In his solo exhibition Family at Galerie Thomas Schulte, Richard Deacon shows a group of new, small-format ceramic pieces entitled “Flash, Bang, Wallop.” The works showcase the British artist’s extraordinary approach to form and his deeply rooted interest in material, the unique handling of which makes him one of the contemporary art world’s most important and inventive sculptors. Following his beginnings in performance art, Deacon turned to sculpture in the early 1980s and was soon regarded as a central figure in New British Sculpture. Over the years, he has consistently and methodically developed his diverse oeuvre, which also includes writing and drawing. Deacon employs a wide range of materials, including laminated plywood, concrete, stainless steel, leather, plastics, and clay, in order to create an intense experience of form, surface, color and space.
Ceramics have played an important role in Deacon’s artistic practice since the mid 1990s. He conceives and shapes clay into objects that are organic or geometric, monolithic or made of several components and pushes the material to its limits. The works shown in the exhibition were created with Niels Dietrich, who runs a Cologne-based ceramics workshop and with whom Deacon has been collaborating for many years. The social dynamics behind artistic development and production have always been a central focus of Deacon’s work. Deacon sees his task as a sculptor as mediator between inner and outer, as well as personal and collective dimensions. As he explains, “I am interested in a particular process, material or technique—and I don’t really make a distinction between industrial and craft processes in this regard—and it could be that it’s the individual that interests me.”
“Flash, Bang, Wallop” is the title of a series of hand-sized, centimeter-thick slabs of clay. In contrast to the colored and glazed surfaces, the cut edges of the discs remain untreated. The polygonal pieces are held up with the help of thin metal sheets and presented individually on wall bases. Through these flat ceramic objects, Deacon continues his search for the pictorial in sculpture, which is repeatedly expressed in his extraordinary use and manipulation of the materials as well as in the innovative way in which they find their form. The final interplay of colors in each work only emerges after the firing process; a process which captures Deacon’s fascination with the interrelation between form, volume and color as well as the balance between premeditation and coincidence. The face of the object, partially painted with geometric patterns, serves as projection surface adding a dimension of optical distortion to the piece, and giving the small sculpture a pictorial quality.
Through his associative and open titles, Deacon creates a tension between the visual and the poetic. Family brings together a group of idiosyncratic, autonomous and individual pieces which are at once closely related and part of a larger context. And of course, with the way they are supported, each having one coloured surface, the have a certain resemblance to family photographs standing on the sideboard. Through their form, process and production, these perfect solitaires cut to the core of the most basic questions of sculpture in inventive ways. As a form in space, the sculpture is structurally expandable at will. It appears that if taken as individual pieces of a puzzle, the objects could transgress their own boundaries.