Francis Upritchard



In Tate Britain

Francis Upritchard born 1976
Wardrobes, polymer clay, epoxy putty, paint and silk
Object: 1440 × 3640 × 1200 mm
Presented by the artist and Kate MacGarry 2018


Land 2010 is a sculpture comprised of two found and adapted domestic wardrobes on which two figures and a selection of small hats are placed, along with four pieces of silk which are sited and draped at the left and right sides of the wardrobe structure. The silks attached to the structure appear to be hand-dyed and, as such, connect to both craft and fashion histories, while the found and augmented wardrobes the sculptures sit on connect the work to design history. The figures and all of the hats were modelled by the artist from polymer modelling clay and painted bright yellow. The figures, individually titled as The Pair, are a man and woman who are naked other than an oversize cowboy hat that obscures the majority of the man’s face. He has his arm around the woman who crouches slightly so that she is peering under his hat. Placed around the surface of the sculpture, and comparatively large in scale in relation to the figures, are four individual hats titled The Hat of Tyrol, The Top Hat, The Bowler and The Cap, and one set of two joined hats, titled The Pair like the figures. Hats are a recurring form in Upritchard’s work, with more recent examples becoming increasingly elaborate and featuring embellishments such as embroidery and patches.

Consistent with the artist’s practice, Land presents the viewer with an ambiguous scene that has no easily understood narrative, but instead leads us to devise our own thoughts as to why these figures might be standing here, together and naked, surrounded by these oversized accessories. The pair do not appear particularly alarmed by their predicament, but there is an air of melancholy heightened by their obscured eyes. In this context, the title Land might refer to people who have landed from another environment or to pioneers who, after a long journey, have uncovered a new and strange country.

Upritchard’s sculptures are made from polymer clay, typically painted in bright colours and often presented on elaborate bases which have been designed by the artist, sometimes in collaboration with the designer Martino Gamper (born 1971). Her characters are often paused mid-gesture and, whether alone or in groups, appear to be involved in a narrative that the audience is not party to. Their scale, colouring and clothing impart an otherworldly quality and their eyes are typically closed or partly shielded, heightening their sense of isolation and separation. Upritchard began to focus on figurative sculpture around 2008 (having previously worked most regularly with found and made objects assembled in reference to historic museum collecting and display) and has talked about using strong, sometimes single colours, such as the yellow used in Land, to impart a futuristic feel. The work’s scale relates to the artist’s own body and her ability to physically manipulate material, preferring to model small objects that are easy to handle.

The miniature bodies that she meticulously crafts are often clothed in costumes or accessories that heighten the characterisation of the figure; they might, for example, wear long robes reminiscent of historic images of tribespeople or an all-in-one costume that recalls depictions of medieval court jesters. The highly patterned and brightly coloured textiles that she uses, as well as some of the tailoring, is often discussed in terms of the hippy movement of the 1960s. However, the artist has regularly commented that while she grew up in a carefree communal environment, primarily she associates hippies with failure, and that everything embraced and envisioned by the 1960s counterculture either ended unhappily or didn’t actually materialise. Nonetheless, her apparent rejection of these anti-conformist ideals, as expressed in the disenchantment of her sculpted figures, may also disguise a deeper longing for their achievement.

Further reading
Francis Upritchard, Mandrake, Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin 2013.
Francis Upritchard: Jealous Saboteurs, exhibition catalogue, Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne and City Gallery, Wellington 2016.

Linsey Young
November 2017

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