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A review by Pauline Flannery for EXTRA! EXTRA!






Richard Deacon


Curated by Clarrie Wallis

Tate Britain

5 Feb - 27 April 2014


The Self-styled ‘fabricator’ Welsh-born sculptor and Turner Prize winner Richard Deacon has his first retrospective exhibition at Tate Britain. The Tate’s new, spacious look is ideal for Deacon’s adventurous and curvilinear abstractions: clean off-white walls and pale wood-block flooring. For between the liminal lines, curved bends of light, juxtaposed materials and geometry it’s the space which objects create which fascinates him, and engages us.

Covering six rooms this includes small scale, free-standing pieces such as the 1980’s ’Art for Other People’, in witty material combinations as leather and marble or suede and brass, meant to sit alongside people’s personal artefacts in a domestic setting; and other stand-alone pieces such as ‘Waiting for the Rain’ (2002), in terracotta and ‘Tropic’ (2007), glazed ceramic with its rain-forest colours. Viewed from above, they become forensic dislocations.

It’s Deacon’s monumental works which challenge and really excite. There is an inter-play between perception and dynamics triggering a myriad of associations. The poster-image ‘After’ (1998) is a huge wooden, snake-like structure which seems to slither across the gallery floor, yet it’s grounded by a stainless steel spine, whose cross-hatch detail is an engineering feat of rivets and lattice. For Deacon these opposing qualities touch on fundamental issues of presence and absence.’

‘Blind, Deaf and Dumb in room two, viewed up close is layer upon layer of laminated wood; compressed and counter-levered, which ooze resinous globules of glue. The structures sweep, swoop, in a series of roller-coaster tracks, like the light-trace sparklers make when shaken vigorously from side to side. Yet by far the most ambitious, riotous, is ‘Out of Order’, (2003), in room six, a monster of steamed oak sections which appear to twist, writhe and multiply across the floor, provoking the comment: ‘an artist with a soul.’

Throughout, there is a great emphasis on craftsmanship, engineering, the process - each bolt, rivet is shown. Deacon’s early drawings ‘Orpheus’ Sonnets’ in the 70’s, appear as 2-dimensional ideas, all swooping lines, trajectories, which pre-figure his later 3-D sculptures. Deacon explores the ‘interface between interior and exterior, surface and edge, form and image.’

‘The Back of My Hand’ (1986), is a transition piece. It is one of the few exhibits mounted on the wall and it is huge. It’s main body suggests the number 1, but it has three striking features: a bold diagonal slash from top left to bottom right in the worst of linoleum patterns of golden leaves, a cut-out, stand-out green vinyl, globular shape as a deliberate 3-D effect and the steel-edged rivets which punctuate the peripheral shape. Leading to ‘Mammoth’ (1989), a synergy of aluminium, reinforced engineering detail and craftsmanship; and ‘Lock’, (1990), made from wood, aluminium and vinyl, studded with parquet-flooring wood blocks; a relationship between mass and volume.

Early in his career, Deacon made the switch from performance artist to object-designer; both share a fundamental sense of process. There is a great play on specific/unspecific titles in his earlier solo shows: How Much Does Your Mind Weigh? Beware of the Dog, For Those Who Have Eyes - a question, an imperative, a statement. Yet perhaps ‘Stuck Dumb’, (1988), a steel pod made at the Govan ship-builders yard in Glasgow, with maybe a faux red bow-tie at the front, is a unity between practicality and form, hinting at other narratives because of its artisans.

‘I quite like the idea that a fabrication can be something made up rather than truth,’ says Deacon. ‘When you fabricate something it has a straightforward sense of making, but it also has a sense of invention or make-believe.’ Performance, therefore, is still part of the Deacon experience, indirectly, with its ensemble cast of craftsmen, an audience’s involvement with his work and the experiential partnership between artist and gallery. 


Tate Britain
020 7887 8888
Open Daily 10.00 – 18.00
Tickets £11.00, concession £9.50

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