shelagh wakely
Shelagh Wakely: A View from a Window at Camden Arts Centre, 2014
Primarily known for her large-scale installations and public commissions from the 1990s, Wakely established her career in the 1970s. Working in all mediums, she left behind a significant body of paintings, drawings, collages, videos, clay sculptures, ceramics and numerous installations. The exhibition at Camden is developed by the Brazilian artist Tunga, a close friend and collaborator of the artist, and will seek to capture and convey the temporal shifts and ephemeral magic in her work.

Although Shelagh Wakely was awarded several museum shows in the UK during her lifetime, it was in Brazil that she received the most acclaim. Her art held a real affinity to the Brazilian conceptual tradition, with its emphasis on temporary work that would be effected by the natural elements, (rain, water, earth, wind) and working in soft materials like cloth, silk, gold leaf, calico and spices.

The exhibition at Camden Arts Centre will take place in all the galleries together with the garden and will highlight the breadth of media used by Wakely.

Gallery 2 will feature her most famous installation, created at the British School of Rome, called curcuma sul travertino, 1991. This vast installation comprises loose tumeric scattered in baroque patterns on the floor. The resulting installation is both delicate in material form but dense in its olfactory presence. Wakely’s interest in the simple fragility of materials is echoed in later works, in which she experimented with organic matter and the natural process of decay. She would wrap fruits in gold leaf and allow them to rot and evaporate, leaving delicate empty gold shells.

The influence of Brazilian artist and friend Tunga is integral to the way her work developed. The pair met in 1989 at the Whitechapel Gallery, London, where Wakely was reviewing his exhibition. This meeting marked a turning point in her practice. The pair began collaborating together, with many of the their works incorporating video and performance. Her later career, from the mid-1990s onwards, was dominated by these collaborative works and the impact Brazil had on her. Additionally these years were dominated by a succession of international architectural and public commissions, including the 2001 commission to design a mosaic for the South Porch, Royal Albert Hall, London.

Shelagh Wakely’s death in 2011 marked the end of an astonishingly rich and diverse career: Richard Saltoun is proud to have the opportunity to bring her work to the forefront of the contemporary art world.

Photo: Marcus J Leith