Richard Deacon, review: 'Most striking is Deacon’s joy in the materials themselves'

4.00

Tate Britain, London

Richard Deacon’s mother was a doctor and his father was a pilot, and he has described his own vocation as a sculptor as a confluence of the two.

On the one hand, his large-scale abstract sculptures are explorations of organic form. There are suggestions of ears, mouths, internal organs. On the other, they are feats of engineering; many are built with a surrounding “skin” like an aeroplane. This survey of his work so far is impressive: sensual, technical, and sorrowful at times.

Deacon, 64, came to prominence with the New British Sculpture of the early 80s. He often uses natural materials – wood, metal – but they are steamed, twisted, processed. There is much dynamism in these works, but they are not aggressive. Rather than monolithic sculptures seeking to dominate, they are meditations on a life lived. They have a pulse.

The early work is poignant. I love the series of drawings that Deacon made in the late 70s after reading Rainer Maria Rilke. "It’s Orpheus When They’re Singing #8" (1979) is a large drawing in oil pastel, crayon, and graphite on paper. The black lines are certain and swooping, creating space within their irregular circles, creating more space around the circles. Deacon is a philosophical artist and the drawing is elusive; I found myself returning to look at it again and again.

If you stand at a certain point in the gallery, the drawing is aligned with a sculpture, "Untitled" (1980). They resonate with one another. The idea of resonance is key to Deacon’s work, as the title of the drawing suggests. The sculpture is a large husk, like a cross between a conch and a military aircraft part, exploded out of the sky. It seems designed for listening, a receptacle, with an opening at each end.

'After 1998' by Richard Deacon 'After 1998' by Richard Deacon

Made out of galvanised steel and concrete, the surface is scuffed and marked with numbers. There is the sense of time, passed. Indeed, there is something tragic about the way the sculpture is laid on its side, as though discarded. And yet the dark space inside seems more like a refuge than a void.

Deacon was particularly inspired by Rilke’s image of Orpheus’ head, cut off from his body but – miraculously – still singing. Many of these works mimic the shape of that head in subtle ways: they are vessels, apertures, cavities, holes. Rather than emptiness, they point to a kind of grand turning inside out. The hidden interior is made visible: this is Deacon’s skill as an artist.

It is evidenced in "After 1998", often cited as his seminal work, a large serpentine structure that writhes over the gallery floor, as though in death throes. The inside is hollow and the surface is comprised of wooden parts joined together like a skeleton. The skeleton is the “skin.” The surface is the “bones.” If After resembles a snake, it is a headless one, and therefore monstrous. However, the overall tenor of this exhibition is light, and most striking is Deacon’s joy in the materials themselves.

The Richard Deacon exhibition runs from 7 Feb to 27 April

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
  • Get to the point
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.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor