Blackpaint 195

Rachel Whiteread

At the Tate Britain, only a fiver.  These are mainly drawings and were described as “unnerving” in one of the weekend broadsheets, the Telegraph I think; who do they get to write this stuff?  A hooded figure coming towards you in an alley with a knife is unnerving – a picture of a light green door on slightly darker graph paper is not.

Many of the drawings are on graph paper (see Blackpaint 194); sometimes Whiteread has used the grids to plot the drawings, sometimes she’s ignored them and drawn freehand.  The first section shows tables and chairs; executed in caramel coloured varnish which has run at the edges.  According to the leaflet, “thick drops of condensed varnish recall bodily fluids and emanate a visceral materiality”.  If the writer were discussing the beds and mattresses section, fair enough; in fact, there is a stain on the biscuit-shaped mattress which definitely recalls bodily fluids – but tables?


She broadens the media used – pencil, oil crayon, correction fluid, ink  and varnish.  Interlocking parquet floors, a bit monochrome Sean Scully, uneven, wobbly, one in black with tippex, a couple of white ones.  The black one looks like a snakeskin.

Beds and Mattresses

The drawing described by Laura Cumming as like a Tuc biscuit, this is the one with the stain.  Could be tea, I suppose, rather than “bodily fluid”.

Baths and Slabs

I have a note, mysteriously titled “Lib and Hole”(??) which says “ink on card – a proper drawing!  coffin shaped.”  By “proper drawing”, I mean one with shading to indicate depth and volume – not being dismissive, it’s just that the others have none.  I think this must be in this section, because the leaflet refers to the cast of a mortuary slab.

House, Room, Stairs

Photographs of the site of Whiteread’s “ghost house”, with the house blocked in in white.  A drawing in Tippex on black paper of a flight of steps, endlessly ascending and descending.

Doors, Windows, Switches

The door, which does not look like an exclamation mark (see 194), and “Twenty four Switches Both on and off”, in silver leaf and ink.  The switches are only really visible from the sides, when the light catches them.

There are various drawings of and from Whiteread’s other sculptural projects, the Holocaust memorial (some bright, sharp reds and yellows here surprisingly), the Water Tower and Plinth; the section Torso and Heads, which are picked out in circles of raised white on white paper, like long, embossed worms. 

That’s about it, apart from a vitrine containing her collection of stimulus articles, spoons, shoes, wooden feet (lasts, presumably) bone- like bits of wood or wood-like bits of bone, skulls, a toy taxi.. cuddly toy..

Unlike Cumming, I think that her brilliant sculptures are her real contribution and this material is arid on its own.  It’s the sort of stuff that you would get to back up an exhibition of sculpture which, because of  the nature of the work she does, would be impossible to mount.  Laura Cumming, the booklet, and whoever called this work “unnerving” are massively overstating the case.


Upstairs in the Romantics exhibition, looked into that room with all his airy, foggy, shimmering, light suffused canvases done in the 1830’s and 40’s, contrasting with the immense, ornate set pieces he did in more formal mode – I pictured the Academicians in their top  hats and waistcoats and wondered just what they made of them back then.  They may even have been genuinely unnerving – although I imagine incomprehension would be more likely. There were people looking at them yesterday and shaking their heads in bafflement, before fleeing to the reassuring history paintings like the Battle of Trafalgar.

The Beanfield by Blackpaint


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