Jan King has made many sculptures that work as wall pieces. With these sculptures she continues to explore the concordance of space and material with the wall being fully integrated into the spatial context of the sculpture.
A good example is Eurimbula (1997) which uses a mesh section to define a particular space that combines drawing (cross hatching) with transparency, producing hard or diffused edges according to the direction of the light, the shadow play, etc. Eurimbula is not a relief sculpture. It is not trying to give the illusion of depth but rather it has a particular depth perception related to its structure of overlapping and projected elements. The space that it engenders is rather ethereal. There is a lightness of touch between the elements with one independent curved section seemingly suspended in space as it travels over the mesh to dissect an internal void. There is a correspondence happening between the ends of the curved sections as well, which gives the piece a beautiful cadence. As the curved sections swing around, the defined ends dip and slash into the space. These abrupt truncations appear to distribute the movement from the circumference of the piece towards the centre, an optical effect that turns simple lines into dynamic, shifting schema. The skill of the sculptor is in achieving a balance between the spatial context of the sculpture and the movement of the elements. With Eurimbula, King has managed to counter the vortex of the elements with the mesh arresting the eye at the centre of the piece. The mesh, with its strong graphic presence and transparency, gives a sense of balance to the piece without interrupting the flow of the elements.

Ship of Fools (1997) is a sculpture which seem so simple in execution but in fact is quite complex in resolution. It is as if King has taken one of Franze Kline’s large graphic paintings and turned it into a sculpture. For example with the Kline painting Figure Eight (1952) we can see how the artist attacks the canvas with a broad brush, creating an interlocking display of positive and negative shapes. This is a display of raw energy but the result is not arbitrary. Kline is definitely working to certain aesthetic criteria and similarly with King’s Ship of Fools we can detect a way of seeing behind the gesture. Like the painting there is an immediacy about the strong gestural movements, but along with this there is a great deal of deliberation. The way the rod extends beyond the sculpture just so far, the way the floating ribbon effect is not overdone, the balance between the broad and narrow material, all contribute to a perfect cadence within the piece.


Eurimbula 1997
Painted Steel
97 x 108 x 32 cm


Ship of Fools 1997
Oiled Steel
29 x 40 x 20 cm
Image: king street gallery

  "Ship of Fools (1997) is a sculpture which seem so simple in execution but in fact is quite complex in resolution. It is as if King has taken one of Franze Kline’s large graphic paintings and turned it into a sculpture."
Franze Kline Figure Eight 1952
Oil on canvas. 80.5" x 63.5"

Fingal's Cove 1996
Polished Steel
13.5 x 17 x 76 cm

Fingal's Cove 1996


Anthony Caro Emma Dipper 1977

  "Like Caro, Jan King sees her work as part of a tradition. Not a tradition that suffocates innovation but a tradition that inspires and cultivates an investigative approach."

In the early 1960s there were a number of practitioners who were following in the wake of David Smith and Julio González and using steel in a new and innovative way. Among a group of British sculptors were Anthony Caro, Tim Scott and Phillip King, who were all pushing the boundaries of sculpture using new materials including steel, aluminium and fibreglass. Anthony Caro became the leader of those practitioners using steel, and he always seemed to be exploring the possibilities and limitations of his chosen material. For Caro, marble and bronze were steeped in the history of European art while steel had no tradition and therefore he felt he had the freedom to exploit its unique qualities and work it in any way which fitted his criteria. At the same time as he was inventing new forms and practices he maintained a commitment to earlier traditions, paying his respects to modernists like Picasso, Matisse and Giacometti.

Emma Dipper comes from a series of sculptures called the Emma Lake series created during a workshop that Caro gave at Emma Lake in Saskatchewan, Canada in 1977. With this series Caro seems to be influenced by Picasso’s wire constructions which were made by Picasso in collaboration with González in the 1930s. From Picasso’s constructions Caro registered the fact that a sculpture could be extended by way of a number of supports thus opening up all sorts of possibilities to suspend elements in between.

Emma Dipper, like previous large works of Caro, uses the floor as the starting point and the sculpture is defined by a series of horizontal steps, where each step is a contact point for a vertical section that then becomes the support for the sculpture. Within this ambulatory space Caro has introduced a number of arcs that either dip down or swing up, producing a pendulum motion within the sculpture. Then there are the straight sections that extend the geometry of the piece to include triangles and shapes that morph from one to the other, again emphasizing movement within the sculpture.

Like Caro, Jan King sees her work as part of a tradition. Not a tradition that suffocates innovation but a tradition that inspires and cultivates an investigative approach. One can see certain elements of Caro’s sculpture in King’s work but she has brought her own sensibility to the material, using it in a much less ‘constructed’ fashion than Caro. In the same way that Caro saw possibilities in the way Picasso used constructed metal to open up his sculptures, so too King has adapted this technical/aesthetic innovation to achieve works of expansive, open quality.


Painted Steel
181 x 176 x 76 cm

Tandava (1997) is a sophisticated sculpture in all respects. Here King has created an anti-gravitational effect by her combined use of heavy and light material and an ability to disguise the actual support. The arc at the top of Tandava appears to be floating free of the strong vertical elements and although there is a connection with the lighter rod material, the contact points are rather allusive. It is the rod that is providing the major support for the arc, but it is not obvious. It wraps around the arc to break free into open space providing a delicate contrast to the more weighty material, and its designation within the sculpture seems to be more ambulatory than structural.

Tandava 1997
Painted Steel
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Tandava has a number of gentle twists and turns, a form of modelling that directs our vision throughout the piece. Some of the modelling reminds us of the sculpture of Matisse and especially La Serpentine one of the masterpieces of modernist sculpture. With La Serpentine we can see how Matisse uses modelling to draw our eye through the sculpture and thus engage with its various passages of movement. Tandava sets up a similar rhythm of connecting surfaces and like Matisse King wants to focus our attention on the articulation of the material and what is happening at the ‘surface edge’ of the volume, and how space itself is drawn out to set new parameters for the object.

The vitality and energy that is displayed in Tandava reflects King’s interest in dance and in this case it has a metaphysical aspect. Tandava is the name of the cosmic dance of Shiva, the third member of the Hindu trinity, the master of dance. The forces gathered and projected in his wild gyrations are the powers of the evolution, maintenance, and dissolution of the world. Nature and all its creatures are the effects of his eternal dance.

King’s concept for the sculpture was to represent the vitality of the dance by removing the figure while maintaining the energy that was happening around it. The void that represents the absence of the dancer is the space that is drawn into the sculpture and the circular motion of the material represents the rhythm of the dance that continues to resonate.

South Indian bronze
10th-12th century AD

Henri Matisse
La Serpentine 1909

Amitabha 1997
Painted Steel
193 x 152 x 82 cm
Image: king street gallery

Amitabha (1997) has a similar configuration to Tandava and we can see how King is using similar material but trying different things. Both sculptures could be described as having spiritual connotations for they are both derived from ancient sculptural representations of sacred figures. Of course sculpture has been used for religious purposes from the earliest of epochs but the spiritual dimension of our world is rarely visited in contemporary abstract sculpture. King began Amitabha just after her mother’s death, so at the time her thoughts were naturally dwelling on the spiritual life.

Amitabha is a name for the Buddhist heaven “The pure land of the west”. Buddha Amitabha is the “Buddha of immeasurable glory”. There is also the reference here to the Buddha Naga. Buddha Naga shows the Buddha seated in meditation being protected from the rains by the hood of the king of the nagas (snakes). King considers this to be one of her best sculptures. It is a very accomplished piece imbued with poignancy. Like Song for Sophie, she seems to make her best work at times of deep emotional experience. For her it is liberating to bring her emotions and thoughts to a work that then becomes the manifestation of her state of being at the time.

With Amitabha she uses the Buddha Naga as a starting point. She has looked at the abstract qualities of the statue, the rhythm of the seated Buddha, the coils of the snakes etc, and extrapolated to come up with her own forms. There is a wonderful rhythm throughout the sculpture with curved hollow sections giving way to fine edges, foils of steel giving way to languorous serpentine forms and at the top there is a section of mesh that seems to be derived from the corona of cobra heads that hover over the Buddha in the statue. As the enlightened one, the thoughts of Buddha expand to embrace Nirvana. King has said that she considers the mesh as having connotations of Buddhist thought where the state of being is one of transcendence. The energy in the sculpture seems to be expanding upwards, and at the level of the mesh the material is floating and transparent signifying a transition from the material to the spiritual.



Buddha Naga

Amitabha 1997
Painted Steel
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