For his second show at Thomas Dane Gallery, Phillip King PPRA CBE (b. 1934 Tunis) presents an exhibition in two contrasting halves that explore some of the wide diversity of approach to materials the artist has adopted over the last 60 years. Steeped in both ancient tradition and modernist simplicity, these new works reveal the investigations of a peerless sculptor who continues to challenge materials and form.
At 11 Duke Street St James’s a crowd of solemn, statuesque, unglazed ceramic vessels populate the gallery spaces. From domestic to monumental scale these works suggest a utilitarian purpose, though each is cut open in some way revealing the volume behind their surfaces. The form of these ceramics chimes with King’s persistent desire to cut into the surface of his sculptures in order to open them up to understand their density and volume (for example Rosebud, 1962 and Through, 1965). Part Brancusian totems and part abstract figures, King sets off echoes within the group of works with forms repeating and mutating throughout the show.
King has had a long and enduring relationship with clay, from the beaches of Tunis as a boy where he was born and grew up, the sun-baked adobe block buildings of North Africa through to his visits in the late 1980s and 1990s to Japan where he became fascinated by the ancient tradition of Jomon ceramics. King thrives off the immediacy of its malleability, typically not making preparatory sketches or plans for his work, preferring to resolve form intuitively, thinking through his hands. King’s unglazed ceramics seem reminiscent of historical or archaeological relics, though not one to stand on tradition, he has constantly experimented, adding glass fibre and even paper pulp in order to explore and extend the possibilities of the material.
At 3 Duke Street St James’s King will show new work that extend his fascination with colour and volume. Colour Me Pink, 2017, a large geometric form in bright blues and pinks, has been perforated, almost obliterated, with dozens of large cylindrical holes that bisect the volume of the sculpture. The vibrant and competing colours of the work also combine with the brightly coloured walls of the gallery, visible around, but also through its perforations. King revels in extending the limits of sculpture as a definite object, creating a complete environment in which the object and viewer co-exist.
The geometry of the work is broken by a sense of collapse as the two halves of the sculpture seem to slump across two plinth-like black boxes. We are reminded of Henry Moore (King’s employer and mentor in the very early days of his career) and his monumental reclining figures; but moreover, of Hepworth’s radical gestures of cutting holes through her abstract forms in an effort to challenge where the physical and conceptual edges of a sculpture could be. Anti-monumental, and perhaps reminiscent of the architectural ruins of Carthage of his youth, the shapes balance lightly, precariously, on one another as if to remove one would mean the collapse of them all.
Between the two halves of the show King continues to move between a diverse range of materials, constantly experimenting and exploring their possibilities and limitations. This lack of reliance on any medium is characteristic throughout King’s career, often creating works purely in order to challenge himself and his understanding of sculpture and materials.
Phillip King’s work is in the collection of major museums internationally including Tate, London; MoMA, New York; Pompidou, Paris; MOCA, Los Angeles; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humblebaek; Osaka Museum, Osaka; National Gallery of Australia, Canberra.
Major outdoor sculptures are on permanent display at Houghton Hall, Norfolk; University of Liverpool; Zuiderpark, Rotterdam; Kistefos Museet, Norway, Venet Foundation, France; European Patent Office, Munich; as well as many other metropolitan and rural locations around the world.
29 Nov 2017 – 3 Feb 2018
Exhibition Dates: 29 November , 2017 – 3 February, 2018
3 & 11 Duke Street, St James’s, SW1Y
Writing via press release with photos by Luke A. Walker.