?In an interview with French curator and writer Gladys Fabre in 1986, Bill Culbert commented, “To live is to participate and art participates in life.”
Bill Culbert does not follow his artistic practice as a rarefied activity, but as one that is fundamentally connected to the daily business of living. The lexicon of materials and objects from which Culbert constructs his work is often characterised by a celebration of everyday domesticity – colourful disused detergent bottles, empty oil cans, simple wooden furniture, garden implements, glasses filled with wine, lampshades, plastic buckets, enamelled pitchers, old suitcases. And always key to the work is the use of light – emitting from light bulbs, fluorescent tubes or the sun. Culbert admires functional design, and how, through our different use of material culture and the fabricated object, we negotiate our path through and around life.
Bill Culbert was born and grew up in New Zealand before coming to study in London where he graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1960. In those early years he was a highly regarded young painter, moving from fuguration to abstraction, working in a tradition that acknowledged the implications of a modernist legacy that stretches from Cézanne to Duchamp. By 1968, however, he all but abandoned painting in favour of more sculptural experimentation, and turned to what has become a life-long investigation into the materiality and immateriality of light – natural, artificial, reflected, refracted and shadow. By extension, photography – a momentary capturing and fixing of light – has also been a key element of his work.
Culbert’s new body of work for PEER, State of Light, not only prompts us to re-consider the condition of light, but in a playfully provocative way draws on the bureaucratic and authoritarian connotations of the word ‘State’. In particular, Culbert makes an oblique reference to his dismay at the EU ban on sales of 100 watt iridescent light bulbs, which came into being on September 1st this year.
For his exhibition at PEER, Culbert returns to a motif that has been central to his work for four decades, the window or aperture. Two groupings of found domestic sash windows collected from around London are arranged and displayed flat against facing walls. Laid horizontally onto and embedded into the wooden frames are illuminated fluorescent tubes, as if the fragile light fittings have pinned the cumbersome and hefty objects to the wall. In the vitrine-like space of Peer, these wall constructions can be viewed from in or outside the gallery – a view through a window onto further windows, which have in turn been held fast as if captive onto the walls. Like much of Culbert’s work, the combination and configuration of the elements in State of Light reveals an underlining sense of narrative, wrought through the simplest of means, resulting in a work that is intimate and personal yet remains robust and elegant.
PUBLICATION: Making Light Work by Ian Wedde, is the first substantial monograph on Bill Culbert’s work and is being launched in the UK to coincide with this exhibition. Published by Auckland University Press in New Zealand and by Research Group for Artists Publications in the UK, it is a large format 280 page publication with over 550 colour and black and white illustrations. Priced £39.99, signed copies will be available from PEER.
ARTIST’S TALK: Bill Culbert will be in conversation with the author of Making Light Work Ian Wedde on Thursday 8 October at 6.30. FREE.
ARTIST’S MULTIPLE: The Last Iridescent Light Bulb, London, 2009, is a sculptural multiple in an edition of 25 made specially to help raise funds for PEER’s expansion plans. This work comprises a glass wine decanter with a light bulb stopper, inscribed and signed on the bottom. Priced, £900, an image of the work and full details can be found on the PEER website.
BOOKLET: A free 16 page booklet documenting the work from the exhibition with texts by Yves Abrioux and Simon Cutts will be available.