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Phyllida Barlow. small worlds - FAD Magazine

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Phyllida Barlow. small worlds


Phyllida Barlow Portrait, 2018 © Phyllida Barlow © Royal Academy of Arts, London
Photo: Cat Garcia

For more than fifty years, acclaimed British artist Phyllida Barlow has created sculptures and large-scale installations using a direct and intuitive process of making. Her first solo exhibition at Hauser & Wirth Zürich,  ‘small worlds’, features new sculptures, drawings and wall-works made by the artist during and inspired by the 2020 lockdown in London. The exhibition in Zurich coincides with Barlow’s major survey show at Haus der  Kunst in Munich, opening on the 4th March 2021.


Installation view, ‘Phyllida Barlow. small worlds’, Hauser & Wirth Zürich, online from 6 February – 14 May 2021 © Phyllida Barlow. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

Barlow’s sculptural practice is grounded in an anti-monumental tradition and is concerned with the relationship between objects and the space that surrounds them. She is known for transforming humble, readily available materials through layering, accumulation, and juxtaposition, often drawing inspiration from her urban surroundings and referencing construction debris, architectural details, signs, and discarded objects. The works on view encourage an intimate encounter between object and viewer, continuing a career-long exploration into the ways in which sculpture can dissolve boundaries between realms of experience. 


Phyllida Barlow  untitled: smallmodernart, 7; 2020 lockdown 7 2020 Plywood, adhesive, plaster, paint, PVA, steel 28.5 x 22 x 28 cm / 11 1/4 x 8 5/8 x 11 in © Phyllida Barlow Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

The artist’s new ‘lockdown’ sculptures in Zurich continue a shift away from the more immersive environments  within her practice. Created in her home studio in London, these smaller sculptures, placed on steel plinths or  directly onto the wall, invite the viewer to consider the works on an individual and more intimate basis. Working  on a smaller scale during this period has also allowed the artist to return to a more direct means of making.

Phyllida Barlow  untitled: brink; 2020  2020 Canvas, cement, bonding plaster, PVA, paint, plaster, plywood, polystyrene, polyure-thane foam, spray paint, steel 198 x 76 x 50 cm / 78 x 29 7/8 x 19 5/8 in © Phyllida Barlow Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

‘i wanted simplicity of making: 
a minimum of technical problems, speedy solutions, easy to use materials, 
not too much thinking, a return to previous works, and memories of previous works, no experimenting, to trust  what i know, to forget innovation;’

As Barlow writes
Phyllida Barlow  untitled: pinkholder; 2020 lockdown 15 2020 Plywood, plaster, PVA, sand, scrim, cement, paint, steel, fabric 173 x 35 x 31 cm / 68 1/8 x 13 3/4 x 12 1/4 in © Phyllida Barlow Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

Varying in size, texture, materials, colour and shape, the lockdown sculptures have been transformed from  offcuts of previous works, using their raw materiality and structural elements as a starting point for creation.  Some of the works in the exhibition were inspired by the transformed landscape of London during the nationwide  lockdown – the streets, the buildings, the city’s lights – others by dreamscapes or previous works. Through  the individual positioning of these sculptures, Barlow continues to emphasise the transient, absurd, and often  joyous encounter between an object and its surroundings. 

Phyllida Barlow  untitled: smallmodernart, 9; 2020 lockdown 9 2020 Plywood, adhesive, plaster, paint, PVA, steel 23.5 x 28 x 22 cm / 9 1/4 x 11 x 8 5/8 in © Phyllida Barlow Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

The exhibition also presents a suite of new drawings made in 2020. Drawing is an integral part of Barlow’s  practice; she draws before, during and after creating sculptures, both as a means of developing a working  process and to visualise ideas which are later translated into three dimensions. Drawing provides Barlow with  the freedom to improvise and engage directly with materials. The resulting works are fluid and dynamic. She  works across media, using pencil, acrylic and watercolour, always with the intense physicality evident in her  sculptural work. The drawings in the presentation are reminiscent of stages or cityscapes. Here, the paper  becomes a space for adventure as Barlow creates unlikely compositions within her drawings which are freed  from the laws of physics. 


Phyllida Barlow  untitled: ceremonial monument; 2020 2020 Acrylic on watercolour paper 31 x 40.9 cm / 12 1/4 x 16 1/8 in © Phyllida Barlow Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

In addition to Barlow’s survey exhibition at Haus der Kunst in Munich opening on the 4th March 2021, upcoming artist projects include: ‘Another Energy: Power to Continue Challenging’ at Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, opening on the 22nd April. A new publication of her writings will be released by Hauser & Wirth Publishers in autumn 2021.  Barlow has also designed the stage for Mozart’s ‘Idomeneo’ at the Prinzregententheater in Munich, which will premiere in July 2021.

Phyllida Barlow. small worlds  Hauser & Wirth Zürich and hauserwirth.com  6th February – 14th May 2021 
Launches online on 6th February 2021 

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