Nicholas Pope: Works and Days
2 November 2013 - 12 January 2014
Nicholas Pope (b. 1949) has been making work consistently for more than forty years. At the beginning of his career, he was well known for making mainly wooden sculptures, later he experimented with diverse materials including glass, aluminium, textiles, marble, knitting and porcelain, but predominantly in ceramic. Having eschewed the London art schools, he studied at Corsham, attracted by the highly regarded sculpture course run by the Bath Academy. Pope graduated in 1973 and soon afterwards Bill Tucker invited him to take part in the seminal The Condition of Sculpture at the Hayward Gallery. Pope also began showing with innovative galleries such as Garage in London and Art and Project in Amsterdam. As he began to exhibit around the world, Pope's work entered major international collections such as Tate, the Guggenheim and Kröller-Müller and in 1980, he was asked to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale.
Like many of his peers who emerged in the 1970s, who were preoccupied with finding a new and distinctive sculptural language, Pope's work marked a disassociation with the brightly coloured, welded metal or moulded plastic sculpture of an earlier generation and he began to be known for using mainly natural materials, which he carved, or more simply, stacked and assembled. The works in the current exhibition in the gallery and sculpture park at Roche Court comprise wood, stone, chalk, terracotta and rope. However, whilst these early works reveal his understanding and concern for materials, they are not about the actual materials per se. Instead, he spoke about his sculpture of the time as being about space and that "the way I use space is by affecting the material". Norbert Lynton wrote in 1980: "Pope needs a material he can work intimately, that resist as well as guides, makes physical demands on the sculptor, possibly quite extreme ones. When he works clay to make marvellously delicate terracottas he has to proceed with the care of a jeweller, when working chalk or sandstone lumps, with the attack of a lumberjack".
The works in the exhibition are amongst the sculptures with which Pope established his reputation. They include an arch of small wooden blocks held, somewhat precariously in place by a length of rope, whilst others consist of a series of roughly hewn 'odd' blocks arranged carefully in seemingly random groups. In these works, the spaces underneath and between individual elements are as important as the elements themselves and it is no surprise that "he has been likened to a choreographer, for the way in which he assembles loose parts into an ensemble" (Adriaan van Ravensteijn, 2003). Together, these works reflect Pope's compulsive experiments with gravity and are remarkable for the sense of balance, fragility and strength they convey, as well as a feeling of tension and excitement, as if they might at any moment suddenly fall away or indeed already have. The use of simple wooden blocks is reminiscent of Pope's time spent with carvers in Romania and his interest in Brancusi. Later pieces illustrate a sculptural vocabulary developed at the time of his trip to Tanzania, when he became interested in the ways abstract ideas and dreams might be conveyed through carved, organic shapes in wood and alabaster. These will be shown with examples of his drawings, whilst some of his earliest works will be shown alongside more recent pieces in the Artists House.
Nicholas Pope's exhibition at the New Art Centre coincides with the publication of his first monograph by Ridinghouse, which includes texts by Penelope Curtis, Andrew Sabin and Christopher Townsend and an interview between the artist and Stephen Feeke. For further information please click here. In June 2014, his monumental group 'The Apostles Speaking in Tongues' will be exhibited in Salisbury Cathedral, which was last shown in the UK at Tate in 1996. For further information on Nicholas Pope's work please click here or visit www.nicholaspope.co.uk