This autumn, marking the 30th Curve commission at the Barbican, New Zealand born and London-based artist Francis Upritchard has created a new, site-specific installation. Drawing from figurative sculpture, craft traditions and design, blended with references from literature and history, Upritchard pushes these practices into new directions, bringing them together to create a striking and original visual language of her own.
Playing with scale, colour and texture, Upritchard has populated the gallery space with a spectrum of different materials, vibrant figures and eclectic objects. She begins with brightly coloured polymer clay sculptures in various poses, bedecked in hand-made garments supported by plinths, leading to a series of bespoke metal and glass shelves suspended from the ceiling, displaying smaller-scale felt hats.
As the exhibition unfolds the colour slowly weakens from the sculptures concluding with large figures made from balata, a wild rubber harvested in Brazil. These are inspired by the Parthenon Reliefs; creatures from science fiction novels; and the Japanese folklore characters of Ashinaga-Tenaga (Long Legs and Long Arms), who extol the virtues of harmonious working relationships, coalescing into a melting pot of traditions where no dominant culture persists.
"I'm envisaging an exhibition which works with the brutalist Barbican architecture with stone, wood, glass and metal – brutal but rational with my delicate, strange and sometimes colourful works atop," she explains. "I've been thinking about The Curve as offering a kind of rainbow-light spectrum that plays with distortion and scale."
Upritchard’s works are characterised by a sense of curiosity and exploration of the human form, from medieval knights to meditating futuristic hippies, these tantalising figures are hand-modelled in polymer clay, their skins painted in a range of monochromatic colours or distinct gridded patterns.
Traversing cultures and time periods, her figures resist easy categorisation, allowing for multiple readings. Hand-woven blankets, tie-dyed silks and bespoke garments often decorate these deftly made sculptures which are frequently combined with found objects. Upritchard also regularly creates sculptural installations of utilitarian objects from vases, plates, lamps or urns often imbued with anthropomorphic forms and carefully arranged into mysterious domestic environments. More recently, she has experimented with both form and material, creating a group of dinosaurs out of papier-mâché and extracts from wild rubber trees in Brazil.
Francis Upritchard: Wetwang Slack opens in The Curve on Thursday 27 September 2018.