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Ray Exworth: A Shutter Came Down

17 September - 30 October 2011

The works of sculptor Ray Exworth are monumental in both scale and importance to British contemporary art. Detailing a small part of Exworth’s huge, though unfinished work The Circus, Kestle Barton presents a landmark exhibition of assemblage in boxes and photographs documenting the work of one of ‘Cornwall’s most reclusive but exciting sculptors’.

Born in Ipswich in 1930, Ray Exworth studied at the Royal College of Art from 1955 to 1959. Twice awarded the Arts Council Major Award, he has lectured at the Royal College of Art, Royal Academy Sculpture School and Falmouth School of Art. For the last forty years he has lived and worked in relative seclusion at his home in Cornwall.

In 1984 a party of Arts Council buyers heard something about Ray Exworth reputation as ‘a sculptor of probable genius’ (Bruce Bernard, of the Arts Council panel) and set out to find him in the ‘far west’. They were amazed by what they found, writes another of their number, art critic John Spurling: ‘…in seven different outhouses – a mass of plaster, wood, paper mache, wire and I don’t know what, modelled, carved and partly assembled to fill – like the visitors – every available cranny’. They noted that it was mostly one work, a circus, that if assembled would fill a huge space, a circus tent for example. It was a work they loved but the question was, what could they buy? This work was not only unfinished, it was also much too large to show. Unable to buy The Circus complete, they discovered ‘a very small room stacked to the walls with open wooden boxes like drawers, each of which held a tableau of miniature plaster figures and collages made of found objects: ideas, models, doodles …we chose three for the Arts Council… four of us each bought one for ourselves’. Not long after the Arts Council’s visit Ray’s father died, affecting the artist profoundly. Ray found himself entirely unable to continue work on The Circus; it was, he says, as if ‘a shutter came down’.

While dwelling on thoughts and feelings about significant events in his life, he found a new project: a huge sculptural triptych inspired by memories of the bombings that destroyed his childhood homes, exhibited at the Royal Cornwall Museum in its three parts in 1995,1998 and 2003.This took precedence in his mind as something that was personal both to him and his parents and was also, he believed, of universal significance: he wanted to commemorate what was humanly important. The accompanying artistic statement scorned the then modish Minimalist principle, saluting instead the sculpture of Giacometti and Marini, who found ways of both expressing and engendering complex feeling and meaning into their work.

The Circus remained in the sheds, slowly deteriorating, and as time went on rats and mice added to the damage. Fortunately Jem Southam, currently Professor of Photography at Plymouth University and a very fine and widely collected photographer, visited Ray and his wife Susie regularly during the 1980s and in so doing was able to make photographs of the work. While The Circus remains unfinished, still standing in various outbuildings at Ray’s home, this exhibition brings together a collection of the wooden boxes described by the Arts Council panel of 1984, alongside Jem Southam’s documentary photographs of the piece. These will be shown together with a newly commissioned film of the work as it now stands, by photographer and filmmaker Chris Chapman.

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Jem Southam: Ray Exworth's Circus

Jem Southam

The Circus remained in the sheds, slowly deteriorating, and as time went on rats and mice added to the damage. Fortunately Jem Southam visited Ray and his wife Susie regularly during the 1980s and in so doing was able to make photographs of the work. While The Circus remains unfinished, still standing in various outbuildings at Ray’s home, this exhibition brings together a collection of the wooden boxes described by the Arts Council panel of 1984, alongside Jem Southam’s documentary photographs of the piece.

These photographs are available to buy, with proceeds going in part to The Wroxham Trust. Please enquire for details.

Jem Southam: Ray Exworth's A Garden for No 7

A Garden for No 7 (1992–95) was shown in 1995 and vividly recalled the suburban vegetable garden created by his father at 7, Wroxham Road. When the family moved in, the spaces back and front were as the builders had left them and the sculpture, subdivided into four sections; Lawn, Pond, Path and Wigwam deal with the innumerable changes, including the garden’s resurrection when the house was rebuilt, in a, “… constantly changing but enduring space. Trees came, grew old and were cut down, crazy paving came and went, a chicken coop, rabbit hutches, a pond, cabbages with snow on, the water butt with two inches of ice, hot childhood summers.”’

David Heseltine 2011

 

 

Ray Exworth: Black Drawings

Ray Exworth’s ‘black’ drawings ‘Firm in the belief that sculpture should have some social content, and reacting strongly against the view that international public art had become essentially abstract, inoffensive and mundane, Ray produced a vast number of preparatory drawings for The Circus. Staggering in their quantity and quality, they reflect a much more sombre and troubled frame of mind. By now, Ray had become reclusive, angry and disillusioned with a student body who in embracing the wind of change sweeping the art establishment, was increasingly dismissive of the disciplines and practices that had been central.’ David Heseltine 2011

Ray Exworth: Box constructions

Arts Council buyers and Ray Exworth’s box constructions

 

In 1984 a party of Arts Council buyers heard something about Ray Exworth reputation as ‘a sculptor of probable genius’ (Bruce Bernard, of the Arts Council panel) and set out to find him in the ‘far west’. They were amazed by what they found, writes another of their number, art critic John Spurling: ‘…in seven different outhouses – a mass of plaster, wood, paper mache, wire and I don’t know what, modelled, carved and partly assembled to fill – like the visitors – every available cranny’. They noted that it was mostly one work, a circus, that if assembled would fill a huge space, a circus tent for example. It was a work they loved but the question was, what could they buy? This work was not only unfinished, it was also much too large to show. Unable to buy The Circus complete, they discovered ‘a very small room stacked to the walls with open wooden boxes like drawers, each of which held a tableau of miniature plaster figures and collages made of found objects: ideas, models, doodles …we chose three for the Arts Council… four of us each bought one for ourselves’.

Chris Chapman DVD

Chris Chapman film Ray Exworth – Sculptor Commissioned to make the film for the Wroxham Trust in order to make a record of the artist, Ray Exworth and his wife, Susie, at home at Heatherbell Cottage and the surrounding gardens and sheds brimming over with his life’s work. Chris Chapman gave his time and skills very generously and was supported by Hine Downing.

DVDs are for sale through Kestle Barton £6 plus p&p

 

 

 

 

 

 

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