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Richard Deacon, Unique Contributor To “The Quiet Revolution” in British Sculpture.

April 27, 2009

Richard Deacon was born on August 15th, 1949 in Bangor, Wales. He studied at Somerset College of Art, Taunton (1968), St Martin’s School of Art, London (1970-73) and the Royal College of Art (1974-77) where he gained an MA in Environmental Media.

Deacon’s work is abstract, but often alludes to anatomical functions. His works are often constructed from everyday materials such as laminated plywood, and he calls himself a “fabricator” rather than a “sculptor”. His early pieces are typically made up of sleek curved forms, with later works sometimes more bulky. Wikipedia

From: Cass Sculpture Foundation

When the Landmasses First Appeared, 1986 Laminated wood, zinc coated steel

225 x 650 x 750 cm

Richard Deacon | When the Landmasses First Appeared

When the Landmasses First Appeared has two distinct elements: the zinc-coated steel frame, and the laminated wooden ribbon which snakes around and through it. The fluid, wandering line of the wood contrasts with the rigid metal enclosure, both in form and in material character. Deacon has made the wood rich in texture, with glue like honey oozing between the laminates, whilst the cool, hard steel is static and remorseless. The freely drawn ribbon is to some extent contained by the metal enclosure, even though the rhythms inherent in the wooden structure suggest a desire to escape. 

A sculpture about containment, about movement, this relates in form to other contemporary pieces by Deacon, such as Blind, Deaf and Dumb 1985 and Listening to Reason 1986. In When the Landmasses First Appeared, however, the relationships between the forms, and their relationship to the ground, are much more complex. The lightness and freedom of the wood emerges from and writhes around the mineral element, metal formed originally within the earth’s crust. In Richard Deacon (Phaidon 1995) the artist is quoted as saying, in conversation with Pier Luigi Tazzi, ‘When I began making sculptures the procedures that I used were intended to make the act of work create the form and input structure into the material. Structure and material and form were all equally present on the surface: there was no hierarchy between those elements.’ There appears to be no hierarchy within this sculpture. Cass Sculpture Foundation.

From: Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

Fish Out of Water, 1986-1987 Laminated fiberboard

96 7/16 x 137 13/16 x 74 13/16 in. 

Fish Out of Water

Cass Sculpture Foundation: Working both on a domestic and monumental scale, Richard Deacon combines the essence of human form with elements of engineering in his precisely made structures of wood, metal and occasionally, plastics. Metals are riveted together in sweeping shapes which refer to both inner and outer parts of the anatomy, and wood is laminated, bent and twisted into unlikely ribbons and smoothed to solid perfection in more volumetric states.

From San Francisco Museum of Modern Art:

Distance No Object, 1988, painted steel and copper103 in. x 147 in. x 240 in. (261.62 cm x 373.38 cm x 609.6 cm)

Distance No Object
 

Distance No Object is an enormous, curved cylindrical tube constructed of ten circular segments of steel. The external framework defines a large void, which is in volume larger than the sum of his materials — a hallmark of Deacon’s working method. The artist tends to leave the center space of his forms open or empty.

Most of Deacon’s abstract sculptures allude to the senses in some way; Distance No Object focuses on sight. As it was originally installed in the sculpture court at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, one could either look at the piece (the traditional viewer-object relationship in art) or look through it. In the latter instance, distance is seen from the object; the sculpture itself is no longer a subject but rather provides the subject of one’s view.

From Arts Council Collection:

Kiss and Tell, 1989, epoxy, timber, plywood, & steel, 175 x 233 x 162 cm

© Courtesy Lisson Gallery and Richard Deacon

This sculpture asks to be approached and touched or even crawled through. The parts combine contrast and paradox: one open to light and air but massive; the other closed, ostensibly armour-plated but light. Separated, each would roll over.

From  Royal Academy – Out to lunch: Indian culture looms large in Richard Deacon’s visual imagination. His parents met and married in India during the War and when he was five, his father, an air force officer, was posted to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). 

‘We sailed from Southampton, through the Suez Canal, from grey England in the Fifties to Ceylon, which was so exotic. I had the first experience I would describe as sculptural there, which was visiting a set of rock-carved Buddhas. One was standing, carved out from a cliff-face, and I was conscious that something had been taken away, so it was an experience of negative space. What wasn’t there was as important a part of what you were looking at as what was.’

From  Artnet and Distrito Cu4tro:   

Time after Time, 1992-1995, Stainless steel, h: 3 x w: 142.5 x d: 222 cm

Richard Deacon, Time after Time

From  Artnet and Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac:

You, 1998, Wood, cloth and epoxy resin, h: 130 x w: 143 x d: 35 cm

Richard Deacon, You

According to Sculpture Magazine from November 1999 – Vol.18 No. 9, Undetermined Pleasure and Unnecessary Beauty : An Interview with Richard Deacon  by Ian Tromp: Richard Deacon prefers to call himself a fabricator. Several aspects of Deacon’s self-perception as a sculptor, as well as his conception of the place and role of sculpture, are wrapped up in this label. He says, “Material and its manipulation are core areas in what I do. ‘Matter’ and ‘stuff’ are the words I tend to use.” Whereas a sculptor like Antony Gormley represents the stuff and matter of the body as a point-of-entry to and signifier of transcendence, Deacon’s practice and his language always return to the material, to the work of fabrication.

When I met him in London, he spoke of the tendency of some materials “to erase their materiality” if they are worked too much and too finely. Previously, he related participating in a 1983 project called “Making Sculpture” at the Tate Gallery in London. 1 Deacon described working alongside Michael Pennie, who was carving a block of wood. To Deacon, it seemed Pennie was taking away from the wood—”the more he did the less there was”—while he himself was making a stack of metal. Whereas Deacon started with nothing and ended up with something, Pennie progressively removed wood, erasing the materiality and the “identity” of his medium.

But while Deacon’s is a material art, there is also a kind of transcendence in it. He would not choose to speak in these terms, yet one senses a shadow, almost an undertow, of immateriality in his work. Though he remains determinedly uninterested in engaging abstract philosophical topics, the work itself is allusive and imaginatively suggestive. Read more at: Undetermined Pleasure and Unnecessary Beauty.
Read Sea Crossing, 2003, Oak and stainless steel in two parts, 163 x 345 x 320 cm and 204 x 520 x 390 cm

Richard Deacon, Read Sea Crossing

Made up of evocative loops and curves, the two elements of Richard Deacon’s oak and stainless-steel Red Sea Crossing (2003) nearly filled Marian Goodman’snorth gallery. Three planks wide, these complex, ribbonlike components, each of which spans about 12 feet, appear to be standard-width milled oak planks extended end to end. Their sinuous meandering is the effect of steaming, a process that stains the natural red of the oak to a fumed black. Thin strips of steel maintain the integrity of the curves as the wood is softened and bent. To these elements, Deacon introduces lengths of 4-by-4-inch oak beams that have been twisted like a carpenter’s bit, straight segments joined to those that curve by square steel cuffs. The curved lengths of four-by-fours are notched and wedged to facilitate their radical bends. Deacon’s title is as playful as it seems descriptive: the sculpture’s two elements have a passage between them; the roiling waves of wood on either side suggest the Red Sea’s parting. Read more at: Art in America ,  Nov, 2004   by Edward Leffingwell.

From: Public Art Fund: Richard Deacon:

Masters of the Universe: Screen Version.  2005 Stainless steel.

Richard Deacon: Masters of the Universe: Screen Version

Deacon is widely regarded as one of the foremost sculptors of our time, best known for creating abstract works that combine biomorphic, open forms and virtuoso engineering. Decidedly asymmetrical, Masters of the Universe: Screen Version is a series of sausage-shaped forms, which tilt and interconnect to form a molecule-like cluster.  The individual elements range in size from one-and-a-half feet to almost seven feet. From at least one side it appears to sit flat on the ground. Seen from other positions, it looks as though the sculpture is lifting off the ground, angling upward with weightlessness that is uncharacteristic for a large stainless-steel sculpture. For Deacon, this dynamic relationship between the sculpture and its physical surroundings is significant; he views both the solid form of the sculpture and the space contained within it as equally important. 

Deacon has often written and spoken about the relationship between language and sculpture, noting that “the title falls in between the sculpture and the spectator.” Masters of the Universe: Screen Version is a reference to constellations in the nighttime sky. In particular, the artist is interested in the way we name clusters of stars based on the two-dimensional shapes they resemble. He observes that there are an infinite number of different relationships among these stars–we just can’t see them from earth.

Richard Deacon has exhibited widely throughout the world with solo exhibitions, and in significant international surveys such as Documenta IX in 1992. He was awarded the Turner Prize in 1987. He lives and works in London.

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