Phyllida Barlow was a much-loved teacher at the Slade for nearly half a century. She had several illustrious students, including the YBA artist Sarah Lucas, finding her own success late in her career. In 2017 she represented Great Britain at the 57th Venice Biennale. Barlow was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire CBE in 2017 and was given a Damehood in the Queen’s birthday honours list in 2021. This special award recognised her outstanding achievements as an educator and artist.
A remarkably original, powerful and generous artist, Barlow singularly redefined a language of sculpture and consistently shattered conventions, challenging old notions of monumentality and of beauty – Hauser & Wirth
Barlow’s monumental sculptural works were fashioned from everyday household or DIY materials, including plywood, cardboard, plaster, cement, fabric and paint. Her career spanned over four decades, and her work was presented in solo exhibitions worldwide. However, the sculptor was best known for large-scale installations.
Emma Dexter, who chaired the Venice Biennale Selection Committee, said she was “truly a delight” “Barlow’s imposing sculptures and installations have enthralled and intrigued audiences around the globe in recent years. “Her work combined physical impressiveness with intricate and highly considered details concerning materials and techniques, allowing questions of making and experimentation to be at the core of her work. “Barlow transformed and dynamically altered every exhibition space she encountered.”
Barlow was born in 1944 in Newcastle and studied at Chelsea School of Art, London (1960–63) and then the Slade School of Fine Art, London (1963–66), where she later became a Professor. She was awarded a CBE for services to art in the New Year’s Honours list (2016) and has for over four decades made imposing, large-scale sculptural installations using inexpensive, everyday materials such as cardboard, fabric, timber, polystyrene, plaster, scrim and cement. Her distinctive work focused on her experimentation with these materials to create bold and colourful three-dimensional collages.
Drawing on memories of familiar objects from her surroundings, Barlow’s tactile and seemingly unstable sculptures often contrasted with the permanence and traditions of monumental sculpture. In works such as Peninsula at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in 2004 or Stint at Mead Gallery, Warwick Arts Centre in 2008, a cacophony of form, colour and materials filled the spaces. In Barlow’s TIP for Carnegie International in Pittsburgh, timber lengths wrapped in mesh, cement, and brightly coloured fabric ribbons cascaded en masse across the museum plaza to the entrance. In 2014, Barlow’s dock was created for the annual Tate Britain Commission, supported by Sotheby’s, and filled the Duveen Galleries.
Top Photo:Phyllida Barlow © P C Robinson Artlyst 2023
Read Sue Hubbard’s Venice Biennale Review Here