Imprisoned for eight years by Albania's communist regime for his 'modernist tendencies', artist, architect and writer Maks Velo recalls the time he first saw Henry Moore's work, and explains why it still makes a profound impression on him today.
How did you first come across Henry Moore’s work?
In 1972, a friend secretly gave me a book containing pictures of Henry Moore's work. The book had been given to him at an Austrian trade delegation through his work at the Chamber of Commerce. This was at a time in communist Albania when owning a book showing Western 'decadent' art brought considerable risks. In those pages, I saw Moore's drawings, prints and sculptures, and was deeply affected.
Many years later, in 1992, I had a studio in Montmartre, Paris. In June of that year, in the Bagatelle gardens, there was a huge outdoor exhibition of 36 sculptures by Moore. It was the first time that Moore's work had been presented on such a grand scale in Europe. I went one Sunday and was so impressed by what I saw that, even today, I can see his sculptures clearly in my mind. Since then, I have also enjoyed seeing his work in Cleveland, Dusseldorf, and in London.
What is the story behind your imprisonment?
In 1978, I was arrested and interrogated for six months after being accused of 'modernist tendencies' such as being influenced by Henry Moore's art. The communist regime regarded Western contemporary art as decadent and an attack on Socialist Realism – the officially approved form of art in my country at this time.
My entire collection of paintings, sculptures and collectibles was brutally destroyed. The book of Moore's work, which my friend had given me a few years earlier, was also confiscated. I was released from prison in 1986 and sent to work in a factory in the capital, Tirana.
Why is Moore's work important to you?
I believe there are two master sculptors of the 20th century – the Romanian Constantin Brancusi and Britain's Henry Moore. Brancusi smoothed the form to perfection, and in doing so removed any human references. Moore tied everything to the human form and especially to the female form. He was the first to celebrate the reclining figure, the 'magic' of the reclining woman.
Brancusi's sculptures are excellent, but also outrageous. Moore never allowed himself to be outrageous. His sculptures embody gentleness, and through them he teaches us everything relating to women. For Moore, the female form is a kind of magic. And as a woman gives birth, she gives birth to form. Woman, Moore seems to say, gives birth to all forms, even those that are abstract. And just as every child at birth is gentle, Moore's work is full of harmony, tranquillity and perfection.
This interview was conducted by the British Council’s Manjola Orgocka and Volodymyr Sheyko in April 2014 and was originally linked to the tour of the Henry Moore – the Printmaker exhibition in Pristina, Kosovo (27 March - 20 April 2014).
Find other British artists in the British Council collection.