The Guardian sculptures mark a significant turning point in Tucker’s practice, both in his technique and his choice of subject. His abstract sculptures of the 1970s and early 1980s, such as Cats Cradle 3 1971 (see Tate T01817), have a constructivist character, prioritising line over mass, geometry over the organic and suggesting rather than creating volume. Sculptures from this period are constructed from industrial steel or wood and suggest armatures and minimalist drawings in space. They are typical of the formalism prevalent in abstract sculpture at that time, which rejected the body over rationalism, logic and detachment. In 1983 Tucker turned to solid mass and hand modelling in plaster in order to explore the human form, albeit in an abstract manner. He began to cover the geometric armatures with plaster-laden scrim and then built onto that with more solid layers of slow-setting plaster. Guardians I-III are based on triangular structures, and each constitutes an imposing vertical presence rising from a substantial base. The title of the group suggests a protective or defensive function and with their simple upright standing pose, the sculptures may be viewed as sentry-like figures. The ambiguity of the form is, for Tucker, a welcome consequence of the process of modelling in clay or plaster. He has explained:
There is something about the actual continuity of touch, of handling the material, that is very primitive ... There is a basic element of not knowing that comes about through using opaque and in itself formless materials ... what is intrinsic in the material is the suggestion of images. That the forms that are given to it by your working on it, inevitably starts suggesting things, or not so much things, as bodies, or parts of bodies, rocks, trees, waves, clouds or whatever. The occurrence of images is absolutely at one with the handling of the material.
(Quoted in William Tucker, 1988, [pp.21-2].)
Born in Cairo of English parents, Tucker read history at Oxford (1955-8) before studying art at Central and St Martin’s School of Art (1959-61), where he was taught by Sir Anthony Caro (born 1924). At this time he was deeply impressed by the American Abstract Expressionists, attracted to the physical immediacy and radical abstraction of their paintings. In 1974 he published a significant book The Language of Sculpture in which he emphasised the centrality of gravity and light in sculpture. More recently he has observed that ‘modelling is the most direct way of understanding the human body’ (quoted in William Tucker: Horses, exhibition catalogue, Galleria L’Isola, Rome 1987, [p.6). Tucker became an American citizen in 1977 and currently lives and works in Williamsburg, Massachussetts.
Dore Ashton, Dahlia Morgan, William Tucker, exhibition catalogue, Art Museum, Florida International University, Miami 1988, [pp.8 and 10]
William Tucker, exhibition catalogue, David McKee Gallery, New York 1987, [pp.6, 8-9]
William Tucker: Gods: Five Recent Sculptures, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1987, p.12