RA Magazine Autumn 2013
Issue Number: 120
Bill Woodrow RA: A Cut Above
Bill Woodrow RA is known for his witty transformations of everyday objects. On the eve of his retrospective at the RA’s Burlington Gardens gallery, Edith Devaney celebrates the artist by exploring a key sculpture in the show
Bill Woodrow RA belongs to an influential group of British artists, born in the late
1940s and early 1950s, who are celebrated as a dominant force in sculpture internationally – a group that includes fellow Academicians Richard Deacon, Tony Cragg and Antony Gormley. Woodrow has had less exposure in the UK than his contemporaries in recent years, but a survey show of the artist’s work in the Royal Academy’s Burlington Gardens galleries this autumn aims to redress this. The full extent of Woodrow’s output will be examined, from his earliest sculpture Ear-Ring for Ablah (1969) – executed when he was at St Martin’s School of Art – to his most recent work.
Woodrow has been engaged directly with the development of this exhibition. Featuring more than 60 works presented chronologically, the show reveals the many significant stages and concerns through which Woodrow’s work has moved. His transitions from one stage to the next will also be explored, as will the extent to which each new phase is informed by the preceding one.
Bill Woodrow RA, 'Spin Dryer with Bicycle Frame Including Handlebars', 1981. Collection of the artist/Photo Edward Woodman.
In his ‘Fossil’ series, from 1979, Woodrow presented consumer items, such as telephones, as fossilised remains, embedding them in plaster to look as if they had been unearthed in an archaeological dig. These works were a comment on the disposal of objects and the waste of materials that this represented, as well as the conflict between the natural and technological worlds, and the extent to which one exploits the other.
Spin Dryer with Bicycle Frame Including Handlebars (1981) is an early example from Woodrow’s celebrated ‘Cut-out’ series and it emerged directly from his work using discarded bicycle frames. In Eight Bicycle Frames (1980) he dismantled these frames and rearranged them in patterns on the wall. (Woodrow is making a new configuration of them for the Burlington Gardens exhibition.)
In Spin Dryer with Bicycle Frame Including Handlebars, the discarded electrical appliance becomes host to the bicycle. An exciting silhouette emerges from the mundane metal cube of the spin dryer, inviting comparison with a sculpture being carved out of a block of stone. The skill of the execution gives the work a sense of simplicity, which serves to highlight the more complex and humorous relationship between the host and the emergent form.
Such humour and inventiveness is evident throughout Woodrow’s career. The RA show reveals the great extent to which he has explored a range of themes and working methods, and in doing so has constantly set himself new challenges.
- Bill Woodrow RA is at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, 7 November–16 February 2014. Supported by The Henry Moore Foundation. The exhibition coincides with the publication of The Sculpture of Bill Woodrow by Julia Kelly and Jon Wood, £40, Lund Humphries.
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