William Tucker



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Not on display
William Tucker born 1935
Object: 2460 x 2100 x 2150 mm
Purchased with assistance from the American Fund for the Tate Gallery, the Estate of Tom Bendhem and the Royal Academy of Art Sculpture Fund 2002


Tucker was born in Cairo of English parents and educated in England. He read history at Oxford (1955-8), where he attended life drawing classes at the Ruskin School of Art, before studying fine art at Central and St Martin’s School of Art, London (1959-61). During this period he was attracted to the physical immediacy and radical abstraction of the American Abstract Expressionist painters. At the same time he was influenced by what he perceived as the ‘cool and rational approach’ of Constantin Brancusi (1876-1956), Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) and David Smith (1906-65). His early work, made during the 1960s and 70s, was constructed from industrial materials and characterised by its emphasis on linear and geometric abstraction. Like many of his contemporaries, Tucker rejected the traditions of narrative and figurative sculpture, preferring instead an art that was ‘pure, logical and distanced’ (quoted in William Tucker: Recent Sculptures and Monotypes, [p.2]). In the early 1980s, in a dramatic shift in materials and technique, he began building organic contours onto geometric armatures using plaster and scrim (see Guardian IV 1983, Tate T07982). From this time his sculptures, representing human and (occasionally) animal forms, have been modelled by hand in clay and plaster before being cast in another material. Tucker has commented:

To project an inner sense of the wholeness of the body has been the task of sculpture from the makers of Avebury and the Willendorf Venus to Degas and Rodin, and it still can be, in our time. Once I grasped this possibility some time ago I have been discarding, year by year, fragments of the visual and conceptual framework on which I once felt my sculpture depended – its frontality and geometric clarity, its linear and planar structure, every element of drawing, and distancing – until all that is left is the massive core.

(Quoted in William Tucker: Recent Sculptures and Monotypes, [p.3].)

At first sight Pomona is an ambiguous looming mass, resembling a huge, upright rock formation. A closer inspection seems to resolve the formlessness into the suggestion of a female torso. The possibility of an ambiguous image, as well as the risk of none at all, is for Tucker a consequence of the art of modelling in clay or slow-setting plaster, with shape and surface generated by the contact of the hand with the soft materials. Over the past fifteen years the process of modelling has become as much the subject of Tucker’s sculpture as it is the means. Many of the massive, chthonic forms created in this way are titled with the names of ancient and classical gods and goddesses, emphasising their essentialist nature. A series made in 1987 was simply titled Gods. An early precedent for Pomona is a craggy female torso entitled Demeter, 1991 (David McKee Gallery, New York). Another similar figure is titled Eve, 1998 (private collection). Pomona was the Roman goddess of fruits (especially apples), who was worshipped at a sacred place named Pomonal on the outskirts of Rome. Tucker’s powerful rock-like figure is an appropriate representation of the earth’s inner potential for fecundity.

The original plaster sculpture was cast in bronze. Tate’s is the first in an edition of two.

Further reading:

Dore Ashton, Dahlia Morgan, William Tucker, exhibition catalogue, Art Museum, Florida International University, Miami 1988
William Tucker, exhibition catalogue, Bothy Gallery, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield 2001
William Tucker: Recent Sculptures and Monotypes, exhibition catalogue, Annely Juda Fine Art, London 1987

Elizabeth Manchester
June 2004

Technique and condition

This large bronze sculpture was sand cast in four pieces and welded together to make a single unit. It is probably a unique cast. The artist modelled the form in plaster and then sawed it into four pieces for transport from America to the UK. The pieces were cast by Pangolin Editions Foundry who noted that they tig-welded them together using the same bronze alloy – “Gunmetal”: 85% copper, 5% zinc, 5% tin, 5% lead). The hollow form has a large aperture in the underside and internal plates for fixing to the ground. The whole area of the base is in contact with the floor.

The surface colouration appears a mottled mix of tan, green and brown. The foundry achieved this effect by chemical patination using a base coat of dilute potassium polysulphide, followed by repeated applications of copper nitrate and ferric nitrate solutions, and finally bismuth nitrate, applied by spray or brush and torch heated. Finally a wax coating was applied to the bronze surface and the appearance was approved by the artist. .

Stella Willcocks / Derek Pullen

September 2002 / October 2004

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