William Tucker

Sleeping Musician


Not on display

William Tucker born 1935
292 × 432 × 330 mm
weight: 37 kg
Presented anonymously in honour of Tom Bendhem 2002


Tucker was born in Cairo of English parents and educated in England. He read history at Oxford (1955-8), where he attended life drawing classes at the Ruskin School of Art, before studying fine art at Central and St Martin’s School of Art, London (1959-61). During this period he was attracted to the physical immediacy and radical abstraction of the American Abstract Expressionist painters. At the same time he was influenced by what he perceived as the ‘cool and rational approach’ of Constantin Brancusi (1876-1956), Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) and David Smith (1906-65). In 1965 Tucker’s work was included in the important New Generation exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery, London and he represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1972. He moved to America in 1976 and became an American citizen in 1977.

Tucker’s early work, made during the 1960s and 70s, was constructed from industrial materials and characterised by its emphasis on linear and geometric abstraction. Like many of his contemporaries, Tucker rejected the traditions of narrative and figurative sculpture. He has explained: ‘the human image in sculpture had for me been contaminated by what I perceived as the facile and rhetorical posturing of the followers of Rodin in the post-war period, and I wanted no part of it. I wanted an art that would be pure, logical and distanced; its material would discourage touch, its evocation of the human would consist only in its location and its size – that it inhabited and articulated a space of human dimensions.’ (Quoted in William Tucker: Recent Sculptures and Monotypes, [p.3].) In the early 1980s, in a dramatic shift in materials and technique, he began building organic contours onto geometric armatures using plaster and scrim (see Guardian IV 1983, Tate T07982). From this time his sculptures representing human forms have been modelled by hand in clay and plaster before being cast in another material. He has observed that ‘modelling is the most direct way of understanding the human body, but not from outside ... but from within, from the consciousness of being in one’s own body.’ (Quoted in William Tucker: Recent Sculptures and Monotypes, [p.4].)

During the 1990s Tucker became increasingly preoccupied with August Rodin (1840-1917), whom he admired for having overcome the need for physical completeness in his representation of the human body. As a result, Tucker’s most recent work comprises heads and torsos emerging from massive, craggy, boulder-like forms. Sleeping Musician is one of a series of crudely depicted heads he began making during his move from New York to Williamsburg, Massachussetts in 1998. While his new studio was being constructed he started to model small heads in plaster, something he had not done since his student days in the 1950s in Oxford. He has commented that Brancusi’s Sleeping Muse (1909-10) was ‘a constant touchstone’ during this period (quoted in artist’s commentary, Arts on the Point, museum website). Several of these heads have been scaled up and cast in tougher materials such as concrete and bronze. Sleeping Musician represents a head lying on its side in repose. As is typical of Tucker’s sculptures, the human form is not overtly visible. Protrusions suggesting a large hooked nose, lips and an ear, and deep impressions beneath a brow-like overhang suggesting an eye sockets confirm human status. The sculpture is slightly larger than life size and was cast solid, resulting in an unusually heavy weight. The bronze is patinated with yellowish green and orange over brown. Sleeping Musician was cast in an edition of six of which this is the first.

Further reading:
A Dance of Stillness: Sculpture at Goodwood, exhibition catalogue, Goodwood Sculpture Park, West Sussex 1999
William Tucker: Recent Sculptures and Monotypes, exhibition catalogue, Annely Juda Fine Art, London 1987
William Tucker, exhibition catalogue, Bothy Gallery, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield 2001

Elizabeth Manchester
June 2004

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Display caption

In the 1960s William Tucker was one of the pioneers of abstract sculpture in Britain. However, by the 1980s, he had abandoned his technique of assembling works out of steel and timber and began modelling directly in plaster and clay. He developed a new interest in the human form, which was directly linked to his change in technique. Tucker observed that ‘modelling is the most direct way of understanding the human body’. Here the rugged, lumpen surface of the sleeping musician’s face recalls the heavy features of Picasso’s monumental painted and sculpted figures.

William Tucker was born in Cairo in 1935. He grew up in Britain and now lives in the United States.

Gallery label, August 2004

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