Alison Wilding OBE



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Not on display

Alison Wilding OBE born 1948
Steel, oak, pigment and beeswax
Displayed: 1945 × 1405 × 1000 mm
Purchased 1991


Receiver consists of two physically discrete elements placed side by side on the floor. The larger of the two is an upright, cylindrical form made from two sheets of galvanized steel bolted together. The roughness of its surface is accentuated by an unevenly applied grey/black pigmented oil wash, which gives the metal a streaky appearance. The sheet steel has been punctured several times from within, leaving the skin of this vertical tower scarred and lacerated. Nestling at its foot is the second sculptural element, an oval piece of carved oak. It is a form that recurs many times in Wilding's work and she has commented, in respect of Airing Light 1985-6 (Tate T049912), that it 'persistently defies attempts to define or "name" it' (quoted in Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996, p.509). The surface of the wood is hand tooled and its ends are scooped out to suggest an interior space. Its gouged exterior is covered in a thick layer of soft, brown beeswax. Flecks of gold paint have been applied randomly to the wax surface.

This sculpture exemplifies Wilding's interest in exploring the potential of binary relationships in her work. Contrasts in form, material, texture and light ensure that the issue of duality remains at the heart of Wilding's sculptural language. Receiver relates closely to a number of similar works in which a wooden oval form is juxtaposed with a large steel funnel, such as Airing Light. More broadly, it is consistent with Wilding's long-standing focus on a bi-partite mode of sculpture, in which two separate elements are combined to establish a quiet yet powerful relationship of interdependence. Here, the volumetric oak form contrasts with the planar steel structure, its soft waxy surface leaning gently against the unyielding metal. Wilding has also described her work as involving a shift between the registers of 'slow' and 'quick' sculptural ideas, both in terms of their making and their perception. As one commentator put it, 'the quick part, which often consists of non-ferrous sheet metal either coloured or left in its natural state, is sometimes a linear element which quickens the pace of a work in contrast to the slow, carved element which may be a solid mass' (Jeremy Lewison in 'Alison Wilding', The British Show, exhibition catalogue, The British Council 1985, p.120). The relationship between light and darkness is perhaps the most insistent of all the dualities explored in Wilding's work. In Receiver, the pierced skin of the steel tower allows glints of light into its dark interior, and alludes to a further opposition between the visible and the concealed. Wilding's frequent use of vessel forms that offer only an obscured interior view focuses attention on our desire to explore what is hidden. She says: 'I look inside things which is a bit like pulling back the carpet to see what is underneath…It's a kind of journey that I feel compelled to make with everything I do - that the inside is revealed.' (Quoted in Alison Wilding: Immersion, exhibition brochure, Tate Gallery Liverpool 1991 [p.4].)

Further reading:
Alison Wilding, exhibition catalogue, Serpentine Gallery, London 1985.
Alison Wilding: Immersion/Exposure, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery Liverpool 1991, p.15, reproduced p.47 in colour.
Alison Wilding: Sculptures, exhibition catalogue, Karsten Schubert Ltd., London 1987.

Helen Delaney
September 2001

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Display caption

Many of Wilding's sculptures concern duality. Works are frequently made from two separate elements. In this sculpture, a cylindrical form, made from two sheets of galvanised steel bolted together, is placed close to a much smaller barrel shaped element, made from oak. The surface of the wooden shape has been worked by hand and is punctured, so that the interior space is slightly revealed. The smaller shape bulges as if inhaling air from either end. As in all Wilding's work, there is a sense of poetic mystery, the suggestion of a concealed inner meaning.

Gallery label, August 2004

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