Vincent Fecteau



Not on display

Vincent Fecteau born 1969
Papier mâché, tulle, watercolour and acrylic paint
Object: 760 × 610 × 660 mm
Presented by the Tate Americas Foundation, courtesy of the North American Acquisitions Committee 2019


Untitled 2018 is a sculpture made in papier mâché, painted with watercolour and acrylic, and with an irregularly and jagged shaped patch of tulle hanging from one of its sides. It is 760 millimetres high and 660 millimetres at its widest. It was made at the artist’s studio in San Francisco between 2017 and 2018, alongside around eight other works of the same scale, and first exhibited in London at Greengrassi gallery in 2018. Fecteau tends to work on each sculpture for around eighteen months, slowly building up layers of material, changing forms until a shape is resolved. As he explained to British artist Tomma Abts (born 1967): ‘When making work, I find it difficult to distinguish between conscious decisions and ones that I just make intuitively. I’m interested in the place where those things overlap and become confused.’ (In Abts and Fecteau 2008, p.33.)

As is characteristic of Fecteau’s work, Untitled 2018 confuses the categories of exterior and interior, organic and planar. Its planes rise and curve to edges that are sometimes straight and sometimes twisted. Fecteau moulds his material in such a way as to contrast occasional right angles with curved rims. The critic Lloyd Wise wrote of a different body of Fecteau’s work that his sculptures are ‘topologically complex, distinguished by odd contours, a dearth of right angles, and complicated pockets and folds that commingle the organic and the inorganic, the abstract and the representational, the industrial and the handmade’ (Lloyd Wise, ‘Vincent Fecteau’, Artforum, September 2014, p.375). In Untitled large apertures allow views through the sculpture and, from some angles, the inside of the work is more apparent than the exterior. The piece is larger in size than many of Fecteau’s works, yet still relatively small as a sculpture. However, the size of the apertures in relation to the planes give the work a sense of scale.

Having completed the form of a sculpture, Fecteau then paints its surface. In this case, grey acrylic lends the surface a feel of stone or concrete, and this element of harshness is balanced by accents of pink and purple watercolour along some of the planes. Where these occur, the colour fades slowly into the grey surface. Another contrast is achieved between the grey solid planes of papier mâché and the sliver of jagged tulle that hangs over one of the apertures.

Fecteau has worked with papier mâché for several years. He has explained his approach to materials in an interview with British sculptor Phyllida Barlow (born 1944):

My relationship to materials has also always been rather fraught. I never took a sculpture class. I don’t know how to weld, cast, carve stone, or work with wood. I have an incredible amount of patience except when it comes to the very technical, and I’ve always made things. As a child it was craftly kinds of things: needlepoint, macramé, decoupage … Papier- mâché was the lowest tech, the cheapest way I could make larger, paintable forms.
(In Barlow and Fecteau 2014, accessed 29 March 2019.)

Though not based on any existing object or image, Fecteau’s sculpture might evoke a futuristic mask or a shell whose exterior has been eroded, leaving its cavities visible. There are also formal connections to the architect Friederick Kiesler’s Endless House, conceived in 1950. Of such connections, Fecteau has commented: ‘My work definitely references other art and periods, not to mention non-art objects or forms that already exist in the world. I don’t cultivate this aspect of the work, but it’s inevitable, and this irritates me at times. Non-objectives forms in particular are a language that exists for us to use.’ (In Barlow and Fecteau 2014, accessed 29 March 2019.)

Untitled 2019 is typical of Fecteau’s work in creating a tension between pure abstraction and evocation or reference. Fecteau has commented on this in a compelling way: ‘I long for the form that exists free of so-called understanding and that operates in a purely abstract, maybe unconscious way. Yet this utopian desire hinges on an idea of abstraction that not only might be impossible, but in the end, might even be undesirable. Pushed to its logical conclusion, such form might end up like a kind of binary code stripped of any humanity.’ (In Barlow and Fecteau 2014, accessed 29 March 2019.)

This comment raises the question of how ‘humanity’ and indeed identity and sexuality might be legible in Fecteau’s work. The artist has not talked about how being gay affects his approach to sculpture but, in an interview with Tomma Abts, remarked on the work of another artist, Richard Hawkins (born 1961), and said that he encountered it when he was ‘really beginning to deal with being gay’. He described how Hawkins’s ‘way of negotiating desire, positioning it in relationship to the abject, really resonated for me’ (in Abts and Fecteau 2008, p.32). Fecteau located a quality in Hawkins’s work that spoke to sexuality without being referential or image-based. A queer reading of Fecteau’s own work has been an undercurrent of writing about him since the beginning of his career. In 2001 the critic and author Bruce Hainley wrote that ‘the glue that holds Fecteau’s artless-seeming oeuvre together is the quirky querying of what art is and what it does …’, going on to describe his ‘by no means erotically muted textures’ (Bruce Hainley, ‘Vincent Fecteau Talks about his New Sculptures’, Artforum, March 2001, p.127). In a work like Untitled 2018, Fecteau’s approach could be considered a queering of sculpture: refusing binaries, Fecteau undoes oppositions of pure abstraction and referentiality, exterior and interior, front and back, straightness and curvedness, hardness and softness, greyness and colour.

Further reading
Tomma Abts and Vincent Fecteau, ‘Some Similarities’, Parkett, no.84, 2008, p.33.
Phyllida Barlow and Vincent Fecteau, Bomb, 1 January 2014,, accessed 29 March 2019.

Mark Godfrey
March 2019

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