Saturday, 16 November 2013

Review of 'Studio Project' exhibition written by Kat Hayes and published by DEADBIRD Review

Helen Shaddock – Breaking The Mould


Artwork by Helen Shaddock, a Glasgow-based maker refusing to be categorised.
Review by Kat Hayes

Links – Helen Shaddock / Glasgow International Artists Bookfair

What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and serenity devoid of troubling or depressing subject-matter; an art which might be for every mental worker, be he businessman or writer, like an appeasing influence, like a mental soother, something like a good armchair in which to rest from physical fatigue.”
Henri Matisse, Paris, 1908
Helen Shaddock’s work on first encounter is, rather thrillingly what I’d imagine it’d be like to wander into a (admittedly oversized) child’s playpen. Solid blocks of colourful abstracted shapes are dotted around like beautiful building bricks strewn around by the errant hands of a toddler.


Shaddock’s work seeks an immediate familiarity with the audience through its playful simplicity. Each piece has a tactile quality, from the bright colour scheme to the rounded and squared off geometric form. The bright colours do as much to suggest childhood toys and games as do the shapes.

Stemming from both a curiosity and attraction to colour, stripes, and patterns, both natural and man-made, the work is pitched in an ambiguous area between painting and the three-dimensional. Layers of colour are used to create sculptural forms via an intricate casting process.

Shaddock’s motivations include the desire to blur the boundaries between 2D and 3D and to reject the “human need to organise and categorise”. She does this by producing work that defies this categorisation; it is neither what one would necessarily consider painting, nor is it purely sculpture.

Shaddock’s intention is to force us to question how necessary it is to classify, in the artist’s words, “sculpture as sculpture or painting as paintings”.  This rejection of formal boundaries allows the work to escape the ties of a particular medium, which Shaddock says she finds ‘unoriginal’, especially in the context of galleries that link unrelated work together via medium alone. This rejection of traditional values makes it difficult to pigeonhole her practice as either sculptor or painter. Shaddock clearly finds a lack of classification liberating:

“[I enjoy] not being restricted to one medium as working in a variety of media as gives me the flexibility to realise different ideas in different ways. I feel that it keeps my work evolving as I am not tied to one way of doing things.”


Interestingly, despite Shaddock’s rejection of over-simplified classification, she regards her work  as ‘an enquiry into order and chaos’. Put simply, it can be seen a metaphor for the world in which we live, where one can so easily be overwhelmed by the mass of information that bombards us on a daily basis.

Her interest lies in the way that the mind processes this mass of data into a semblance of order. The playful lines of colour could be said to represent Shaddock’s “desire to focus on the positive aspects of life, remain optimistic about the future, and remind others of the joy that the simplest of things can bring”.

The physical process involved in the making of Shaddock’s pieces is a laborious task: methodically preparing the shaped moulds; making them waterproof; mixing unique (non-factory) colours in the plaster pigment; adding the polymer. It is ritualistic and points towards a preoccupation with process. Regarding her cone-like structures, the preparation is not where the process stops, as the mould needs to be constantly shifted to allow the plaster to cover the entirety in layers of distinct colours. This then needs to be repeated for subsequent colours, which can be numerous.

Despite this methodical preparation, the artist states that she “fully embraces the uncontrollable outcomes” of this highly structured casting process: “I try not to control the pouring of the plaster too much. I like the unexpected elements [of each piece]; the dripping, the merging of colours and the splashes”. She admits that, when working on multiple casts, she often loses track of the order of colours that have been used in each mould.  However, this is a consequence she enjoys, as it creates an air of excitement when the mould is opened and the colours emerge.

Shaddock’s work is playful and touches upon a great swathe of styles and influences. Look once and you see familiar but abstracted shapes common in modernist architecture (see the lately refurbished cubed colour scheme of Park Hill in Sheffield or the bold aesthetics of the Golden Lane Estate in London). Equally, you could look again, and see echoes of Kitsch, Pop Art and perhaps a whisper of Vorticism.


Helen Shaddock graduated from the Glasgow School of Art in 2008 and has exhibited nationally and internationally. Her work is in a number of public and private collections.
She  was selected for a residency at Market Gallery, Glasgow in March 2013, which culminated in Studio Project, a solo exhibition of selected work produced during the residency. Other solo exhibitions include Strength in numbers at The Briggait, Glasgow (2011); Coloured Matter, Here Gally, Bristol (2011); Schema, Che Camille, Glasgow (2010). She currently has a solo exhibition titled  Groovings, at Motherwell Theatre and Concert Hall (until October 30th 2013).

Helen is also a co-founder of Glasgow International Artists’ Bookfair.

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