EXHIBITIONS / On the building site of the soul: John Gibbons' startling welded-steel shapes take on metaphysics - and win

I RECOMMEND John Gibbons' exhibition at Flowers East, for his sculptures are distinguished by their integrity and deep feeling. By Gibbons' integrity I mean that every single aspect of his work belongs to him alone and issues from his own emotions. Far too much of today's sculpture is littered with borrowed or stolen ideas. Gibbons' art is indebted to no one and appears the more resolute and thoughtful for its singularity. This makes him exceptional, but I note that a theme of his work is loneliness.

Gibbons lives and works in London, but his Irish character may help to explain his sculpture. Born on a farm in County Clare in 1949, he spoke Irish until he was about 18, when he went to art schools in Limerick and Cork, before proceeding to St Martin's. Gibbons is the last noteworthy artist to have emerged from the welded-metal tradition of St Martin's famous sculpture department, but I don't think he took a lot from his predecessors in the Charing Cross Road. The abiding influence comes from David Smith, whom he appreciated on a number of trips to America. Not that Gibbons' forms are like Smith's - but their honesty is shared, their straightforward way with metal is similar, and both sculptors have felt that there is something holy in their labour.

In Gibbons' recent exhibitions, large and open structures have been accompanied by smaller and more compact pieces with a sacramental air. They were abstract sculptures, but one was reminded of little shrines. Such works have disappeared in the present show. There are just three sculptures in the upstairs space at Flowers East. Two of them, Exodus and Silence, are large, and fill their respective galleries. Exodus has a tower that reaches nearly to the ceiling. The third piece, In

the Name, is smaller and burlier, and perhaps it is most akin to the shrine-like works of a few years ago. On a grid which functions as a table are a number of shallow bowls, each of a different diameter. They are not functional, but they have a sacred or ritual character. They speak to us of things that are not of this world.

This comes with meditation on the object. Gibbons' sculptures are 'slow' in that they unfold rather than declare their nature. At a first quick sight they are startling, even ugly. They are made of steel that is clearly industrial detritus, and the various parts of the sculpture look as if they lost their role in the quotidian world a couple of decades ago. Some of Gibbons' bits are still covered with industrial paint of a vile yellow colour. This paint is scarred and scuffed, with rust showing through and other blemishes scrupulously preserved. No part of any sculpture is good-looking in itself and Gibbons - as far as his paint is concerned - has endeavoured to make his parts look worse, with daubs of dead brown, blue and viscous black.

And yet this paintwork comes to look right. Give the sculptures the attention they deserve and you find that all their elements are justified. They serve the cause of a rather solemn beauty. This is moving. At the same time we cannot lose sight of the industrial character of the work. Gibbons has noble aspirations for his art, so I hope he won't mind if I stress that he is an Irish labourer. At a basic level, these sculptures are a song to Gibbons' immediate environment - the docks, building-site wastelands, railway sidings, walkways and jetties of the Thames below Tower Bridge.

Sculptors who work with assembled steel rarely give such a frank account of the origin of their materials. They smarten things up for gallery purposes. Note, however, that Gibbons has his own forms of perfectionism. I would even say that he has been influenced by silversmithing. Here and there are polished little details and buttons, as bright and inexplicable as stars. Looking at these new sculptures, one would guess that he enjoys hammering as much as welding. And even when parts are screwed or bolted together they seem to have been joined by hands with a passion for form.

Silence may have more complexity and sculptural intrigue but the finest of the three sculptures is the largest, Exodus. In Silence there is a bunched and virtuoso play of steel walls and cylinders at one end, then a long pipe that travels a little way above the ground to turn into a vertical pole that's like a big stopcock. Exodus occupies its territory in a more stately way. There's a platform of mesh raised on eight legs, this surmounted by two vertical structures like railings, of different heights. This part of the sculpture is joined by rods an inch above the floor to three open and identical flat metal boxes, standing upright and with rods placed horizontally on their tops. And then this passage leads to an open tower with diagonal supports between its intermediate platforms and shallow round plates, seven in all, looking out to the world and the sky.

To describe a sculpture is to simplify it. Exodus is lucid in construction, imponderable when one walks around it to consider its various aspects. Gibbons' art is more mature each time that he shows, and I fancy that he wishes now to enter a realm of metaphysical speculation. It's not simply that Exodus enlarges on his previous hieratic constructions. It's more generous. If you make sculpture like a totem it tends to be self-absorbed. Having made a sculpture like Exodus, an artist looks at the whole world in a new way.

Flowers East, E8 (081-985 3333), to 13 Mar.

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own