Happy Birthday Phillip King!

To mark the occasion of the artist’s 80th birthday, Thomas Dane Gallery held a major exhibition of works by Phillip King CBE (b. 1934 Tunis, PRA 1999-2004). There is also a presentation of King’s outdoor sculptures in Ranelagh Gardens, Chelsea for Masterpiece London art fair, which closes on 25th August.

Phillip King is not only one of the most important living British sculptors, but also one of the key international sculptors to emerge in the last 50 years. Dr. Lynne Cooke described him as ‘A leading figure among the group of Young British Sculptors known as the New Generation, who came to critical prominence in the mid 60s’. His work was included in the seminal Primary Structures exhibition at Jewish Museum, New York in 1966 alongside Andre, Caro, Flavin, Judd, Morris and others. King represented Great Britain at the 1968 Venice Biennale (with Bridget Riley) and has also been the subject of ambitious survey shows at Whitechapel Gallery (1968) and Hayward Gallery (1981). He recently exhibited in a remarkable survey show at Le Consortium, Dijon (2013) and his work is included in most major international public collections including Tate, London; MoMA, New York; Pompidou, Paris; MOCA, LA and The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

King’s interest in different media is a constant in his practice, and he has worked in ceramic, steel, plaster and wood and later also used plastics and PVC. King’s larger constructivist forms are characterised by their highly individual command of colour and elegiac form that belie their materials. The exhibition at Thomas Dane Galley featured some of King’s earliest works in wood and plaster to emerge from his studio in the early 1960s, employing what he felt was the most fundamental and primal of sculptural acts: standing two objects on end leaning against each other creating a triangle or apex.

King’s early sculptures were joined by recent triangular works that reveal the development of this idea over his 50 year career. His ‘primal’ sculptures are often rendered in unpainted plaster and wood. Their bare materials reveal King’s obsession with the very basic building blocks of sculpture, where the whiteness of the plaster acts to strip down sculpture to its simplest form to encourage closer examination.

The exhibition included two major works from his ‘cone’ series ( an extension of his ‘triangle series’) Rosebud (1962-65) and Sure Place (1976-77) which demonstrate King’s distinctive and accomplished style, conveying an assured confidence in his language of form and materials . Sure Place is wrought in a brutal, architectural form, made from semi-familiar domestic building materials that create a hut-like structure or hiding place, while in Rosebud King employs painted fibreglass to create a perfect, delicately coloured surface and allegorical form. Blue Blaze (1967) was one of King’s largest indoor works in the gallery and is an exciting, complex, almost architectural arrangement in bright monochrome royal blue, inspired by surrealism, classical archaeology and even Lego!

Phillip King’s outdoor sculpture brings a dramatic, lively burst of colour and form to the charming, verdant Ranelagh Gardens, for the Masterpiece art fair. Genghis Khan, with its tantalisingly prickly yet streamlined form, hints at character yet typifies what Lynne Cooke referred to as King’s ‘fundamentally modernist concert of sculpture as a fixed, solid entity, autonomous and discrete, composed intuitively…’. A wide variety of works are on show in the Gardens ranging from Dunstable Reel’s elegant, almost musical forms to the unforgiving angularity and jarring atmosphere of Bus Shelter. A summer feast for the senses!

Main image: Phillip King, Dunstable Reel, 1970-2013, steel 195.5 × 546 × 574cm.

Phillip King, Thomas Dane Gallery, London closed 26th July
Phillip King an Exhibition of Outdoor Sculpture, Masterpiece London in association with Thomas Dane Gallery, Ranelagh Gardens, London until 25th August.

Aurora Corio