Issue Number: 92
Taxi driver: Richard Wilson RA turned mechanic
Richard Wilson Meter's ticking, 2006, work in progress by Richard Wilson RARichard Wilson is a sculptor turned mechanic for his new show at the Barbican, reports Sam Phillips
‘My work doesn’t have a fixed vocabulary,’ explains Richard Wilson RA from his studio, a railway arch in Bermondsey that rumbles with every passing train. ‘Making variations on the same thing would just bore me.’
Repetition, it seems, is anathema to the artist, recently elected a Royal Academician. His 30-year career has been unpredictable at every turn, characterised by a wide variety of breathtaking, large-scale works – each one different from the rest and linked only by Wilson’s constant concern with altering viewers’ perceptions of reality. His best-known piece, 20:50 (1987), most recently installed in the Saatchi Gallery in County Hall, involves filling a gallery space waist-high with reflective engine oil. The oil surface works as a mirror and creates a vision of serene symmetry for the visitor by reflecting an image of the room above.
His current obsession is an obsolete black London taxi cab that forms part of a work in progress entitled Meter’s Ticking, the highlight of Wilson’s show at the Barbican. Wilson plans to suspend the vehicle on stilts and film himself burrowing upwards through the front, body and back of the vehicle, drilling his way with tools. The resulting film and the cab – full of the holes he has created from his journey through it – are displayed together, showing the same experience in two different ways.
The work has a hint of the absurd, but also, at heart, a sculptor’s concern for material and process. ‘I prefer the term sculptor,’ he says. ‘The title “installation artist” makes my work seem zany – somehow second class.’ Wilson is proud to join the RA and takes inspiration from the architect academicians: ‘The fact they can work on so many buildings at the same time gives me the courage to complete my work.’ But, unlike some of his fellow RAs, he is reluctant to delegate to assistants. ‘I love to be hands-on and fine-tune everything,’ he says. ‘Touching and playing with things gives me new ideas.’
Richard Wilson, The Curve, Barbican Art Gallery, London (020 7638 4141), 27 Sep–14 Jan; Richard Wilson: Five-Piece-Kit, Matthew Bown Gallery, London (020 7734 4790), 11 Oct–4 Nov
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