Karla Black: Her bright materials

There's nothing depressing or grim about Karla Black's colourful work, but it's far from feminine, the Turner Prize nominee tells Hannah Duguid

In Tate Britain, visitor assistants have been told to be on the look out for toddlers and small children approaching the gallery where artist Karla Black has just installed her sculpture, At Fault. Pink, blue, yellow and green powder is spread over the floor, extending from a central piece that looks like a huge boulder made of coloured rock. The colours and textures make me want to touch it, roll on it, eat it. I know that this is not allowed but children do not, and they love Karla Black's work.

"I've had a big bum print on a work at Inverleith House in Edinburgh because a little kid just ran in and sat down. They really like it but it doesn't really work for them because they want to touch it", says Black.

"I feel really sorry for children. My work is really difficult for them because they want to dive right in and they're restrained and then they get upset. I've had a fair bit of damage done to my work by children. There's no way that they can resist it".

And who can blame them, when bundles of soft blue and sugar pink like candyfloss hang from the ceiling? There are ribbons and shiny yellow cellophane, and pink and white plaster that looks like slices of cake. Looking at Black's work makes me remember childhood birthdays, or a perfectly wrapped gift, and sweets. I experience a childlike sense of pleasure and joy, which is so complete that it feels as though my brain has switched off.

"That's what sculpture can do, it can be a pure engulfment and absorption in the material world, when you're not even aware of yourself, when you have no self consciousness, and you're not being watched and you're just purely absorbed in the material world. That is the best possible kind of escape – when you are fully connected to yourself.

"I think about art as a place to behave, as an escape, not just for me but for the people looking at it," says Black.

Her work is not without a serious and cerebral side but there is nothing grim or depressing about it. It is impressive enough for her to have been nominated for the Turner Prize this year. She did not win but that does not bother her.

"I don't think the Turner Prize has changed things. I suppose more people are aware of my work from it, but they're not people I know. The amount of people who went through the gallery was extraordinary, and it was a good exhibition opportunity, which is all I am ever bothered about," she says.

Black is Scottish. She lives and works in Glasgow, and studied at the Glasgow School of Art. Her work may appear messy: piles of powder, scrunched-up paper, and abstract mounds of colour but there is perfectionism within what appears to be chaos, which makes it compelling. The colours are perfect soft shades. It has taken her weeks, months, and years to get them right.

"When I started using colour I did think that if you're going to use colour you have to be really deliberate about it. It does things to people and what it will do is different, depending on what sort of colour you use. I can't use colour indiscriminately. It's too important for that.

"There's a pink that I cannot stand, that I absolutely hate. It's a sort of cerise pink, that's disgusting. I can only go in a tiny little bit of the spectrum, especially in pink. There's a really specific, really pale baby pink, which is what I like," she says.

It does annoy her, however, when her colour palette is labelled as feminine. "It's a bit daft. I don't get annoyed so much as disappointed because they can't go any further than that in their brain. People have all these connotations about pink being for a girl, or colours being girls' colours, which they're obviously not. Loads of male artists make pink work, like Franz West."

Black's work does not always use pink, or blue, or any colour at all. A new work, going on show in Glasgow's Gallery of Modern Art on Friday will be made from 17 tonnes of sawdust. It will be around 24 metres long, and 10 metres wide, and the colours are natural: wood shavings from pine, yew, maple and teak. Above it will hang a giant cellophane sculpture, marked with metallic brown, gold and copper, which correspond to the ornate ceiling and pillars of the room in the museum.

"I do get worried that it won't be any good. I don't really know what it will look like, that's the pressure. I try to do something good but doing it in public means there is much more at stake. It's more of a gamble, a much bigger risk. I don't know whether I've made a good sculpture until it's finished. If you make it in the studio then you know it's good before it goes out," she says.

When Black first began showing her work, she held exhibitions but then had to destroy the work afterwards. Such large and fragile objects were difficult to store, and she had no choice but to throw them away. Now she dismantles work but then re-creates it elsewhere. At Fault was first showed at last year's Venice Biennale, before being re-created in Tate Britain.

"Sometimes it's impossible to make something exactly the same. It's nearly the same. You can see how different and how the same the work in the Tate is from when it was in Venice. It has a lot more powder, which is to do with how it works in the room. I change it to make it where it is now," she says.

She sells work to collectors and museums but she is ever the perfectionist, and the work arrives with detailed instructions of how it is to be assembled and displayed – not pushed against the wall, no plinths, no vitrines. Collectors must send her an annual photograph so that she is able to see what state it is in. She does not let go. Neither is she willing to surrender her work to time, if she can help it.

"Aesthetics are so important to me and the work is not about decay. It is about preserving this really perfect moment," she says.

She is working with conservators who will help her to discover how her work will look in five or a hundred years' time, and how the colours will change.

"I would like my work to remain perfect. The thing that haunts me is the state of Eva Hesse's work. They're absolutely disgusting now, and she never made it like that. She used latex, which was so white and so thin, and now it's brown. No one knows what she would think of it now. Some of it is OK but some of it is in a terrible state," says Black.

It really bothers her that her beautiful work might become old and ugly one day.

Karla Black, Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow (0141 287 3050) 20 April to 24 June; 'At Fault' is at Tate Britain, London SW1 (20 7887 8888) to 2 January

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

art
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick