Richard Deacon has been working for over forty years and spawned a generation of art student imitators. Tate Britain’s enormous basement galleries are perfect spaces to show Deacon’s oversized sculptures, allowing them to command the rooms without being claustrophobic and overbearing. This exhibition charts the artist’s career from a series of drawings made in 1978 and which in effect set the artist on a continuing pathway of discovering and exploration around notions of mass, volume and space.
It's Orpheus When There's Singing #7, 1978-79
Laminated wood and steel predominate throughout Deacon’s oeuvre. The mix of steel rivets and bolts juxtaposed against patterned and untreated wood with dried glue oozing out of the joints offer a visual feast of materials. As with most large scale sculptural work, the urge to touch and caress is replaced by an urge to climb onto or crawl into Deacon’s serpentine shapes. Despite being open in form, the viewer is restricted walking around and looking into his sculptures. However, such restrictions still offers up wonderful mini installations/compositions – fantastic sketching opportunities for art students!
Struck Dumb, 1988
The scale of Untitled, 1981 hints at an early hands on approach as the artist developed his working method, which slowing became less and less as the scale of his work increased, to be replaced by Glasgow shipbuilders in Struck Dumb, 1988. The artist (and studio hands) reappear in component works such as After, 1998.
Deacon has never tired of his play of interior and exterior space and surprisingly, for such masculine looking work in terms of scale and choice of materials, the traditionally feminine-associated serpentine shape also predominates. This interaction of sensuous composition and hard materials on the whole work very well. However, perhaps the combination had become a little too formulaic in later pieces such as Out of Order, 2003 which for me is just too forced, too curvilinear, too over-complicated, over-decorated. Just because you can steam word into a curve, shouldn’t mean that ever single plank must receive the same treatment in the same sculpture!
Out of Order, 2003
Along with Richard Wentworth, Richard Deacon is regarded as a leading British sculptor and key figure within New British Sculpture since the end of the 1970s. This exhibition was the first time I have viewed a large collection of the artist’s work, and unlike last year’s Wentworth retrospective at The Royal Academy, left me wanting to see more of his work.