Image of Bronze Shell by Wendy Taylor
Wendy Taylor, Bronze Shell. Photo © Dr Jim Roseblade

Wendy Taylor

Work exhibited: Bronze Shell.

Wendy Taylor has become one of the most widely exhibited sculptors in Britain although most of her works have not been shown in galleries or sculpture parks but in the civic spaces for which they were originally commissioned and designed.

The arc of her career has stretched from bold abstraction to undisguised figuration, often with a tendency towards the defamiliarising of the object through expansion or contraction of scale, or through the combining of disparate elements.

Perhaps her most well known work, Timepiece (1973) at Tower Dock, established the practice of recreating a familiar form with components borrowed from a related but different context and enlarged by several orders of magnitude in order to perform their new function. The form of a sundial was assembled using giant versions of dockyard nails, shackles, washers, and chains. These components went through transformations of size, but also through dramatic changes of behaviour, especially the lengths of chain, which abandoned their flexibility and became rigid enough to act as struts supporting the weight of the rest of the sculpture.

Taylor’s work moves among the forms and structures of an easily recognisable world, the world of transport, science, engineering and construction, but converts them all with an irresistible logic of displacement, so that no combination of parts is taken for granted, and everything is liable to be cannibalised, customised, and redeployed.

These very public sculptures are always conceptually orientated toward their locations, and are therefore constantly implying the adaptability and potential for rediscovery of their surroundings no less than of their own internal relations.

Yes despite their fascination with mechanical systems and manufactured objects, these works are often also subtly inferring the origins of their designs and of the processes that produce them in the forms and patterns of nature. Edward Lucie-Smith has pointed out how the Shell Form of 1982 ‘shows how Taylor’s preoccupation with twisted, ribbon-like shapes, wound around interior voids, could be referred back to a specific source in nature.’

A review of her entire output suggests the importance of these twisting, spiralling, involuted forms with their central voids, which are often the inspiration for her most virtuosic creations such as Brick Knot (1977-8) and Counterpoise (1979), where the most unlikely materials (bricks and mortar) are made to behave in a manner that seems completely out of character—or against their own nature—precisely in order to mimic nature.

Bronze Shell represents the purest expression of this hovering fascination with the organic origins of a geometrically exact evolution of form. Its amplification into an object many times larger than life only accentuates the absence of what created it, just as the many fabricated and engineered variations on its original organic theme propose a model of human creativity as displacement and transformation, as a series of departures from an origin that will always be eclipsed in the process of reinvention.

Hear from our students