Summary

Throughout the 1980s Woodrow created sculptures from used domestic appliances, car bodies and other household bric-a-brac, transforming the objects by cutting into the metal and twisting or bending it to create new forms. The resulting assemblages combine reality with representation, since the original, host object is still recognisable in conjunction with the new entity created from it, to which it usually remains connected by a kind of umbilical cord. Well Done! is typical of this technique. It consists of a steel frying pan sitting on a tripod on top of an upended copper funnel. This stands on an old tea chest bearing the words ‘K T D A Produce of Kenya’ stamped on its sides. Woodrow cut two-sided triangular openings in the copper funnel and bent them outwards at the third edge so that the triangles, painted yellow and red, curl upwards in the manner of flames. From the base of the frying pan he cut the silhouette of Africa twice in a mirrored configuration around the southernmost end of the continent. He bent these two shapes up so that they come together to create a more solid form. On one side, all the African countries are demarcated in different colours of paint. On the other side, the continent has been painted to resemble a red piece of bacon. A fork, moulded from sections cut out of the sides of the frying pan, rests on the pan edge, its prongs sticking into the politically divided side of Africa. Viewed from the other side, the piece of bacon appears to be hovering over the frying pan, evoking the aphorisms ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire’ and ‘bringing home the bacon’.

Woodrow attended St Martin’s School of Art (1968-71) and Chelsea School of Art (1971-2) in London where he rebelled against the formalist abstraction prevalent in sculpture at that time. At the end of the 1970s he began working with discarded household furniture and other objects to create incongruous juxtapositions often giving rise to allegorical or metaphorical readings. Such works as Twin Tub with Guitar 1980 (Tate T03354), in which a washing machine supports a guitar modelled from the sheet metal which covers its front and sides, refer to domesticity subverting the glamour associated with the guitar. Other works made during this period comment on consumerism, although the comment remains oblique or ambiguous. Car Door, Ironing Board and Twin-Tub with North American Indian Head-Dress 1981 (Tate T03355), in which a North American Indian head-dress has been moulded from a car door, an ironing board and a washing machine, posits a paradoxical connection between ethnic identity and contemporary western consumer products. Elephant 1984 (Tate T07169), comprising an elephant’s head with ears made from maps of South America and Africa which holds a machine gun in its trunk above a circle of car doors representing a water hole, refers to the relationship between nature and culture in third world countries where political insurrection threatens fragile ecologies.

The culinary imagery of Well Done! constitutes a more overt comment on global politics current at the time. The suggestion that Africa (supported by the workers of its tea plantations) was a particularly juicy piece of meat about to be cooked and eaten posits a grim fate, heightened by the ironic tone of the title. A further connection with consumerism lies in the fact that the scavenging of household waste and its transformation into sculptural objects is a creative activity still common in many African countries where the hand-made objects are sold on street corners by children.


Further reading:
Bill Woodrow: Fools’ Gold, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1996
Bill Woodrow: Sculpture 1980-86, exhibition catalogue, Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh 1986
Bill Woodrow: Sculptures – 1987-1989, Musées des Beaux-Arts Le Havre and Calais 1989


Elizabeth Manchester
July 2004