Alison Wilding's freestanding sculpture, Locust, has two main elements. A single copper sheet is wrapped around and almost entirely conceals an oak-wood post. The surface of the copper has a rich patina of bright green, black and dark brown tones. Tightly enveloping the wooden shaft, the sheet metal splits apart at the top and unfurls flamboyantly into a pair of wings. This exuberant crown contrasts with the spare simplicity of the slender pillar. The top of the wooden post is exposed by this aperture, its angled tip coloured by black glossy paint. For additional stability, the post is weighted at the bottom by a concealed lead base.
Wilding came to prominence in the early 1980s as one of a diverse group of artists known collectively as the New British Sculptors. This early work was produced when Wilding was beginning to make a significant impact in exhibitions. It relates closely to a work of 1982, Dark Perch, which is equally arresting in its sheer verticality (reproduced in The British Show, exhibition catalogue, The British Council 1985, p.118). Wilding also used lead in a number of other early works, such as Leaden in 1982 (private collection). It was frequently embedded in another material like a fossil and it established potent contrasts between disparate materials, organic and manmade, poisonous and benign. Locust testifies to Wilding's enduring interest in exploring the potential of binary relationships. Contrasts in form, material, texture and light permeate Wilding's work and ensure that the issue of duality remains at the heart of her sculptural language. Formal contrasts are less immediately apparent in Locust than in many other Wilding works with their familiar, bi-partite structures (e.g., Receiver 1988, Tate T06492), yet they remain subtly insistent. The relationship between exposure and concealment is explored through the ambivalent role of surfaces, in this case the enveloping sheet of patinated copper which provides a kind of second skin for the oak post. As one commentator has written in relation to Wilding's work: 'A surface is dependent upon something else being concealed. As the superficial it is compared with and offset against inner depth. But it is also deceptive, duplicitous and doublefaced, bordering both an exterior and an interior.' (Hilary Gresty in Bare: Alison Wilding Sculptures 1982-1993, pp.9-10) An insistence on surface focuses attention on our desire to explore what is hidden. Wilding says: 'I look inside things which is a bit like pulling back the carpet to see what is underneath…It's a kind of journey that I feel compelled to make with everything I do - that the inside is revealed.' (Quoted in Alison Wilding: Immersion, exhibition brochure, Tate Gallery Liverpool, 1991 [p.4].)
Alison Wilding, exhibition catalogue, Serpentine Gallery, London 1985.
Alison Wilding: Sculptures, exhibition catalogue, Karsten Schubert Ltd., London 1987.
Bare: Alison Wilding Sculptures 1982-1993, exhibition catalogue, Newlyn Art Gallery, Newlyn 1993.