As sculptures of wood, metal, cloth and clay by the expert material manipulator fill the galleries of Tate Britain, we take a closer look at one of the biggest works in this retrospective, the room-sized After

  • Richard Deacon After 1998 Purchased from funds provided by CGNU plc 2002 © Tate

    Richard Deacon
    After 1998
    Wood, steel, aluminium and resin
    unconfirmed: 1700 x 9500 x 3000 mm

    Purchased from funds provided by CGNU plc 2002
    © Tate
    View the main page for this artwork

Swell, ripple, undulate and flow: these are just a few of the gut-feelings that emerge when in the presence of Richard Deacon’s wooden sculpture After

Looking at the nearly 10 metre-long floor-standing sculpture, there’s an irresistible urge to imagine yourself as a tiny nimble figure, sliding across its perfectly proportioned planes and smooth strips of wood, as if riding the crest of a giant wave. 

There’s something honest and yet hearty about this sculpture. Its undulating wood mixes rigidity with movement, making a shape suggestive of nature’s various forms in plant, animal or man. Robust, dynamic and lively, there’s a new view at every curve. 

Its steamed and bent strips of wood is one of Deacon’s most distinctive techniques and typifies his affection for working with strips or sheets of materials, avoiding solid or closed forms. Speaking on his work in 1985 Deacon said: 

‘The way that I work, seems to be to start, if not from nothing, from minimal conditions. They’re not amorphous, pure mass like lumps of clay, neither do they have the phenomenal strength of rock or a piece of nature. They have a certain independence. Making them into shapes is an act of will on my part.’

For over four decades Deacon has used a wide range of material in his work, from wood and polycarbonate, to leather, cloth and ceramics. Bending, shaping, twisting and joining are just a few of the structural manipulations he applies, and in doing so tend to expose their own means of construction. Referring to himself as a ‘fabricator’, a term he uses to distinguish his methods from that of a carver or modeller, he explains:

‘I quite like the idea that a fabrication can be something made up rather than the truth. When you fabricate something it has a straightforward sense of making but it also has a sense of invention or make-believe. I always like that dual play. All the work I make is fundamentally made. It’s not cast or modelled or carved.’

You could say it’s his unique method of manipulating ordinary material that makes the ordinary extraordinary. I’ll leave that up to you to decide - but personally, I’m a big fan of the make-believe.

What do Richard Deacon’s sculptures mean to you? Tell us what you see

Richard Deacon is on display at Tate Britain until 27 April 2014