Sculptor born in London, ‘internationally celebrated for his interventions in architectural space which draw heavily for their inspiration from the worlds of engineering and construction’ (Royal Academy of Arts). After a Foundation Course at the London College of Printing, 1970–71, he took a diploma course at Hornsey College of Art, 1971–74, and a Master’s degree at Reading University, 1974–76. In 1976, he had his first solo show, ‘11 Pieces’ at the Coracle Press Gallery, London; since then, he has exhibited widely, both nationally and internationally. In 1983 he formed, with Anne Bean and Paul Burwell, the Bow Gamelan Ensemble – making percussive music from scrap metal. In 1987, Wilson created what is widely considered to be his seminal work, 20:50; first installed at Matt’s Gallery, London, it was at the Saatchi Gallery until in 2014 it was acquired for the permanent collection at Mona (Museum of Old and New Art), Tasmania. In his 1996 BBC television series, A History of British Art, the art critic Andrew Graham Dixon hailed 20:50 as ‘one of the masterpieces of the modern age’. In 2000, Wilson was the only British artist invited to participate in the Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial, Japan, his contribution being Set North for Japan (74°33′ 2″). In the same year his A Slice of Reality (a cut-through section of an ocean dredger), one of the art works commissioned for the Millennium Dom, was installed at Greenwich. His contribution to Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture (2008), Turning the Place Over, an 8-metre diameter ovoid section cut from the walls and windows of a building and fixed to a slowly rotating spindle, was in operation until 2011. His permanently sited Square the Block, mounted on the corner of the London School of Economics building, Kingsway, London, followed in 2009, and Shack Stack at Grosvenor Waterside in 2010. As part of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad Festival, he included in his exhibition at the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea, a temporary installation, ‘Hang on a Minute Lads … I’ve Got a Great Idea’, a replica of the coach used in the 1969 film, The Italian Job. Fixed in position overhanging the building’s roof, a hydraulic mechanism made the coach appear to teeter dangerously; in 2019, the film’s fiftieth anniversary, it was installed at Turin, the location for the film’s heist. In 2014, Wilson’s Slipstream for Heathrow Terminal 2 won the PMSA’s Marsh Award for Excellence in Public Sculpture. In 2005, he was included in the Tate’s ‘Modern Artists’ book series (Richard Wilson by Simon Morrisey); in 2006 he was elected RA (Professor of Sculpture, 2011–15); and in 2008, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Middlesex.
Sources: Richard Wilson website; Buckman, D., Artists in Britain since 1945, Bristol (1998), 2nd edn. 2006; Royal Academy of Arts website; Seddon, J., et al, Public Sculpture of Sussex, Liverpool, 2014; Usherwood, P., et al, Public Sculpture of North-East England, Liverpool, 2000.
Terry Cavanagh November 2022
Richard Wilson, 2018 (photo: © A.K. Purkiss)