As I entered the first room of the Richard Deacon show at Tate Britain, it occurred to me that, particularly in comparison to the exhibition previously held there, ‘Art Under Attack’, sculpture was easier on the eye. Richard Deacon was born in Wales in 1949; he notably attended a course at St Martin’s School of Art where he focused on performance-based work. Also an alumni of Chelsea School of Art, he was awarded the Turner Prize in 1987 and later went on to teach.
I walked around Deacon’s sculptures – and there is agreeably enough space to do so (even on the opening night!) – and felt immediately tempted to climb through, under or inside them. I was not sure it was the artist’s intention, despite his background in performance art, and probably not Tate’s purpose. However, as we saw more of the show, my friend E. made me notice Deacon’s sly habit of including repelling elements such as visible screws on his sculptures, which are otherwise smooth and inviting to the touch. In a metaphor, she compared Deacon’s sculpture to a rose with thorns.
I was also marked by his seemingly rough approach to sculpture. He deliberately chose to show the layers of wood composing his sculptures and the glue that sticks their components together, rather than trying to hide the true nature of the materials or the process by which he had manipulated them. Laminated wood felt dominant among his materials although he uses diverse materials such as polycarbonate, leather and clay, examples of which are shown in the Tate Britain exhibition.
I was tempted to the easy conclusion that he sculpted ‘nature’, seeing his many organic forms, but the visible screws, oversized nuts and bolts, and the glue he had allowed to dry where it dripped, made me step away from that assumption. In the last room of the Tate show, his sculpture Out of Order 2003 shows wood that appears twisted – a tangle of steep angles and folds into which Deacon would have forced the material to bend. Inspired by nature, then, but also a sculpture engineer. Richard Deacon is at Tate Britain until April 27, 2014.