Albert Paley: Heavy Metal and the Art Nouveau

This exhibition presents work by the American modernist metal sculptor, Albert Paley, arguably one of the world’s most distinguished artists in iron, whose work can be found in the permanent collections of over 40 major museums. His Victoria and Albert Gate (1982) was included in the ground-breaking exhibition ‘Towards A New Iron Age’ held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1982 and now resides in their collection.

On display are works by Paley from the past 35 years, including a breadth of his sculptural practice, together with a collection of his drawings. Paley has created works ranging in scale from intricate pieces of gold and silver jewellery measured in centimetres to sculptures the size of houses, 30 feet high. As his technical expertise has grown so too has the ambition of his sculpture.

Paley’s architectural work of the 1980s and 1990s fuses the natural and the monumental. The organic flow of his forged work is reminiscent of the Art Nouveau style and relates to the great fin de siècle metal masters, such as Hector Guimard and Antoni Gaudí, to whose lineage we should rightly ascribe Paley’s place in time. He aims for the structure and form of his work to emotionally connect with our thoughts, creating a sense of empathy, as he describes, “I try to achieve this through linearity, the dance of line as you walk around a piece”.

At the root of all Paley’s designs are his drawings in pencil. These fill the drawers and sketchbooks of his 50,000 square foot studio in Rochester, New York. “Drawing is fundamental – it gives you a vocabulary so you can understand what you see” he comments. Drawings relating to a number of his significant large-scale pieces are on display.

While Paley’s reputation is global, his work has rarely been shown in the UK and this exhibition presents a rare opportunity to see the work of a sculptor of international repute.



Born in Philadelphia, Paley attended the Tyler School of Art where his earliest works were direct carvings in wood and stone in the tradition of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth. Paley remembers carving a delicate, sensuous Rodin-esque sculpture of a woman from white marble. Paley’s training was not only manual but academic with an education in the techniques of Renaissance masters like Cellini, Leonardo and Michelangelo as well as the Mannerist and Viennese Secessionist painters of which he is particularly fond.

Early in his career Paley had imagined he would be a goldsmith ‘for the rest of my life,’ but irked by the perception of jewellery as a ‘minor art, rather than what it truly is – a fine art,’ he started making bigger pieces starting with a set of enormous gates facing the White House. ‘Using metal is like drawing in space’ Paley says. ‘Punching, ribboning and blasting, the gates allowed me to interface with architecture, pushing me into a new arena. Going through gates is an act of passage, they are ceremonial archways.’

Consistently throughout all his work appear flowing, sinuous, natural forms – in particular vegetation – within ordered, mathematical structures. ‘My design philosophy is organicity in that one line begets another whether it is in metal or any other material,’ he says.

In 1979, Paley was asked to make two gates for the antechamber of the New York Senate. The Albany gates, as they are known, reflected the nascent fear of terrorism in public spaces in their spiky, thorn-like design protecting the heart of government. Paley went on to create an astonishing array of gates and fences, benches and grills and freestanding ‘sentinels’ or sculptures in his career, all have an unerring sense for form, with institutional commissions pushing his scale ever bigger. The Fence of the Hunter Museum is one of Paley’s wildest works to date where the lines of metal seem to hover in space like banners or whips.

Paley uses design to bring a sense of modernity into historic spaces and is interested in the play of light and shade in his work and the beauty of rustification. In his recent works, Paley has tended increasingly to paint metal and patinate it in a range of hues. ‘Colour solicits emotion’ he says. ‘Shadows are beautiful but ephemeral and colour adds into that.’

‘Fundamentally, art deals with the human condition’ says Paley, ‘whether it’s a personal response in canvas or in the public arena like the music of Wagner. Metal articulates emotion beautifully; there is an honesty and integrity to being a blacksmith. It’s all about sharing that language.’



Albert Paley

[ 1944
- Present ]
The symbolic and aesthetic sensibility in Paley’s work reveals a consistency of mind, a view of the world, and an organic flow that ties it all together, from [his] early brooches to the monuments that contribute to cityscapes all over America.

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