Tacita Dean

Bless our Europe


Not on display

Tacita Dean born 1965
Chalk, gouache and charcoal on slate
Support: 388 × 487 mm
Presented by the artist in honour of Sir Nicholas Serota 2018


Bless our Europe is one of a number of slate drawings that relate to the artist’s eighteen-month trip to Los Angeles where she was artist in residence at the Getty Research Institute in 2014–15. Whilst there, she was struck by the nature of the cloudscapes that formed in the Californian skies and found her attention drawn away from the body of work she had intended to make, instead focusing on cloud formations as her subject matter. She made a group of colour lithographs and slate drawings that formed the basis of an exhibition entitled … my English breath in foreign clouds, held at Marian Goodman Gallery, New York in 2016, and a further exhibition, LA Exuberance, at Frith Street Gallery in London in 2016. Dean worked with Gemini G.E.L., an established print publisher in Los Angeles, to produce a set of colour lithographs that captured the cloud formations which had caught her attention. In parallel to the lithographs, Dean worked on a group of chalk drawings. Offered a number of original Victorian-era school slates, Dean was drawn to their patina and began to work on them using spray chalk, gouache and white charcoal pencil. She described the inspiration for these works:

What surprised me most about Los Angeles was the one thing I had imagined there would be little of and that was clouds. These clouds differed from their European counterparts because they were nearly never gray but extremely variable and white; they appeared unconnected to rain, as in Europe, but instead to the imperceptible activity of winds high above the earth’s surface. Driving down Sunset Boulevard early on in my stay, I was confronted by a voluminous atomic cloud blooming at the end of the road in front of me, back-dropped by a deep blue sky. This inspired me to take up chalk on a blackboard once again. I have since become a cloud watcher.
(Quoted in press release for Marian Goodman Gallery, 2016.)

Blackboard works have featured throughout Dean’s career, since she studied in the painting department at the Slade School of Fine Art in London (1990–2). Having come across a tin of blackboard paint, she applied it to a board and used chalk to make what the critic Jonathan Griffin has described as, ‘ethereal, notation-strewn drawings that emerged from – and, when wiped down, disappeared back into – darkness’. (Griffin 2018, p. 60.) An early set of blackboard drawings, The Roaring Forties: Seven Boards in Seven Days 1997, was included in Dean’s exhibition for the Turner Prize in 1998; one of these is in Tate’s collection (Tate T07613).

Clouds have been a recurrent motif in Dean’s work. For example, in her 16mm film, Palast 2004 (Tate T12212), the pale brown glass cladding of the Palace of the Republic on Schlossplatz in Berlin – the artist’s adopted city – reflects a sky of continuously changing cloudscapes. Clouds and amorphous organic forms also appear in The Roaring Forties: Seven Boards in Seven Days. Dean’s close observation of clouds is born of a genuine curiosity that echoes John Constable’s (1776–1837) seventeenth-century Cloud Studies (see, for example, Cloud Study 1882 [Tate N06065]). Her practice as a whole tackles far-reaching subjects from the forces of nature and decay to history and nostalgia.

Bless our Europe was commissioned by Kings College London on the occasion of the exhibition Melancholia: A Sebald Variation in 2017. The exhibition aimed to provoke reflection on the European condition and the nature of melancholy.

Further reading
Jean-Christophe Royoux, Marina Warner and Germaine Greer, Tacita Dean, London 2006.
Press release for Tacita Dean solo exhibition …my English breath in foreign clouds, Marian Goodman Gallery, New York, 2 March–23 April 2016.
Jonathan Griffin, ‘Tacita Dean: “I don’t care about the long run. I care about now”’, RA Magazine, 21 March 2018, pp.56–63.

Hattie Spires
April 2018

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