John Gibbons: Portraits / National Portrait Gallery, London






National Portrait Gallery, London



John Gibbons: Portraits
12 September 2009-14 March 2010

Room 32 (Admission free)


The first display of portraits by the sculptor John Gibbons has opened at the National Portrait Gallery. It is the latest in the Gallery’s Interventions series focusing on twentieth-century artists who have developed innovatory approaches to portraiture.





John Gibbons


John Gibbons
Your Story/White Blackbird, 2008-9
© John Gibbons
Photo: Noah Da Costa





This display, comprising dramatic works in welded steel, explores Gibbons’s treatment of the human head as a ‘container’ for experience, identity, personality and mind. A special wall-mounted installation has been constructed to showcase five powerful sculptures, dating from 1981 to the present, which transform industrial materials into enigmatic cage-like forms. Three of the sculptures appear to float high up on angled shelves built into the Gallery walls whilst two smaller ones are given a more intimate setting at a low level.


During a career that now extends for over 30 years, John Gibbons (b.1949) has secured a reputation as one of Britain’s leading sculptors. Like Sir Anthony Caro, with whom he worked as an assistant in the late1970 s, Gibbons’s work is closely associated with large, abstract, floor-based sculpture in welded steel. As a student at St Martin’s School of Art (1972-6), he was the assistant to the portrait sculptor Oskar Nemon who was an important early influence. Both these affinities are apparent in Gibbons’s work which, although apparently abstract, has always been infused with references to a human presence.


The earlier sculptures, Darragh’s Place and Portrait of Sharon, named after the artists’ son and daughter, began as evocations of place before assuming human attributes. Their small, cube-like shapes recall tabernacles or reliquary boxes, both containers of a spiritual nature. The holy sites, rituals and sacred objects associated with the artist’s Roman Catholic upbringing in County Clare in Western Ireland inform these sculptures. However, while working on these pieces, increasingly Gibbons saw them in terms of the human head, recognising the associations they prompted with his son and daughter.


John Gibbons


John Gibbons
Grainne/ Saying Hallo, 2008-9
© John Gibbons
Photo: Noah Da Costa

John Gibbons


John Gibbons
Portrait of Sharon, 1981-4
© John Gibbons
Photo: Noah Da Costa





The three most recent works evoke members of his family and friends. In some instances more than one individual is suggested by the same sculpture. Now employing more open forms, linear stainless steel rods and bar, these sculptures continue to engage with the sitter’s inner life – that mysterious place which Gibbons perceives at the core of portraiture.


Paul Moorhouse, 20th Century Curator of the National Portrait Gallery, London, says: ‘In some respects Gibbons seems an unlikely artist for the Gallery’s displays. At first, his work appears to have little connection with portraiture. At a fundamental level, however, Gibbons has not only engaged with portraiture but has extended the language of this genre in radical ways.’




Courtesy National Portrait Gallery
Images © John Gibbons





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~ by Stampfli & Turci on October 16, 2009.

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