Shelagh Cluett

Shive III


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Shelagh Cluett 1947–2007
Steel and copper rods, wood, steel and copper wire, paraffin wax, paint and nylon string
Object: 2440 x 880 x 120 mm
Presented by the Shelagh Cluett Trust 2011

Not on display


Shive III 1979 consists of a tall standing structure nearly two and a half metres high, that leans upright against the wall. The sculpture is constructed of two intertwining thin canes that create an elongated double helix configuration. This shape is bound against two straight copper rods, which are crossed at the upper half of the sculpture following the natural curve of the canes. The spaces formed by the double helix of the canes are filled with thick semi-opaque layers of wax. Pigments in pale blue have been added to alternate areas of wax. This subtle addition of colour highlights the various accidental forms created in the work but also introduces a rhythm that can be recognised in much of Cluett’s work. The title points to the subject of the work, ‘shive’ being an archaic word for slice or splinter. The work was made at Wapping Studios, London and was exhibited in Eight Women: Artists at the Acme Gallery, London in 1980 and in Shelagh Cluett: Recent Works at Nicola Jacobs Gallery, London the same year.

Shive III can be compared to another sculpture from the same year, Flux III 1979 (Tate T13600), which was also made while Cluett was working in the Wapping Studios, where she evolved a series of sculptures that included a sense of layering and stressing of materials within linear standing structures as drawings in space. The shadows cast in these standing sculptures intensify the dramatic composition of the pieces. Both of these sculptures are pinned and fastened to the floor and wall. This stabilises the structure, but the subtle pull from both ends also creates a sense of elevation within space. In these works the artist stressed the materials used and added to them with different materials. Their construction is almost transparent; the retaining wires are left visible, allowing the process of the work to be traced. These materials vary also in their tension and are carefully juxtaposed. For example, in Flux III the nature of the cane allows for flexibility, but the wax subsequently applied to it would immediately crack with a twisting movement, while in Shive III the organic, gestural lines of the canes are offset by the rigid rectilinear construction of the copper rods.

Even though Cluett’s sculptures include a sense of surprise, as though they were created by accident, they are neatly finished and their attachment to floor and wall gives finality to their composition. For Cluett, process was not just a means to an end but informed the very essence of the work. She stated: ‘The sculptures are made using traditional means of construction. There is no mystery in their assembly, but rather the means of joining should inform the work. I want the sculpture to surprise me, to reach a stage where it exists in its own right and makes demands of me as the artist’ (Cluett in Herbert Art Gallery and Museum 1985, unpaginated).

From the early 1980s onwards, shortly after the Shive and Flux sculptures, there was a strong shift within Cluett’s work away from the use of unstable materials and linear structures towards a use of metal and vessel-shaped forms. Works such as I Must Go Down to the Sea Again 1984 (Tate T13599) and No Title 1985 (Tate T13601) are illustrative of this shift.

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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