After is a large, horizontally-orientated, floor-standing sculpture in which a long, hollow tube made from narrow wooden strips creates a continuous, looping form. The tube is assembled from twelve separate sections, each formed from hoops and lengths of bent wood fixed together with screws. The hoops and lengths are regularly spaced to produce a grid or lattice effect that the viewer can see through. A taut lateral support made from stainless steel runs across the interior space created by the loop at its widest point. Its texture resembles closely interwoven metal strips, which contrasts with the part of the work made from strips of wood.
This sculpture is characteristic of Deacon’s output in that he tends to prefer working in materials that are in strips or sheets and generally avoids solid or closed forms (Harrison, p.16). The artist explained in 1985: ‘The way that I work, seems to be to start, if not from nothing, from minimal conditions. They’re not amorphous, pure mass like lumps of clay, neither do they have the phenomenal strength of rock or a piece of nature. They have a certain independence. Making them into shapes is an act of will on my part.’ (Quoted in Richard Deacon Talking About For Those Who Have Ears, No.2 and Other Works, London 1985, p.4.) As a work in steamed and bent wood, After represents one of Deacon’s most distinctive techniques. Early works made in this way include For Those Who Have Ears No.2 1983 (T03958), which is an open, curving and linear work, its form inspired, as the title suggests, by the shape of the human ear. After belongs to a group of large sculptures in beech wood from the 1990s that include What Could Make Me Feel This Way (A) 1993 and Laocoon 1996 (reproduced in New World Order: Richard Deacon, pp.30–1 and p.24 respectively). In these two works, Deacon produced interweaving tubular forms that twist and curl around and upwards, rather than remaining near the floor as After. In the early twenty-first century, Deacon made a number of large works from closely joined strips of steamed ash, which create shapes evocative of waves, as, for example, the group UW84DC #1–15 2001 (reproduced in Richard Deacon: Out of Order, exhibition catalogue, Tate St Ives 2005, pp.26–7).
After’s undulating wood combines rigidity with a sense of movement to create a form suggestive of both the natural environment and the human body. This sculpture plays on the relation between inside and outside by creating an interior space that can be seen and an exterior which must be walked around for its form to be comprehended. Deacon calls himself a ‘fabricator’ not a sculptor (Richard Deacon, exhibition catalogue, Whitechapel Gallery, London 1988, p.16) and his works tend to expose their own means of construction. In an interview in 1999, he commented on the degree of finish of After – in which the screws and rivets used to join the work’s components are clearly visible – in comparison with a near contemporaneous, smaller sculpture also made of bent wood, Table E 1999 (reproduced in Richard Deacon, 2000, p.159), in which the jointing is less obvious:
Why was the jointing more elaborate on the smaller than the larger sculpture? The answer is that these are two different kinds of object and the convergence of the ribs is actually a different matter in each. Whereas the ribs on Table E converge around a form, there’s a sense of unfocused sequence in After, you see each joint sequentially ... The butting up [of the joints in After] articulates continuity around a shape rather than focusing on a part.
(Quoted in Ian Tromp, ‘Undetermined Pleasure and Unnecessary Beauty. An Interview with Richard Deacon’, Sculpture, vol.18, no.9, November 1999, p.20.)
The undulating and writhing shape of After has a serpentine quality, a reference evoked more explicitly in the title of Laocoon. This recalls the celebrated sculpture from Antiquity of the same name (now in the Vatican Museums), which portrays the priest Laocoön from Greek mythology and his sons grappling with deadly serpents. After is a more ambiguous title, and, as with many of Deacon’s titles, suggests the artist’s interest in the evocative potential of language. ‘I am interested in naming,’ he has said, ‘in having title and work belong together in the same way as name and thing’ (quoted in Richard Deacon. The Size of It, exhibition catalogue, Arabako ARTIUM de Álava, Vitoria-Gasteiz 2005, p.52).
Charles Harrison, ‘Empathy and Irony: Richard Deacon’s Sculpture’, in Richard Deacon: Esculturas y Dibujos 1985–1988, exhibition catalogue, Fundación Caja de Pensiones, Madrid 1988, pp.16–27.
New World Order: Richard Deacon, exhibition catalogue, Tate Liverpool 1999, reproduced pp.28–9.
John Thompson, Pier Luigi Tazzi, Peter Schjeldahl and Penelope Curtis, Richard Deacon, London 2000.