Richard Wright

Untitled Figure 4


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Richard Wright born 1960
Screenprint on paper
Image: 840 × 1190 mm
Purchased 2003


BQ Poster Edition is a portfolio of five screenprints. It was published by Gallerie BQ, Cologne and printed by Karl-Heinz Neumann, Cologne in an edition of thirty on thin white wove paper, mid-blue in colour, on the reverse. Tate’s copy is the nineteenth in the edition. Each print was made using between two and seven colours. Named Untitled Figure and numbered from one to five, these prints were initially conceived as a series of posters to be pasted onto internal or external walls, thus highlighting the ephemeral nature of Richard Wright’s work. The portfolio utilises many of the graphic motifs that have come to typify Wright’s personal imagery. His work originates from a variety of sources including twentieth-century art movements – such as Geometric Abstraction, Op art and Minimalism – and patterns derived from Medieval manuscripts, Gothic and Baroque architectural decoration, and tattoo and biker-jacket motifs. The combination of such diverse references results in an abstract graphic vocabulary of images with endlessly variable effects and multiple compositional possibilities.

The five prints in the BQ Poster Edition combine simple geometric and organic forms drawn against backgrounds of flat colours. Converging lines, repetitive geometric progressions and modular systems play on perspective and illusion, creating optical effects that examine the processes of construction and perception of images. In Untitled Figure 1 (P78712) a succession of rectangular forms, one inside the other, generates a strong sense of depth. In contrast, the intricate organic shapes that make up Untitled Figure 2 (P78713) recall the flame-like imagery of a tattoo design. Untitled Figure 4 (P78715) includes a black and white image of two hands pointing in opposite directions surrounded by a heavy red grid. Wright trained in the techniques of traditional typography and sign writing and, sometimes, he includes letters in his works. These letters may form words, as in Untitled Figure 3 (P78714), where a series of rectangles outlined in different colours make up the words ‘PETAL, HARD AND DIAMOND’, and in Untitled Figure 5 (P78716) where we can read the words ‘BASTARD IN LOVE’, the title of a song by the American hardcore punk band Black Flag, formed in Los Angeles, California in 1976. Wright’s formal approach to text results in an attempt to question the everyday use of language, as curator Alex Farquharson has observed: ‘Meaning in Wright’s work is transmitted below language’s radar. He speaks of wanting to “corrupt” or “infest” language. Words, after all, are a code we agree on, while the aim of art as he sees it is to resist convention.’ (Quoted in Richard Wright, 2004, p.37.)

Wright started his career as a painter working on canvas, studying painting at Edinburgh College of Art (BA 1978–82). After taking a break from making art, he returned to it, studying for an MFA at Glasgow School of Art between 1993 and 1995. During these years, he destroyed all the works he had made before 1990. Challenging the commodity status of the art work, he rejected the idea of adding more objects to the world and began to explore the relationship between art, architecture and design, drawing directly onto the gallery’s walls. Wright often chooses awkward locations for his wall drawings, such as corners, the top of a wall or the space above a door, thus re-examining the relationship between the spectator and the architecture of the gallery space, and opening new ways of experiencing a work of art. His wall drawings works are direct descendants of minimalist and conceptual works of the 1970s that made a point of rejecting the objecthood of the canvas and sought to extend its limiting surface into the wall, for example Wall Divided Vertically into Fifteen Equal Parts, Each with a Different Line Direction and Colour, and All Combinations 1970 (T01766) by American artist Sol LeWitt (1928–2007).

Wright’s wall drawings may take several weeks to complete, but they have short lives. He has always emphasised the temporary nature of his works, which are erased once the exhibition finishes, and from there on live only in photographs or as memories of those who experienced them. As a result of this practice, most of Wright’s works from the late 1990s to the present have disappeared. His works on paper – such as these prints – still remain; however they too share the ephemeral nature of his wall drawings, as curator Katrina Brown has observed:

Despite their crucial ability to endure, to be moved about, used and re-used, applied to different contexts, these works crucially retain something of the substantiality of the wall drawings. For they can, as Richard says, be rolled up, torn up – they are flimsy. Only when on the wall do they discover their solidity. Like the wall drawings, their hold on the world is slight.

(Quoted in Richard Wright, 2004, p.12.)

Further reading:
Richard Wright, exhibition catalogue, Dundee Contemporary Arts, 2004.
Richard Wright, exhibition catalogue, Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen, Düsseldorf 2002.

Carmen Juliá
April 2009

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