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Sculptures by Conrad Shawcross unravel lyrical harmony of the physical world

Conrad Shawcross creates sculptural installations of the monumental scale with a variety of approaches and material to let the audience experience a sense of paradox and wonder.

by Dilpreet BhullarPublished on : May 31, 2021

The finesse of engineering technique and pragmatism of scientific thought are the two attributes that are often attached to the works of the UK-based sculptor Conrad Shawcross. Having said that, the sculptures thrive on the seamless course of creative ingenuity that remains crucial to the practice of Shawcross. The sculptures articulate the desire of the imaginative mind to unearth the lyrical harmony from the precision of numbers and facts. Shawcross, the youngest living member of the (RA) Royal Academy of Arts, had his formal training as an artist from the Chelsea School of Art, the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art, and the Slade School of Fine Art (University College London).

Nervous Systems Inverted | Conrad Shawcross | STIRworld
Nervous Systems Inverted Image: Courtesy of Conrad Shawcross

To string together the fields of geometry, philosophy, physics and metaphysics into the shape of the sculptures, the material plays an important role. Talking to STIR, Shawcross mentions how he selects the material for a particular creation that would rightly meet his requirements, “As an artist, I am always trying to create systems and machines that appear legitimate and have rational authority. So, we attempt elegant functional design in order to initially conceal more irrational poetic ideas within. To this end, the choice of material is made to do with properties other than just appearance but more its physical properties - strength, density, durability. By taking the approach of an engineer we can suspend disbelief a little longer when the artwork is encountered”. 

Paradigm | Conrad Shawcross | STIRworld
Paradigm Image: Courtesy of Conrad Shawcross

Amongst the long list of a variety of works, the sculptural installation Golden Lotus (Inverted) is indeed a rare work of art. The installation features a disembowelled Capri Lotus Elite hanging upside down from the ceiling of the gallery. When it was displayed at the Saatchi Gallery in London, the car floating in the air spun to the bespoke soundtrack by DJ Mylo (Myles MacInnes). Shawcross elaborates on the work that was born out of a few constraints and under a particular circumstance, “I had the car, which had been sitting dormant in a field for many years. I had long dreams of turning it upside down and attaching it to a ceiling but I don’t know where this came from! The dream never happened until one day Kobi and Philly from the Saatchi Gallery came along and told me about their show about rave culture. Rave was a disruptive joyful movement that turned the UK cutlet on its head. So, the simple anarchic act of flipping a 1980s sports car on its head and spinning it on the ceiling to the sound of Mylo tune seemed to make perfect sense”. 

Artist’s Portrait | Conrad Shawcross | STIRworld
Artist Conrad Shawcross Image: Courtesy of Conrad Shawcross

The artistic practice led by Shawcross underlines the exploration of human sensory awareness, where light is a medium that enables the viewers to envision a hitherto unseen slice of the physical reality. The work The Dappled Light of the Sun is a manifestation of the same idea enhanced by the play of light and shadow. 

Dappled Light of the Sun | Conrad Shawcross | STIRworld
Dappled Light of the Sun Image: Courtesy of Conrad Shawcross

Shawcross states that he has been exploring the patterns of light and its movement for more than two decades now, “The most obvious works that do this are the slow arc series which project a shifting shadow within a room. They turn a stable room into a shifting, tilting dimensional space. While these kinetic works deal with time and our perception of it, my static works, such as the Dappled Light of the Sun, ironically are more dynamic and potent in this stillness. The title refers to the shadow the work casts rather than the work itself and alludes to a universal human experience of sitting under a tree in the summer and looking up at the sun through the rich canopy of leaves”. 

Optic Labyrinth | Conrad Shawcross | STIRworld
Optic Labyrinth Image: Courtesy of Conrad Shawcross

The rustic appearance of the work the Dappled Light of the Sun is an invitation to gauge the dexterity with which the artist creates the sculpture of the monumental scale. Clinging on duality, the abstract nature of the sculpture evokes a sense of both “paradox and wonder” and “melancholy and sublime”. It is these subtle binaries running through the works, often punctuated with deep mechanical methods and processes, that over the years have defined the large body of Shawcross’ work. He adds, “I have really broad practice with many different approaches but I think that all the works are united by a desire to disrupt our sense of certainty and what we believe or assume to be real”.

Schism Pavillion | Conrad Shawcross | STIRworld
Schism Pavillion Image: Courtesy of Conrad Shawcross

Indeed, the consistency with which Shawcross pursues the aspiration to deflate the bubble of permanency demands perseverance, not to dissuade the audience from experiencing the streak of curiosity in the given world. 

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