Richard Deacon

If The Shoe Fits


Not on display

Richard Deacon born 1949
Object: 1600 × 3250 × 1840 mm
Purchased with assistance from the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1997


If the Shoe Fits is a large floor-based sculpture made from corrugated and flat sheets of galvanized steel. The work's title has prompted commentators to read its ambiguous shape as a solitary piece of oversized footwear, bereft of its partner. One end curves upward like a curly-toed jester's shoe, while a fan of corrugated steel resembles a pleated collar for the ankle. A thin strip of flat steel forms a loop, thereby suggesting a shoelace or a band to fasten the shoe. The metal sheets are cut, shaped and assembled with rivets and screws into a double-skinned structure, with the corrugated steel on the outside lined and supported by a layer of flat steel underneath. There is no concealed armature, simply a self-supporting skin of sheet metal. Pencil grid and cutting lines remain visible on the surface of the 'collar' and 'toe' sections.

If The Shoe Fits typifies one of two sculptural directions that Deacon established early in his career: 'shapes externally defined by linear elements with the interior remaining open', and 'skinlike, hollow shells pierced by one or more openings.' (Mary Ann Jacob, A Quiet Revolution, p.74.) Both trajectories satisfy Deacon's desire to make the structure of a work of art self-evident. Deacon refers to himself as a 'fabricator' and selects his raw materials accordingly, rejecting those that must be carved or modeled in favour of materials that come in sheet form, such as steel, wood or linoleum. The way in which he constructs his sculptures further emphasizes their 'fabricated' status. For example, not only is the structure of If The Shoe Fits deliberately exposed, but the prodigious use of screws and rivets is far in excess of structural necessity. This emphasis on 'manufacture' derives from Deacon's longstanding interest in language and perception. During his 1978-79 visit to America, he was greatly influenced by the work of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926). Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus helped Deacon to crystallize a personal aesthetic theory, influenced by language, which had been evolving since his days at the Royal College of Art. Deacon was interested in the way in which Rilke used ordinary language to create profoundly metaphorical poetry. Words which are in themselves quite banal are transformed by the poet's syntax into something new and lyrical. The poet uses commonplace words as building blocks to create completely new meanings or metaphors. By emphasizing the 'fabricated' aspect of his sculptures, Deacon points to their own syntactical quality and their consequent kinship with language. In a 1986 interview, he said: 'I tend to be excessive in my use of rivets and or glue or whatever, but it's to do with trying to point to making in two particular ways. One is that processes and manufacture have connotations of sense or meaning and the other is that the act of manufacture itself has a particular relationship to the world which is akin to language.' (Quoted in Entre el Objeto y la Imagen: Escultura Britanica Contemporanea, exhibition catalogue, The British Council, Madrid 1986, p.232-233.)

Further reading:
A Quiet Revolution: British Sculpture Since 1965, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago 1987, pp.74-6, reproduced in colour, p.85.
Jon Thompson, Pier Luigi Tazzi and Peter Schjeldahl, Richard Deacon, London 1995, reproduced in colour, p.100.
Richard Deacon: Sculpture, exhibition catalogue, The Orchard Gallery, Londonderry 1983, [p.5], reproduced [p.6]

Helen Delaney
November 2001

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While studying at St Martin's School of Art from 1969-72, Deacon made some performance works, but he abandoned these and began to fabricate solid objects a few years later. His work uses a wide variety of materials and processes, and includes figurative and cultural references. 'If The Shoe Fits' is one of a series of works by Deacon inspired by Rainer Maria Rilke's poems 'Sonnets to Orpheus.' Deacon became interested in forms that were 'a hollow enclosure with an opening...that [could] stand for the head of Orpheus singing or listening...or for other, very domestic objects, particlarly pots and pans, shoes, hats.'

Gallery label, August 2004

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