Phyllida Barlow, helter skelter, is the new cover commission for the 33rd edition of the pocket Tube map series commissioned by Art on the Underground, for Transport for London.
Made in lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic helter skelter is a new work on paper that marks the instability of our time. Comprised of Barlow’s signature bold colours and shapes, helter skelter is a tower of platforms and tubes balanced precariously on top of one another, on the brink of collapse.
The ramp, the barrier and the tower are forms that have appeared repeatedly in Barlow’s work throughout her 50-year career and are reflected here in an array of pink, blue, purple, orange and red colours in acrylic and pencil on paper. Barlow is captivated by the idea of being both physically and metaphorically on the edge of breaking. How things collapse, deteriorate and are then repaired forms a central tenet of the work which the artist sees as a great metaphor for the human condition and our current time.
helter skelter mimics the Underground architecture with an energy and urgency much celebrated in Barlow’s wider practice. Renowned for sculpture as well as works on paper, Barlow’s practice encourages us to experience her work physically. There is an expediency to how she works both on paper and via the materials she uses in her sculptures. Recycled timbre, scree, concrete, plaster, polystyrene and expanding foam create unapologetic, adventurous and gigantic gargantuan forms. Her works recontextualise and displace objects, rendering them useless and absurd. Looking at the city is an important source of inspiration for these works and drawing, a method for realising these ideas.
Barlow is interested in opposites in her work – thrilling but dangerous, towering and precarious – as a metaphor for how we live. She allows us to experience both the precarity and absurdity of the world with a great humour and pathos that couldn’t feel more timely.
Phyllida Barlow was born in 1944 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. She lives and works in London.
Barlow’s key solo exhibitions include a forthcoming solo presentation at Haus der Kunst, Munich (2021); ‘cul-de-sac’ at The Royal Academy of Arts, London (2019); ‘PhyllidaBarlow: folly’, at La Biennale di Venezia, British Pavilion, Venice (2017); ‘ARTIST ROOMS: Phyllida Barlow’ at Turner Contemporary, Margate (2017); ‘demo’ at Kunsthalle Zürich, Zurich (2016); ‘tryst’ at the Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas (2015); ‘set’ at the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh (2015); ‘dock’ the Duveen Commission at Tate Britain, London (2014); ‘GIG’, Hauser & Wirth Somerset; ‘Phyllida Barlow. Fifty Years of Drawing’, Hauser & Wirth London; ‘HOARD’, Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach; ‘scree’, Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines (2013); ‘… later’, Hauser & Wirth New York (2012); ‘Phyllida Barlow: siege’, New Museum, New York (2012); ‘BRINK’, Ludwig Forum, Aachen (2012); ‘Phyllida Barlow: Bad Copies’, Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, England (2012); ‘RIG’, Hauser & Wirth London, Piccadilly (2011); ‘Cast’, Kunstverein Nürnberg, Nuremberg (2011); ‘STREET’, BAWAG Contemporary, Vienna (2010); and in 2010, she was in the critically acclaimed two-person show at the Serpentine Gallery, London, with Nairy Baghramian.
Significant group shows include ‘The Hepworth Prize for Sculpture’, Hepworth Wakefield, Wakefield (2016); ‘Carnegie International 2013′, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh (2013); La Biennale di Venezia, ’55th International Art Exhibition: The Encyclopedic Palace’, Venice (2013); ‘The Best of Times, The Worst of Times – Rebirth and Apocalypse in Contemporary Art’, The First International Kiev Biennale, Kiev (2012); ‘Before the Law’, Museum Ludwig, Cologne (2011); ‘Sculptural Acts’, Haus der Kunst, Munich (2011); ‘Displaced Fractures’, Migros Museum für Gegenwartskunst, Zurich (2010).
Barlow studied at Chelsea College of Art (1960 – 1963) and the Slade School of Art (1963 –1966). After joining the staff in the 1980s, Barlow taught at the Slade School of Art for more than twenty years before retiring in 2009 and is now Emerita Professor of Fine Art. In 2011 Barlow became a Royal Academician and in 2015 she was made a CBE for her services to the arts in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours. In 2012 Barlow received the Aachen Art Prize and ‘Award for the Most Significant Contribution to the Development of Contemporary Art’ at The First International Kiev Biennale. In 2019, Barlow was honoured with the Maria Anto & Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven Art Prize for Women Artists, Warsaw, Poland.