Who Are They?

Who is Rachel Whiteread?

Find out how she makes solid air!

Rachel Whiteread Untitled (One Hundred Spaces) (Detail) 1995 © Rachel Whiteread

Rachel Whiteread Untitled (One Hundred Spaces) (Detail) 1995 © Rachel Whiteread

Rachel Whiteread makes sculptures of the spaces underneath, around or in-between objects. Instead of copying what’s there, she focuses on what isn’t there – it’s as if she’s making empty space and air solid!

Her first sculptures were of things she found in her home. She made them by pouring plaster inside her wardrobe, underneath her mattress and inside her hot water bottle. This process is called ‘casting’.

Rachel Whiteread, ‘Untitled (Stairs)’ 2001
Rachel Whiteread
Untitled (Stairs) 2001
Tate
© Rachel Whiteread

Look at the sculpture above. Whiteread has poured plaster into the empty space under the staircase, creating this very strange looking sculpture. Imagine you did that with your staircase- what would the solid air look like?

‘I simply found a wardrobe...I stripped the interior...turned it on its back, drilled some holes in the doors and filled it with plaster until it overflowed.’

Rachel Whiteread

Let's look closer

Rachel Whiteread, ‘Untitled (Nine Tables)’ 1998
Rachel Whiteread
Untitled (Nine Tables) 1998
Tate
© Rachel Whiteread

What do you think these concrete blocks are?

Would you have guessed that they were the spaces underneath tables?

ghostly rooms

In 1990, Whiteread decided to make a cast of a whole room. She called the finished sculpture Ghost. She chose the living room of a house in north London, which was very close to where she grew up. This was challenging work. She had to cast it in sections, and afterwards put all the sections together to make the finished work. The final sculpture was of a "room" that was totally sealed up and no one could enter.

Below are some rooms she's sculpted- how eerie are they!

Rachel Whiteread, ‘Untitled (Rooms)’ 2001
Rachel Whiteread
Untitled (Rooms) 2001
Tate
© Rachel Whiteread

After this, Whiteread started working on a much bigger scale with a large team of people. For her sculpture House she found a terraced house in east London that was going to be demolished.

First, she filled the inside of the house with concrete. This took over a month! Once the concrete had set hard, she removed the walls and a sculpture of the empty space inside remained.

Sketch your own solid air

Whiteread has been inspired by the objects and spaces in her home, in her studio and in the area where she lives.

Look around your own home. Make a list of objects or pieces of furniture in your living room, kitchen or bedroom.

Can you imagine the spaces beneath or inside them becoming solid?

Which objects do you think would look most different? Sketch some of them. Be inspired by Whiteread and her amazing casts.

Rachel Whiteread, ‘Stair Space III’ 1995
Rachel Whiteread
Stair Space III 1995
Tate
© Rachel Whiteread

This is an extract from Modern Art Journal by Mary Richards, available from 5 October 2017.

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