widely used in Venice for its resistance to damp. The larger scale of the work required the use of a template, a first for Franklin. The stone came as a thick slab, instead of a rough block with the contours suggesting the final form – Esperia began as a kind of blank canvas, the extremely dense mass presenting a different challenge to the carver than the oak of Eosphorus and Phosphorus. As the largest of the series, it stands as the centrepiece of the exhibition and Franklin’s oeuvre, its striking form another reference to the brightest star in the sky.

© Maria Howard, 2013