Shelagh Cluett

No Title


Not on display

Shelagh Cluett 1947–2007
Painted aluminium
Object: 540 × 230 × 175 mm
Presented by the Shelagh Cluett Trust 2011


This emerald-coloured sculpture from 1985 is based on the stupa forms of Buddhist architecture. For many years, these forms held a strong fascination for the artist. She was particularly interested in the immediacy of their method of creation as well as their transformation of the ordinary into the magical. Made out of sheets of metal, curled into a sharp upside down cone, this work opens out at its base into a bulbous container-like organic shape. A thin ring of gold can be seen around the very centre of the sculpture. This use of gold is a reference to Buddhist religion, whose devotees buy squares of gold leaf to adorn idols. However, these reverential references are in stark contrast to the common material used and its seemingly rough handling. The process of creating such works as this was a lengthy one, requiring the artist to beat the metal repeatedly with various hammers. This action made the material more brittle and liable to break, in effect making it more difficult to handle, and many attempts were discarded. Colour plays a significant role within these works and was determined before any other aspect of the sculpture. It was applied at the very beginning of the work, making it part of the form and surface of the sculpture.

Like I Must Go Down to the Sea Again 1984 (Tate T13599) this untitled work was inspired by Cluett’s various trips to South East Asia (particularly Burma, Sri Lanka and Thailand). During these travels she collected many local artefacts and took numerous photographs that she used as reference tools within her practice. The influence is most obvious in the vibrant colours that she applied to these works of the 1980s, but is also present in the making of each work. Watching the local craftsmen make beautiful objects out of tin cans led the artist to work with metal and aluminium. She noted: ‘The intensity of light and colour, extraordinary forms and images and ways of constructing have allowed for a freedom of expression within the sculpture’ (Cluett in Herbert Art Gallery and Museum 1985, unpaginated).

This work is illustrative of a shift within Cluett’s work in the early 1980s away from linear standing sculptures, such as Shive III 1979 (Tate T13598) and Flux III 1979 (Tate T13600), towards a use of metal and vessel-shaped forms. She had a keen desire to use technical means to inform her sculptures and create hybrid working methods to pursue her artistic aims. She noted that she often intentionally used the ‘wrong’ tools during the making of her sculptures to achieve the effect she wanted.

Cluett was a near contemporary of Phyllida Barlow (born 1944), Emma Park (born 1948) and Alison Wilding (born 1950) and, together with them, is recognised as one of the leading female sculptors of her generation. Her exhibitions of the 1970s and 1980s were seen as major statements by her contemporaries, and her teaching had an influential effect on succeeding generations of students.

Further reading
New Sculpture: A Selection, exhibition catalogue, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham 1979.
Eight Artists: Women, exhibition catalogue, Acme Gallery, London 1980.
Shelagh Cluett, exhibition leaflet, Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry 1985.

Leyla Fakhr
April 2011

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