Planting two telegraph poles through the centre of an old Post Office, now Workplace Gallery, in Gateshead sounds like the work of an artist with something to prove. When you meet Richard Rigg, the artist behind the installation, he gives off the air of a man less concerned with grand gestures than delivering subtle messages in more hushed tones.
“It was quite an undertaking as they were bloody heavy. It was a good job that they fitted in to the stairwell once we‘d carried them there.“ He recalls over half a coke in a pub round the corner from the gallery. Sat in the furthest corner and responding with careful consideration to the questions posed, the scale of some of the work he presented in his debut solo show, Holography, at Workplace last year evidently shows the ambitious side of an unobtrusive personality.
“It was monumental I suppose. When I was planning it I was thinking that it was going to be quite huge. I was given all this space, it was almost daunting and kind of forced my hand after I’d been playing with loads of little things for ages. The telegraph poles piece is based on a conversation I was having with someone and I was writing down what it was and that forms the title (I forgot what was said when we were outside, stood empty, now without those words I fell back). That element seemed to counteract the hugeness of the sculpture. There’s almost too much of a narrative to it, and I’m still not too sure how that would ever come across.”
Rigg lives and works in Newcastle after moving to study from his home town of Penrith, Cumbria. After graduating from Newcastle University in 2005 he began exhibiting in group shows throughout the country under the guidance of Workplace, who hosted his first solo show in September 2010. He explains the development of his work with care, pausing often, sometimes indefinitely depending on the question.
Working traditionally on paper and more often in 3D, Rigg’s work could be seen to convey the reticent, dry wit of the man himself. A piece of paper is folded and framed, in a frame itself folded to match the paper’s new found shape, a work sure to raise more smiles than raised eyebrows, surely?
“It’s a really useful tool isn’t it, humour?” he says, when the subject is raised. “A nice way to get a certain acceptance from people or a way in. It’s also a safety guard as well, you’ve always got that to fall back on if nothing else. Hopefully it’s not just humour, though. Someone with a more austere front wouldn’t find that way in to your work. It’s more about trying to expose bits of logic, of using certain structures in which things can unravel themselves. What is seemingly quite a secure statement isn’t necessarily, perhaps. I think maybe with the weighing scales piece, it was a way of things seeming quite solid when they’re not.”
The piece in question, Weighing Scales, places one set upside down on top of another to produce mirrored readings. In some instances the narrative of the work can prove difficult to read, offering an almost infinite conundrum to the viewer, a challenge that Rigg is happy to facilitate whilst still aiming to develop an audience. He says: “I hope that my work is accessible, but I think it would be good if there’s something worth looking into that isn’t instant. It’s good to give a path way in, but it not be something that would be instantly seen or grasped. It would be good to have a work functioning in a way so it’s worth seeing again.”
One work, Wall Hanging, is an inverted cast of a picture hook, plastered into the wall so that the work appears in negative relief, or doesn’t appear at all as the case proved for some visitors to Holography. Elements of mischief never appears far from Rigg’s practice and, despite the physical attributes of his work increasing in the case of the telegraph pole installation, or taking the opportunity to apparently lodge two rowing oars into a gallery floor, he’s not averse to making his audience work a little harder.
“I don’t know if we should give some more information, but it’s a tricky thing to master. It (Wall Hanging) was in the show and a few people weren’t happy about the fact that they didn’t actually see it. It’s an inverse cast of a hook. It’s the kind of thing that you’d miss, but I think it’s OK if you miss stuff. It’s good if you can happen upon something and it not necessarily be pointed out to you.”
Some of his work displays very obvious cleverness, not least Pencil Drawing, which through a careful working of angles represents a pencil in the hexagonal shape it would reveal if it was cut in half. So taken were some people with the work that, rumour has it, one example was stolen from a recent art fair. So how does he feel about becoming the subject of an art theft? He admits: “I was really happy when I heard about that, that someone should go to the effort of nicking something.”
In closing a conversation, which happily failed to pin the artist down to define a practice that’s skilfully posing seemingly unanswerable questions, the difficult part is not in the cogitating on various ideas, but in the summing up. For an artist adept in so many mediums and able to force the questions of ‘how and why?’ into a brain-teasing spin, his conclusion on his work to date is as surprising as happening upon two telegraph poles in an old Post Office, and remains typically modest.
He says: “I always think that my work is almost too much the same. I think that they’re all almost too much the same. I don’t know, I suppose it’s good to have different examples of similar problems.”
Info: Richard Rigg was born in Penrith, Cumbria in 1980 and graduated from Newcastle University in 2005. His sculptures reproduce and manipulate everyday objects, transforming them into reflexive propositions and theoretical paradoxes.
Top (L-R): Weighing Scales, 2005. Weighing Scales. 42 x 35 x 68 cm; I forgot what was said when we were outside, stood empty, now without those words I fell back, 2010. Telegraph poles, wire. 672 x 15 cm and 660 x 14 cm; Sheet of Paper / Folded / Framed, 2008. A0 Sheet of Paper, Glass, Wood, Acrylic Paint, 93.6 x 95 x 50.4 cm.
Middle: The Broken Appearance of the Floor, 2010. Pine, enamel paint, Installation dimensions vary.
Images courtesy of Colin Davison.
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