Phillip King

Dunstable Reel


Not on display

Phillip King 1934 – 2021
Painted steel
Object: 1968 × 5067 mm
Presented by Alistair McAlpine (later Lord McAlpine of West Green) 1970

Technique and condition

This very large floor based abstract sculpture covers an area of almost five square metres. It is assembled from five individual sections formed from mild steel sheet, variously cut, curved and welded to form large bold shapes. Two are painted yellow, two magenta and the remaining section, which is made from two distinct shapes welded together, is part yellow, part magenta. The sections bolt together for display and form a closed composition.

The steel surfaces were very carefully prepared by the artist by shot-blasting to achieve a clean surface ready for priming. The undercoat and top paint layers were then applied by brush. The yellow was a cellulose enamel paint, matt appearance, with a polyurethane varnish coating. The magenta was Rowney’s Acrylic Paint, gloss appearance, with no varnish applied.

In 1999 this work had not been displayed for more than twenty years due to the poor condition of the paint surfaces. Dirt, scuffs and small areas of damage were present and especially noticeable on the large areas of pure colour. The work was therefore re-painted by Tate Sculpture Conservation in consultation with the artist and after analysis of the original paint had been carried out. Prior to repainting, the surfaces were sanded down and therefore the original priming layers remain. Where any metal was exposed, it was sealed with an acrylic resin. The new paint was colour matched to the original and is a modern high quality artist’s acrylic. It should age well and be less susceptible to dirt pickup.

The piece is in good condition. The weld joins are strong and there is no distortion to any of the pieces. However, over the years many of the original fixings have been damaged during repeated installation and have had to be replaced due to the amount of strain they are under while the work is installed.

Melanie Rolfe / Bryony Bery
September 2002 / May 2004

Catalogue entry

Phillip King b. 1934

T01361 Dunstable Reel 1970

Not inscribed.
Painted steel, 77½ x 199½ x 162¼ (197 x 507 x 413).
Presented by Alistair McAlpine 1971.
Exh: Rowan Gallery, July 1970; The Alistair McAlpine Gift, 1971 (24, repr. in colour and black-and-white).
Lit: Anne Seymour, in catalogue of The Alistair McAlpine Gift, 1971, pp.65–71.

The sculpture is in an edition of three, plus one artist’s copy. The second version belongs to the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; the third to Leicestershire Education Authority. King’s conception of Dunstable Reel’ arose from seeing his sculptures ‘Call’ and ‘Blue Blaze’ on exhibition at his one-man show at the White-chapel Gallery 1968. He had already seen ‘environmental’ sculpture at the Primary Structures exhibition, Jewish Museum, New York, 1966. King said he wanted to make more ‘flexible open’ sculptures; however he thought that if his open sculptures each comprised a group of arranged forms, he might be distracted by mere visual arrangement. The artist is concerned that his sculptures should be appreciated as more than the relationship and articulation of certain forms. He decided to introduce more space into his sculptures, but in the case of T01361 continued to append the forms together. He also wanted to make sculpture which could be set up either indoors or in the open air. He was interested that the sculpture would be subject to light changes in the open air, and thus the effects of the sculpture would be dependent upon external conditions. The artist made two ‘Reels’, ‘Reel I’ 1969, and ‘Dunstable Reel’ 1970. ‘Reel I’ is painted green and red: ‘Dunstable Reel’ yellow and red-violet. Both sculptures comprise a set of forms cut from thin sheet steel, which arc placed and welded together to form a cubic shape. The group of forms seem to unfold from each other, establishing, ‘an infinite set of changes, akin to a dance’. ‘Dunstable Reel’ differs from ‘Reel I’ in that the elements appear to confront each other more massively, at least one of the pieces seems to be ballast, and the warm yellow and deep violet contrast forcibly. The artist said (conversation 1971): ‘It is a much more heavy thing, a slow lift and movement of one thing against another rather than a tip-toe jumpy thing’.

The artist first made a model in hardboard and wood, and a steel version was made for King by a factory: but he participated in its construction at all times.

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1970–1972, London 1972.

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