Installation view, 'Phyllida Barlow. Dock', Tate Britain, London, England, 2014 © Phyllida Barlow. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Alex Delfanne

Phyllida Barlow: GIG

  • 15 July – 2 November 2014

This resource has been produced to accompany the exhibition, ‘Phyllida Barlow: GIG’, at Hauser & Wirth Somerset.

About Phyllida Barlow

Phyllida Barlow was born in 1944 in Newcastle. She studied at Chelsea School of Art, London and then the Slade School of Fine Art, where she later became a Professor. She became a Royal Academician in 2011 and lives and works in London. Phyllida Barlow has had an important influence on younger generations of artists through her work and long teaching career in London art schools.

What inspires her work?

Phyllida Barlow is inspired by the everyday objects that surround us, she notices materials and spaces and is interested in the relationships between them. Her work shows a knowledge of art history and other sculptors from the past, such as Robert Smithson or Richard Serra. The activity of making sculpture is also inspired by her own position, continuing to teach along side her practice has inspired her choice of materials.

What does her work look like?

She creates temporary construction-like sculptures, with a very tactile, materiality that appear in direct contrast to the permanent and traditional monumental sculpture found around the UK. Most of her work is so large that you have to walk around it and engage in it in a physical way, this further reinforces a sense of space, and a physicality that goes beyond individual reach.

Phyllida Barlow, 'no title: brokenboxtube,' 2014. © Phyllida Barlow. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Alex Delfanne

What are her main themes?

Her work seems to ask questions about what constitutes sculpture and its relationship with its surroundings and space in general. In many of her installations, the sculptures appear as vertical masses, draped fabrics and balanced forms that dominate the galley space. These are so large that a team of artists is usually required to assist in the construction. For the exhibition, ‘GIG’ Barlow will transform the gallery spaces with her enormous sculptures that continue her themes of recycling, draping, the juxtaposition of materials with opposing qualities for example, hard/soft.

How does she make her sculptures?

For much of her career as an artist Barlow creates anti-monumental sculptures from inexpensive, or throw-away materials such as cardboard, fabric, plywood, polystyrene, scrim and cement. Barlow experiments with these materials and the process of re-cycling and re-contextualising them to create large-scale, three-dimensional objects that could be described as collages. Her constructions are often crudely painted with industrial paint in bright, bold colours, resulting in abstract, oversized forms: the methods of construction are left completely visible, revealing the physicality of the making process. She works with material rather than against it, i.e. fabric draped or sagging, wooden planks vertical or horizontal, masses of concrete or other hard materials that seem to be balanced or propped by contrasting forms.

Does she work in any other ways?

Phyllida Barlow also makes drawings. She does not consider her drawings to be preparation for her sculpture but as art forms in their own right. Her drawings take forms and objects from the real world, like her sculptures and she uses a range of media such as, pencil, pastel, charcoal, acrylic and watercolour. Consistent with her sculpture, Barlow’s drawings make bold use of vibrant colour as a means of expression and employ a range of techniques such as cross-hatching, scribbling or covering expanses of paper in washes of flat colour.

How does she title her work?

This exhibition is titled; ‘GIG’ it suggests whirly-gig, celebrations, colour and movement, possibly relating to the countryside celebrations found in rural locations. Previous shows have been called, Brink, Dock, Street, Siege and Heap. All of these titles refer to very physical things found in the urban landscape.

What other artist’s work does it relate to?

Barlow taught at the Royal College and Slade School of Art; she taught artists such as Rachel Whitread and Tactica Dean.

Installation view, 'Phyllida Barlow. ...Later', Hauser & Wirth New York, 69th Street, 2012. Photo: Genevieve Hanson


Collage Used to describe both the technique and the resulting work of art in which pieces of paper, photographs, fabric and other ephemera are arranged and stuck down to a supporting surface. Other artists to consider: Ellen Gallagher.

Installation Mixed-media constructions or assemblages usually designed for a specific place and for a temporary period of time. Other artists to consider: Pipilotti Rist.

Materiality A focus on the physical qualities or state of the material as integral to the art. Other artists to consider: Eva Hesse.

Monument A structure created to commemorate a person or event. Monument often refers to a building or structure of historical or cultural significance. Other artists to consider: Thomas Houseago.

Recycling Making something new out of something that has been used before. Other artists to consider: Dieter Roth.

Sculpture Three-dimensional art made by one of four basic processes: carving, modeling, casting, constructing. Other artists to consider: Louise Bourgeois.

Site-specific Refers to a work of art designed specifically for a particular location and that has an interrelationship with the location. Other artists to consider: Dan Graham.    

Suggested Activities During Your Visit Note: you will need to bring pencils and a sketchbook.

Activity 1 Make a circle shape by putting your thumbs and fingers together; this is you viewfinder. Look through your viewfinder at parts of the exhibition, find the view you find most interesting and draw it into a circle.

Activity 2 Negative space is the space that surrounds an object in space. Just as important as that object itself, negative space helps to define the boundaries of positive and negative space. Look through a viewfinder at the sculptures and rather than drawing them, try to draw the spaces around and in between them.

Activity 3 Find a partner and ask each other what you feel about the exhibition and how it makes you feel. Try describing the work to your partner and getting them to draw a response to your words.

Practical Activity Prompts and Ideas for Discussion Following Your Visit

Key Stage 1 and 2 What can you make from a cereal box, a juice carton, bubble wrap or plastic bags? Can you think of ways to recycle any unused items in your home? What adjectives can you think of to describe her work?

Key Stage 3 List other items that you think Phyllida Barlow might like to make sculpture from. Why do you think she would choose these materials/ objects? Her work is often concerned with opposites; can you make your own sculpture in this way? Think small rather than large, soft rather than hard etc.

Key Stage 4 and beyond How does the exhibition help you define the difference between sculpture and installation? What is more valuable, the process or the product? Is collage a 2D or 3D process? What are the differences between monuments and sculptures? And do you think we still need monuments?

Supplementary Research Godfrey, Mark, Barlow, Phyllida [et al.], ‘Objects For… And Other Things: Phyllida Barlow’, London: Black Dog Publishing, 2004 Moszynska, Anna, ‘Sculpture Now’, London: Thames & Hudson, 2013 Judith Rugg, ‘Exploring Site-specific Art: Issues of Space and Internationalism’, London:I.B.Tauris, 2010 Simpson, Ronnie, Barlow, Phyllida, ‘Phyllida Barlow: STINT’, Warwick: Mead Gallery, Warwick Arts Centre, 2008

Inspiring Websites That May Help with Your Project

Phyllida Barlow GLADE, Global Learning and Development Education Environmental Education Designing stage sets Installation Art Landmarks, Festivals and Customs etc Counter Monuments