David Musgrave

Transparent Stick Figure

2009

Not on display

Artist
David Musgrave born 1973
Medium
Resin and steel
Dimensions
Object: 390 x 16 x 40 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 2012
Reference
T13656

Summary

      Transparent Stick Figure 2009 is a wall-mounted sculpture in resin by the English artist David Musgrave. The work is formed of two separate pieces: four curved sticks joined together to form the head of the figure; and a vertical stick branching into two at the bottom to represent the legs, with a small stick placed horizontally across the middle to represent the arms.

Like Animal 1998 (Tate T13657), the work was made from modelling putty and cast in transparent resin; the two parts were then joined together with steel fixings. The stick elements were based on real sticks found by the artist, which he then remodelled to complicate the basic structure further. Musgrave outlines the importance of the evidence of construction in the finished work:

I like to show everything I can about the construction of a work. I’ve used transparent materials quite often, partly because you can reveal things, but also because it makes clear the difference between seeing and existing. You infer the presence of a transparent object, you don’t properly perceive its body. I think of this work as an eccentric lens. You see the wall, the distorted fixings and the effects of light more than an object.
(David Musgrave, email correspondence with Tate curator, Katharine Stout, 9 May 2012.)

Musgrave’s sculptures, like his drawings, instil seemingly throwaway images with gravity, complexity and a subtle presence that invites the viewer to look at them more carefully. Transparent Stick Figure is exemplary of the way in which Musgrave tests the limits of recognition by slowing down the instantaneity of the process of identifying the human form. Discussing this work, he has commented:

Transparent Stick Figure was the result of paring away certain things in my work. The stick figure is arguably the simplest form of representation, the barest signature of human presence, but it’s not ‘simple’ when you really examine it. There’s no standard for making one, and each has its own meanings and peculiarities. It represents the looker and the maker, but is its own thing ultimately. In my work it’s both conceptual notation and something very particular and formal, an occasion for invention.
(David Musgrave, email correspondence with Tate curator, Katharine Stout, 9 May 2012.)

Transparent Stick Figure was produced through a painstaking and deliberate process of sourcing sticks, remodelling them in putty and then casting them in resin, all of which undermines the casual, throwaway use of the stick figure symbol as a shorthand. This process is characteristic of Musgrave’s experimentation with the limits of figuration, evident in other works such as Plane with Inverted Figure 2007 (Tate T12760) and Folded Plane No.2 2009 (Tate T13223).

Further reading
Living Dust, exhibition catalogue, Norwich Gallery 2004.
Recognition: Anna Barriball and David Musgrave, exhibition catalogue, Arnolfini, Bristol 2004.

Katharine Stout
May 2012
Arthur Goodwin
February 2019

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Display caption

Musgrave often works across different media and materials with similar subject matter: that of the stick figure or the simplest means of representing the human form. Made from modelling putty which was then cast in transparent resin and its parts joined together with steel fixings, the artist sees this work acting as ‘an eccentric lens. You see the wall, the distorted fixings and the effects of light more than an object.’ Transparent Stick Figure tests the limits of recognition by slowing down the identification of the human form

Gallery label, October 2013

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