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Nicholas Pope at The Sunday Painter: ‘sins and virtues’

The Sunday Painter is pleased to announce a solo exhibition of British artist Nicholas Pope (b. 1949). Opening on 15 September 2018, the exhibition will include the first London showing of the artist’s large-scale installation, The Conundrum of the Chalices of the Seven Deadly Sins and Seven Virtues, as well as a number of drawings and works on paper. SEEN will certainly be visiting.

The Conundrum of the Chalices of the Seven Deadly Sins and Seven Virtues will fill the gallery’s double-height main space. It combines 14 glass chalices – the artist’s first sustained use of glass in his work – with the same number of abstract drawings in oil bar pastel. Each glass sculpture finds its analogue in one of the drawings, which are in turn inspired by the seven deadly sins and seven virtues of early Christian teachings. Thus pride, lust, envy, avarice, gluttony, sloth and wrath, as well as prudence, justice, temperance, courage, faith, hope and charity are all represented. The use of glass is pertinent as the slippages between, and closeness of, the apparently oppositional characteristics are brought into sharp relief by the transparency of the material.

Working with master glassmaker James Maskrey at the National Glass Centre, Pope was able to translate mark making into glass blowing, revealing a complex relationship between artist and maker. With the drawings displayed alongside the chalices, audiences will be offered the opportunity to see this translation in proximity and to reassess definitions of craft and fine art. The installation’s unusual alignment within the gallery space will also contribute to notions of redefinition and reorientation, with the sculptures to be displayed on a large glass shelf, suspended well above head-height in the middle of the main space, its dimensions almost matching those of the gallery floor. The drawings will then be displayed on the walls of the space, surrounding the viewer as they look up to the exalted height of the chalices.

The installation continues Pope’s career-long fascination with systems of belief, a preoccupation which has become particularly apt in the current political climate, where ‘expertise’ is increasingly mistrusted and beliefs are frequently considered more powerful than rationale. Pope’s interest in the subject dates back to the early 1990s and can be seen in his work Ten Commandment Pots (1992), a set of irregular, seemingly rudimentary, terracotta pots with the ten Christian commandments inscribed on them. This work marked a turning point for Pope as he began connecting an examination of constructed moralities with the standards we apply to artworks when judging them ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.

A number of drawings from this period will be on display in the ground floor space, relating to three multi-part ‘public service works’ that form the backbone of Pope’s work on belief. The Oratory of Heavenly Space, Motorway Service Station of the Seven Deadly Sins and the Seven Virtues, and Oblivion Recycling Plant à la Ledoux or A Section ‘106’ Regeneration Project represent respectively devotional space, earthly delight and oblivion. They are three ‘tiles’ of a work-in-progress that connect Pope’s interest in belief systems with his interrogation of space; the physical manifestations of belief are found in whimsical reinventions of the prosaic and the everyday.

The Oratory of Heavenly Space is a non-denominational chapel, not yet in existence, for which the chalices make up a constituent part, as does The Apostles Speaking in Tongues Lit by Their Own Lamps (1993–96) which was exhibited at Salisbury Cathedral in 2014. Drawings relating to the ‘Motorway Service Station’ and the ‘Recycling Plant’ will be on display, making the exhibition a triptych of sorts. The works are all rooted in Christian theology, reflecting the artist’s Anglican upbringing, but their abstract and irreverent nature allows Pope to transcend these beginnings, matching them to universal concerns.

Nicholas Pope’s work is held in public collections around the world, including the Guggenheim and the Rijksmuseum Kroller Muller, and he represented Britain at the 1980 Venice Biennale. Well known in the 1970s and 1980s for his large-scale sculptures in wood, metal, stone and chalk, Pope is a contemporary of David Nash, Bill Woodrow and Richard Deacon, along with other sculptors who rose to prominence in that period, working against the formalism of the Caro school of sculpture, which was dominant at the time.

Illness contracted in the early 1980s precipitated a hiatus in Pope’s career and a change in direction in his interests. His exhibition ‘Nicholas Pope: The Apostles Speaking in Tongues’ (Tate Britain, 1996) marked his return to the public eye. Richard Deacon has said of Pope’s unusual career trajectory:

“It is true that reputation can rest on exposure and that Nick has been underexposed but, to me, he has never gone away, a wonderful talent that is always around when I am thinking about making sculpture.”

‘Nicholas Pope: Sins and Virtues’ runs 15 September – 10 November 2018. The private view is Friday 14 September, 6.30 – 8.30 pm.

The Sunday Painter
117-119 South Lambeth Road