Richard Deacon at Tate Britain

I haven’t made anything recently – too much work building websites and rolling out Makerhood. Besides, in the weather we’ve had it’s not really practical to hang dripping scarves and bubble wrap around the house.

Yesterday I escaped my cabin fever and went to the Richard Deacon exhibition at Tate Britain. As soon as I saw the publicity posters showing the sinuous loops of After, constructed from hoops and lengths of bent wood, I knew I had to see it. And I wasn’t disappointed.

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Deacon describes himself as a fabricator (as opposed to a carver or modeller), and he’s interested in the physicality of materials. In this respect he reminds me of Thomas Heatherwick, exploring and pushing the boundaries of materials to create new and unexpected forms. On the Tate website, the artist is quoted as saying: ‘The way that I work, seems to be to start, if not from nothing, from minimal conditions. They’re not amorphous, pure mass like lumps of clay, neither do they have the phenomenal strength of rock or a piece of nature. They have a certain independence. Making them into shapes is an act of will on my part.’

Many of the pieces are made of thin strips of wood laminated together and steam bent into organic curves. More technically mindblowing is Out of Order, where wooden planks swoop exhilaratingly into rollercoaster coils, and solid three-inch wooden posts twist like a DNA helix. That must have taken quite a lot of will! (There’s an interview on the Tate website that explains how it was done.)

Photo: v1ctory_1s_m1ne under Creative Commons, Flickr
Photo: v1ctory_1s_m1ne under Creative Commons, Flickr

There’s also a very interesting short video on the Tate website showing Deacon in his studio (in Herne Hill, so he’s a Lambeth local!) with his collection of objects that have inspired him, from Marge Simpson’s hair to a bit of chain he found on the street.

Another of his pieces in the exhibition, Waiting for the Rain made from terracotta, reminded me of a flint hand axe.

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It inspired me to go home and make a felt vessel!

Richard Deacon is on at Tate Britain until 27 April.

The Woolshop by Stanley Spencer

I went to Tate Britain today to see the Watercolour exhibition. Afterwards, I popped upstairs to see the latest paintings on display.

That was when I came across The Woolshop by Sir Stanley Spencer. I’m quite a fan of Spencer – I’ve been to his gallery at Cookham, and last year I visited the Historic Dockyard at Chatham to see his Shipbuilding on the Clyde series, newly restored and on loan from the Imperial War Museum. But I’d never heard of this painting.

The Wool Shop by Sir Stanley Spencer
The Woolshop by Sir Stanley Spencer

The painting is full of lines – the woman’s hair, the ply of the wool, the stripes on the salesman’s jacket, even the grooves on the pillar and the pattern on some of the rugs and fabrics behind. The salesman – apparently Spencer himself – grasps a skein of blue wool above the woman’s head, but it feels as if what he really wants to do is grab her hair, just below. In his other hand he holds a roll of purple yarn. She, meanwhile, caresses a yellow skein that matches the colour of her sweater, holding it as if it were a baby.

For me this sums up the tactile experience of visiting a wool shop – all that yarn in all those colours, crying out to be handled and stroked.

Edited to add: I have since discovered that the woman in the picture was Daphne Charlton. Spencer lived with Daphne and her husband George at the White Hart Inn, Leonard Stanley, Gloucestershire in 1939-40. While George Charlton was away, Spencer had an affair with Daphne, and later painted several pictures, including this one, recording various domestic incidents of their life together.