Nicholas Pope

Liar Liar

2008–9

Not on display
Artist
Nicholas Pope born 1949
Medium
15 unglazed ceramic forms
Dimensions
Overall display dimensions variable
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased 2012
Reference
T13693

Summary

Liar Liar 2008–9 comprises fifteen upright totemic forms constructed from unglazed fired ceramic. As with all of Nicholas Pope’s ceramic vessel works, each form is made using the coil technique and is then fired to earthenware at about 900°C. The white clay body that Pope has used resembles a white porcelain effect, without the shrinkage and distortion of porcelain. Each standing element is constructed in two parts that have been fitted together. The simple forms of each figure – a bulbous foot area and waist, as well as hooded heads that create a circle of dark shadow – lend each totem, especially when gathered together, a quizzical air.

Following a visit to Tanzania in 1982, two years after he represented Britain at the Venice Biennale, Pope contracted a form of viral encephalitis that went undiagnosed for several years until the ensuing illness and its repercussions led him to stop working between 1987 and 1992; he gradually started to work again after 1992. In brief moments of therapeutic activity Pope began working in clay, and it was in small and hesitant pieces of coloured porcelain that he first worked on the ideas which would emerge as his conception of ‘The Oratory of Heavenly Space’, an imaginary space housing groups of sculptures that convey specific cycles or ideas concerned with religious belief. Pope’s purpose in taking belief as his subject, at a time of recovery from a life-changing illness, was not solely directed at questions of faith in a strictly religious sense, but was also related to his own sense of artistic self-belief. Liar Liar, as with much of his work after 1992, is still demonstrably related in form to his earlier work; Big Hoos 1982 (Tate T03536), for instance, also makes use of totemic figural forms. Similarly, his use of the materials and processes of ceramics was not an entirely new departure for him, as his exhibition in 1979 at Art and Project, Amsterdam had included ceramic porcelain pieces. Nevertheless, by addressing issues of faith and belief, works such as Liar Liar describe a definite shift both in his own work and from the prevailing concerns of much art of the period.

Pope’s adoption of the phrase Liar Liar as the title of this work is suggestive of both a schoolyard taunt and questions of belief and artifice in artworks. The hooded element of each of the forms offers a sense of furtiveness, as if proposing that something is being hidden away. This feeling is exacerbated by the dark shadows that fall across each of the ‘faces’ of these figures. The resulting contrast between the white of the ceramic and the black shadows, Pope has explained, is ‘like “yes” and “no”’, since ‘both have equal validity and “yes” can be switched to “no” in the studio without too much worry’ (email exchange between Nicholas Pope and Tate curator Andrew Wilson, 12 December 2011).

The totemic form adopted in Liar Liar reflects the process by which each element is made through the coiling technique. It has been repeated throughout Pope’s work since 1992, but is exemplified in the figures of the Apostles and the Multitudes for his The Apostles Speaking in Tongues Lit by their own Lamps 1993–6 (collection of the artist, exhibited in Art Now 8, Tate Gallery, London 1996). One of the artist’s aims with these works was to make abstractions of religious belief appear factual and this is consistent with his direct manipulation of material processes during the 1970s. In The Apostles Speaking in Tongues Lit by their own Lamps, the character or identity of each figure is communicated by symbolic attributes, while in Liar Liar the figures seem more like a group or pack demonstrating the same anthropomorphic behaviour. Pope has stated that, ‘The use of these symbols in nearly everything can be light touch and also full on heavyweight thump. While art history is full of precedent, using “faith/belief” as a topic seemed to put me out on a limb in the early 90s – but faith and belief are now right there in the forefront of life today.’ (Email exchange between Nicholas Pope and Tate curator Andrew Wilson, 12 December 2011.)

Further reading
Nicholas Pope, I Believe or do I: An Exhibition About the Oratory of Heavenly Space, exhibition booklet, Ledbury Poetry Festival, Ledbury 1998.
Nicholas Pope, ‘I Dream... Seven Deadly Sins Services 1 Mile’, Aesthesis: International Journal of Art and Aesthetics in Management and Organizational Life, vol.1, no.1, 2007, pp.48–54, https://digitalcommons.wpi.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1004&context=aesthesis, accessed 2 August 2018.
Penelope Curtis, Christopher Townsend and Andrew Sabrin, Nicholas Pope, London 2013.

Andrew Wilson
January 2012

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Display caption

Each of the 15 upright simplified totemic forms that make up Liar Liar has been constructed from fired unglazed ceramic. The simple forms of each figure – a bulbous footing and waist, and a hooded head that creates a circle of dark shadow – lends a particular character to each totem. The work’s title is equally suggestive of a schoolyard taunt and a broader concern with questions of belief, especially when raised in relation to artifice or fraud through artistic creativity. The hooded element of each of the forms suggests that something is being hidden away.

Gallery label, September 2016

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