To situate Bill Culbert inside the corpus of art history, one has just to look at two forthcoming exhibitions, and combine those with his delightfully diverse 60 years of work as an artist: In Constructive Parallels: British and Brazilian Concrete Art in September 2012 in São Paulo, during the São Paulo Biennial, Culbert’s projecting light constructions, light fields and constructivist paintings will shine next to the leading concrete Brazilian artists of all times. At the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013 where the artist will be representing New Zealand, new large installations will run through communicating spaces in front of the Lagoon.
If Bill Culbert escapes easy art movement nominations, his roots run deep in possibly the most important dynamic of the last 100 years, Constructive art and Dada. Duchamp and Moholy-Nagy seem ever present. Concrete Art and its Neo-Concrete emancipation, are from that same fundamental tandem and have recently brought the attention of his work to Brazil. From his solo exhibitions at the Serpentine in the 70’s and 80’s, to The Sixties Art Scene in London, Barbican 1993 and The Sculpture Show, South Bank and Serpentine 1983, Britannica, France 1988-1989, British Sculpture, Antwerp 1989, to Op Art, Schirn Kunsthalle 2007, to name but a fraction, in addition to more than 100 solo shows, one has to ask where such a freedom to be part and measure of this diversity comes from.
Through so many observations of light Bill Culbert began photography in 1973, and developed over the years a significant body of works next to his three-dimensional work. This exhibition focuses in great part on his photography and will include light sculptures.
Light is for Culbert the object, as well as the subject, of all brut observation and derivation in humour. If Light is the element, with mass, that determines everything, then if taken as a medium, it is better used according to its own unalterable laws. Culbert has played since 1968 with this jaw-dropping reality. The light bulb is not only a functional instrument, but its incandescent filament diffuses the medium itself. That fragile gas container has been at a centre of many of Culbert works, declining poetic possibilities that one could not have suspected from such a common object of mass production.
Shadows, colours and forms, and tangible realities that make them possible, like lampshade armatures, buckets, objects of recuperation, bottles, windows, machines, and more, are tools for the artist in his observation of light.
Wine, a drinkable tool, turns the glass tool into an ideal camera obscura that reverses and curves the reflection of the surrounding space inside the container. Under the sun the glass goes through a subtle but total transformation. Small Glass Pouring Light, 1979 a one square format black and white photo illustrates perfectly the point: a straight beam of light transits through the glass, stealing optic transmutations, and produces the exact image of an incandescent light bulb onto the surface of the table. It becomes an object of wonder, both for science and the aperitif.
Like his medium, Culbert is not containable. Located within several significant art movements at once, it seems natural that he would find diverse locations that fundamentally influenced his work, and where he widely exhibited in museums and galleries alike: Britain, where he moved to in 1957 when arriving at the Royal College of Art, and where he still lives, together with the Lubéron in France, where he established his studio from 1960 onwards, and to New Zealand, his birth place and country of origin, that he will represent at the next 55th 2013 Venice Biennale.