British sculptor Frances Richardson, 2017 recipient of the Mark Tanner Sculpture Award, endows utilitarian materials such as Perspex and wood veneer with unexpected lyricism and elemental force. Her Tanner Award show, “Not even nothing can be free of ghosts” (at Standpoint Gallery in London, then Cross Lane Projects in Kendal, northern England), gave full rein to her poetic sensibilities as material, form, and content engaged in a bewitching interplay of doubles and reflections between pieces and sometimes within one work. Loosely based on the theme of water as a metaphor for the state of perpetual searching, the exhibition marked a departure in approach for Richardson, breaching her self-imposed mandate to use materials with “no history” and exploring a conspicuously intimate scale in relation to her 2006–13 series of monumental MDF I-beams that forcefully dictated movement through space.
Richardson’s recent works include Because the two parts don’t quite touch (2019), created for “What isn’t here can’t hurt you,” an elegant show with Alison Wilding at the Royal Society of Sculptors. Here, Richardson employs strips of laminated white correx, typically used to protect flooring during construction projects, to create a large-scale, broken boat form inspired by John Everett Millais’s Ophelia (1851–52). To compound the sense of drowning, she positioned two hefty black ceramic balls adjacent to the decrepit structure. Whether involving installation, photography, video, or drawing, Richardson’s works remain rooted in sculpture. Rejecting material hierarchies to achieve a deeper sensitivity, she gives equal weight to volume and space, presence and absence, history and memory.
Elizabeth Fullerton: What was the concept behind “Not even nothing can be free of ghosts”?
Frances Richardson: Rather than working with the architecture of Standpoint Gallery as a formal starting point, I spent time in the space, where I had a strange sense of water. To start with something that isn’t tangible is an interesting stance, and not how I usually start, so it provided a problem to work with . . .
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