Francis Upritchard’s psychedelically coloured human figures “live” on islands of ornate furniture. There is a festival feeling to their gatherings, emphasised by Upritchard’s acid-bright colours, hand-woven blankets and tie-dyed silks.
Upritchard has said “all the things that hippies hoped would happen, or felt might happen, didn’t.” In one sense her exhibition is about the failure of the 1960s and 70s counter-culture that is still celebrated at festivals – and its gaudy, individualistic “alternative” aftermath.
Originally from New Zealand and now living in London, Upritchard makes figures that appear archaic, yet they also seem to be devotees of contemporary cults, marooned in an alternative universe, ineptly groping after spirituality.
We are left with artefacts as clues to meaning. Here Upritchard both draws on and parodies contemporary craft techniques in a series of dislocated domestic settings. For this exhibition she has worked with her husband, master furniture maker and designer Martino Gamper. The sculptures amongst the furniture become explorers. Upritchard also works closely with contemporary writers – including the acclaimed novelist Ali Smith, who has written an essay on Upritchard’s exhibition here.
Upritchard has also used her exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary to revisit the medieval myths of Nottingham. Some of her works that play on disappeared societies and have migrated into the Alfred Kubin galleries. Despite working a century apart, the two artists share a visual language of dreams, and inhabit the dark side of the domestic. Strange creatures, including Upritchard’s sloth, echo Kubin’s disturbed animalistic imaginings, and have made their home here.
Francis Upritchard represented New Zealand at the 2009 Venice Biennale and has had solo exhibitions at Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati (2012) and Secession, Vienna (2010). In 2006 she was awarded The Walters Prize, New Zealand’s most prestigious award for contemporary art.