Shelagh Cluett

I Must Go Down to the Sea Again

1984

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Not on display
Artist
Shelagh Cluett 1947–2007
Medium
Painted aluminium
Dimensions
Object: 420 x 230 x 140 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Presented by the Shelagh Cluett Trust 2011
Reference
T13599

Summary

I Must Go Down to the Sea Again 1984 is a small aluminium wall sculpture that is shaped like a cone and hung directly onto the wall. The colour of the piece is a deep, warm red, which through the process of making has acquired a stressed and uneven surface. Cluett enjoyed working with sheets of aluminium as its flexible qualities allowed for quick and easy manipulation. However, the process of creating such works was lengthy, requiring the artist to beat the metal repeatedly with various hammers. This action made the material more brittle and liable to break, in effect making it more difficult to handle and many attempts were discarded.

This work is illustrative of a shift within Cluett’s work in the early 1980s away from linear standing sculptures, such as Shive III 1979 (Tate T13598) and Flux III 1979 (Tate T13600), towards a use of metal and vessel-shaped forms. She had a keen desire to use technical means to inform her sculptures and create hybrid working methods to pursue her artistic aims. She noted that she often intentionally used the ‘wrong’ tools during the making of her sculptures to achieve the effect she wanted. Colour also plays a significant role within these later works and was determined before any other aspect of the sculpture. It was applied at the very beginning of the work, making it part of the form and surface of the sculpture. The title I Must Go Down to the Sea Again is a biographical reference to Cluett’s upbringing by the sea. She acknowledged the importance of this influence in her work: ‘Having grown up on the Dorset coast, the tentative relationship between the land and water and a sense of place have been strong influences’ (Cluett in Herbert Art Gallery and Museum 1985, unpaginated). This is also evident in the fluid and organic shapes of her sculptures. This sculpture was exhibited in Cluett’s solo exhibition at the Herbert Art Gallery, Coventry in 1985.

Both I Must Go Down to the Sea Again and No Title 1985 (Tate T13601) were inspired by Cluett’s various trips to South East Asia (particularly Burma, Sri Lanka and Thailand). During these travels she collected many local artefacts and took numerous photographs that she used as reference tools within her practice. The influence is most obvious in the vibrant colours that she applied to these works of the 1980s, but is also present in the making of each work. Watching the local craftsmen make beautiful objects out of tin cans led the artist to work with metal and aluminium. She noted: ‘The intensity of light and colour, extraordinary forms and images and ways of constructing have allowed for a freedom of expression within the sculpture’ (Cluett in Herbert Art Gallery and Museum 1985, unpaginated).

Cluett was a near contemporary of Phyllida Barlow (born 1944), Emma Park (born 1948) and Alison Wilding (born 1950), and, together with them, is recognised as one of the leading female sculptors of her generation. Her exhibitions of the 1970s and 1980s were seen as major statements by her contemporaries, and her teaching had an influential effect on succeeding generations of students.

Further reading
New Sculpture: A Selection, exhibition catalogue, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham 1979.
Eight Artists: Women, exhibition catalogue, Acme Gallery, London 1980.
Shelagh Cluett, exhibition leaflet, Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry 1985.

Leyla Fakhr
April 2011

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