Richard Deacon: What You See is What You Get

With the exhibition dedicated to sculptor Richard Deacon debuting today at the San Diego Museum of Art, I was looking forward to some Contemporary Art. Reading around in preparation, what a surprise that Rachel Cooke in the Guardian declared that Richard Deacon’s sculptures reminded her of Gustave Caillebotte’ s Floor Scrapers!

Gustave Caillebotte?!! The Impressionist with a photographic eye I am completely obsessed with and on which I have spent the last few weeks writing about for a paper I had to submit?!

Now, looking at these two works side by side, can you honestly see it???

Welcome to Contemporary Art where it’s all about…YOU! Because let’s face it, it gets you thinking about what the connections are, right?

Getting you to think  is what matters to British-born artist Richard Deacon, recipient of the Turner Prize in 1987.

If you’re in San Diego, you’re getting a rare opportunity with a comprehensive review of Richard Deacon’s works at the Museum of Art from March 25 until July 25th, 2017.

Richard Deacon, Under the Weather No.1, 2016 (details)
Richard Deacon, Under the Weather No.1, 2016
Richard Deacon, Under the Weather No.1, 2016 (details)

Seize the chance to let your imagination run free. Elsewhere, check him out at Tate  or better still, at the Louis Vuitton Island in Singapore.


He twists and pushes materials to limits not thought possible. His work forces your brain cells to make unplanned connections while your nerves somewhat twist in unison with what materials are made to endure to explore new forms and spaces…

Richard Deacon, Dancing in Front of My Eyes, 2006

“What You See is What You Get” and it’s up to YOU to find the meaning of Richard Deacon’s work according to what speaks to you or the references and inferences his sculptures trigger in your imagination.

Richard Deacon, Dead Leg, 2007

I am a carpenter’s daughter and granddaughter, so wood runs through me, if you like. In Dead Leg (2007), it seemed Deacon was doing exactly this: he made up in wood the bodily realm of muscle, tissue and fibers as visible extension to a maimed limb. As he says, bending wood is like working magic and he admits to still being “mystified” by it.

Richard Deacon, Dead Leg, 2007

That’s why Richard Deacon likes to be called a “fabricator” rather than a sculptor.

He pushes diverse materials to the extreme – almost out of their given original state-  looking to explore forms beyond what all of us think these materials should be capable of being or even withstand. How can you comprehend a 435º turn on wood? Richard Deacon is clearly well past furniture or art making, he is making things up squeezing out our personal reactions to his sculptures in the process.


Richard Deacon, Dead Leg, 2007



For him, it’s about the exploration of “the space between meaninglessness and meaning”. He used the word “like” to make his point in his opening talk at the museum: “like” allows you to make connections but it’s also a “rubbish” word! Love this!

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So go see his sculptures: look how he uses voids almost more than his materials, how these seem to unfold and change the scale of each work as you move around them.

Despite being monumental works, his sculptures don’t seem to project their own weight because by pushing back the limits of materials, he’s defying gravity and he’s carrying us with him.

© 2017 Ingrid Westlake

All pictures by Ingrid Westlake, unless otherwise stated.


6 thoughts on “Richard Deacon: What You See is What You Get

  1. Some time ago I read an article about Richard Deacon, with an illustration of one of his works the “Laoccon”. I thought it was a representation of a huge jewel but not especially wood … and looking for this day information about this sculptor I discover other works where I see enormous sculptures … in wood !!! What imagination …

    You talk about your parents and grandparents and carpenter. My father often told me that he would have liked to have a craft that would have allowed him to work on this material, which is wood … I remember a Christmas present: it was a cradle for my doll: A wooden cradle !! And believe me for me it was a work of art!

    Looking at “Les Raboteurs” I understand the parallel you make between the two works !! The arms of men and sculptures are similar. In fact, the wood of Deacon’s works seems made of the same material as the bodies of the men who plan the floor! It stretches, twists to the impossible, it is full of force …. Until the break …. It’s alive !!!!!

    1. Hi Marie-Annick! It’s incredible what Richard Deacon achieves with wood. He works with other materials too but I particularly liked the wood ones for obvious reasons. Their size is quite surprising and they keep on changing, moving almost as you walk around them because the space around them gets redefined. Laocoon must have been mesmerizing too! I am glad the parallel with “Les Raboteurs” spoke to you as well…there is something visceral in Deacon’s work so it does echo the elongated limbs of Caillebotte’s workers but Deacon’s monumental use of space gave me a sort of stillness whereas Caillebotte achieves movement at a time where photography and moving pictures were brand new, quite an amazing frat he managed to translate with paint.

  2. Well, Wood sculptures are stunning.Papa saw your blog.Iknow he was surprised to see all these shapes.So did I. Thank yout dear Carpenter’s daughter!

    1. Thank you! He wrote to me Richard Deacon used wood as if it was Play Doh! Yes, clearly amazing!

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