Katherine Gili

Vertical IV


Not on display

Katherine Gili born 1948
Painted steel
Object: 2230 × 1600 × 1140 mm
Purchased 2019


Vertical IV 1975 is a freestanding steel sculpture which has been zinc sprayed and painted brown. Standing over two metres high, it is constructed from flat pieces of steel, bolted and welded together. Rising from the ground at different angles, its primary components are three long planes of steel that visually cohere into an abstract form akin to an extended tree structure. The arrangement of the work, with its variously angled planes, invites the viewer to move around it, experiencing it in its changing form, depending on the viewing position.

Following on from a body of planar sculptures made in 1974 using a singular, clearly defined flat piece of steel, Gili gradually progressed towards constructions rising from the ground from several points. Vertical IV 1975 is one of a series of four sculptures, all made in the same year. It is a carefully balanced construction of planes and beams, made with pre-formed industrial steel. The elements are coated with paint, using the brown colour to unify the disparate parts. The artist made the work starting from the central larger steel element and adding other parts by welding. The physical constraints of the material thus played a part in the process of the work’s making and in the structure of the overall piece as it was assembled.

Gili studied sculpture at St Martin’s School of Art in London under the British sculptor Anthony Caro (1924–2013) and benefited from an openly experimental environment fostered by the then head of the sculpture department, Frank Martin (1914–2004). She was one of a second generation of British sculptors working in steel – and one of very few women – using flat planes as Caro did. However, after what would prove to be an influential visit to the American sculptor David Smith’s (1906–1965) studio at Bolton Landing on Lake George in New York State in 1972, Gili, and several of her peers, developed an interest in the vertical compositions used by Smith in sculptures such as Cubi XIX 1964 (Tate T00891), rather than the more insistently horizontal arrangements favoured by Caro in works such as Quartet 1971 (Tate T01454). Additionally, the way in which the steel was cut for Gili’s work resulted in rougher edges and the paint finish is less smooth compared to Caro’s work of the time, giving greater emphasis to the materiality and surface of the work.

Vertical IV was one of the sculptures Gili showed at her exhibition at Stockwell Depot in south London in 1975, timed to coincide with the survey exhibition The Condition of Sculpture, selected by the artist William Tucker (born 1935) for the Hayward Gallery, London that year. Tucker chose Gili’s Kinchin 1975 (private collection) to be in his exhibition, a work which resonated with his understanding of sculpture as ‘the language of the physical’. Tucker proposed that sculpture should be actively free-standing: ‘“Free” as in wholly exposed to our perception, in light; “standing”, as in withstanding the pull of the earth’ (William Tucker, The Condition of Sculpture, exhibition catalogue, Arts Council of Great Britain, London 1975, p.8). Seen in this context, rather than weightlessly defying gravity Vertical IV can be seen as freely expressing it.

Vertical IV remained in the artist’s possession until it was acquired by Tate. The work that preceded it, Vertical III 1975, was acquired by the Arts Council Collection the year it was made, the first sculpture by Gili to enter a public collection.

Further reading
Five Interviews: Katherine Gili with David Robson, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Annual, Hayward Gallery, London 1979, pp.116–117, 124–5.
Sam Cornish, Katherine Gili: A Career Survey, exhibition catalogue, Poussin Gallery, London 2011.

Zuzana Flaskova
December 2018

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