Restless is a large, floor-based sculpture made of ash wood. Each individual section of wood has been steamed into a complex range of twisting forms which are neatly fastened together with screws and aluminium fixings to create a wave like appearance. The rolling waves of Restless highlight Deacon’s interest in transitional states and movement, for example the turbulent flow of ocean currents, as underlined by the work’s title. He has explained: ‘The classic example is the turbulent flow in certain liquids: there is a point where the liquid is moving fast and is entirely coherent. But there is also a point at which ordered pattern emerges, in the form of vortices, ripples and eddies. This is what interests me, this openness that emerges between states.’ (Quoted in Thompson et al. 2000, p.158.) The twisting and turning curves of Restless can also be traced back to ideas present in Deacon’s large wooden works of the 1990s (for example, After 1998, Tate T07867), as well as his interest in baroque art. Specifically, he has described his long term fascination with the figures in Nicolas Poussin’s (1594–1665) Landscape with a Man Killed by a Snake c.1648 (National Gallery, London), and in particular how ‘being alive and being dead are connected to curved, counter curved and straight’ (email exchange with Tate curator Clarrie Wallis, 11 February 2005).
In August 2000, Deacon exhibited Umhh, a new sculpture at the project space Fig-1 in London. Reminiscent of an apple peel that has been casually dropped on the floor, this sculpture paved the way for a significant development in Deacon’s sculptural language and acts as an important precedent for the wooden works he subsequently produced, including Restless. Each ribbon-like component is made from a compilation of strips of ash that have been meticulously steam-bent into a repertoire of shapes and then screwed together to form evocative loops and curls. The structure and form of the work relate directly to the process of its making and assembly, as well as the basic properties of the materials used.
Umhh 2000 established new parameters within Deacon’s sculpture in terms of working with materials. This vocabulary was further developed by UW84DC 2001 (the title being an abbreviation for ‘You Wait for the Sea’), a group of fifteen works that were shown together the following year at Dundee Centre for Contemporary Art. With this group, the combinations or sequences were built into unique forms that anticipate the organisational principles of Restless. In Restless, individual elements are again connected together by small tabs that act as an important counterpoint to the twisting and turning shapes, linking their formal aspect with the process of construction. The work emerges from the repetition of these methods. This process in some respects echoes the artist’s procedure for the making of an important series of early drawings, Its Orpheus When There’s Singing 1978–9, which includes Its Orpheus When There’s Singing # 7 1978–9 (Tate T04859). In both instances, elements emerge from a rigorous procedure, where the curve and the counter curve are particularly important. In the case of Restless the result is a sculpture where the overall effect is one of graceful fluidity which belies the technically challenging methods of its construction.
Jon Thompson, Pier Luigi Tazzi, Peter Schjeldahl and Penelope Curtis, Richard Deacon, London 2000.
Slippery When Wet, exhibition catalogue, Districto Cu4tro, Madrid 2004.
Out of Order, exhibition catalogue, Tate St Ives 2005.