Phillip King



Not on display
Phillip King born 1934
Elm, slate and metal
Object: 2210 x 3200 x 2590 mm
Purchased 1979

Catalogue entry

T02345 WITHIN 1978–9

Inscribed ‘P. King 1978/9’ on wood (not visible when assembled)
Elm wood, slate, oil paint, 87 × 126 × 102 (220 × 320 × 260)
Purchased from the Rowan Gallery (Grant-in-Aid) 1979
Exh: Phillip King, Rowan Gallery, March–April 1979 (no catalogue)
Lit: John Glaves-Smith, ‘Phillip King/Shelagh Wakeley’, Art Monthly, May 1979, p.15 repr.; William Feaver, The Observer, 1 April 1979; Arts Review, XXXI, p.179; Lynne Cooke, ‘Phillip King's recent sculpture’ Artscribe, No.18, July 1979, pp.44–7
Repr: Art News, LXXIX, 1980, p.72; Financial Times, 3 April 1979; Art International, XXIII, September 1979, pp.70–1

King has always been interested in works which employ balancing or leaning and has always attempted to make pieces which appear to have lost their gravitational fixation: they seem to be dematerialised. (He has himself half-seriously suggested a sculptural parody of Archimedes - ‘The loss in weight is equal to the gain in quality.’)

The use of the cone as a basic sculptural form is found in works such as ‘Through’ (1965), ‘Rosebud’ (1962), and ‘And the birds began to sing’ (1964). In these works King was interested in the object conveying its internal structure from an understanding of the outside. These earlier sculptures are clearly defined objects; the emotional response they evoke, in part triggered off by the colour, is one of simple, often joyful, apprehension of the object.

In the later works which lead up to ‘Within’ the spaces which the objects inhabit are displayed both on their inside and out. He does not distinguish in importance between inner and outer and form ‘Open Bound’ (1973) on there is what he refers to as more ‘push-and-pull’ within the work and a more ‘all-over disposition’ of interest within it. In these pieces he likens the absence of a major element to modern musical compositions where the work is sustained evenly without emphasis.

This lack of emphasis in part reflects King's working method; he builds from a starting point in a particular direction expecting but not knowing when he might return to the beginning again, whilst expecting to do so. Whilst the process is in a sense additive, King compares it to the carver's methods of making sculpture - revealing something that is already there, like discovering a possible construction from within the material. ‘Within’ was assembled at Phillip King's Bedfordshire studio. He works by selecting pieces from a pool of material in and around the studio and then altering and reshaping the pieces as he is working. His approach is improvisatory, and he and his assistant try out a number of possibilities for the placement and fixing of each element. Whilst he tries to make the active process as short as possible and the time in between, the time for thinking as long, at no point is it a preconceived process but one that proceeds by trial and error.

King says that he is more interested in the emotional feelings that the sculpture arouses - primitive responses occasioned by their archetypal images.

‘Within’ is made from thirty-two pieces of slate, steel and elmwood fixed together by bolting, glueing and welding. The form is developed from one large upright elm trunk against which other elements rest or are fixed. A second wooden member leans towards the first with a ‘bridge’ constructed from glued wooden blocks and steel members dividing them. King recalls that part of his reason for using this was to get the sculpture to ‘first-floor level’ (to raise part of it from the ground). He began with a simple wooden trunk, but its final form, with slots and fixing points, is very different. He cut and changed the other parts, as he worked on the piece not only to fix them together but also for aesthetic reasons. Each element performs a structural function and is used to make up a complex interdependent arrangement. King likens the structure to that of a wall where each part operates in relation to all the others. (He has supplied a set of step-by-step instructions for erecting the piece which reveal a cumulative structural organisation). The steel, for example, has a linear appearance but its function is also to encase other parts and act as support and fixing points for the wood and slate. King used elm in this work because it was cheap and because he liked the natural feel of the material.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1978-80: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1981


Details, Details: Phillip King's Within 1978–9

Ken Simons

The sweat and toil of assembling a complex sculpture


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