Born: April 4, 1944;

Died: March 12, 2023.

THE prominent British sculptor Dame Phyllida Barlow, who has died at the age of 78, was known for her large-scale installations made from everyday materials, and pursued a relentlessly innovative career over almost six decades.

Dame Phyllida was described by her gallery, Hauser and Wirth, as “a remarkably original, powerful and generous artist” who “playfully guided audiences to become explorers”.

“Phyllida Barlow singularly redefined a language of sculpture and consistently shattered conventions, challenging old notions of monumentality and of beauty,” a statement on the gallery’s website read.

“Over the course of almost 60 years, she embraced humble materials to create sculpture and installations that defied the rules of gravity, balance and symmetry.


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“Her work interrupts and invades the space around it, a strategy through which Barlow playfully guided audiences to become daring explorers.”

Dame Phyllida’s “large-scale yet anti-monumental sculptures” were made from low-grade and inexpensive materials such as cardboard, fabric, plywood, polystyrene, scrim, plaster and cement.

The constructions were often painted in industrial or vibrant colours, with the seams of their construction left at times visible.

In an interview with ArtReview 13 years ago, Barlow said: “Making from lightweight, disposable things pastiches the monument or the monumental.

“The latter has this heroic, macho thing that I’m attracted to, but which conversely, I couldn’t possibly do myself.

“So, there’s this idea of playing the monumental game but with these crap materials, and because they are crap materials, you can mess around with them, tilting them or balancing them”; it was, she added, “both comic and grimly authoritarian, and that’s my relationship to sculpture”.

Dame Phyllida, the great-great-granddaughter of Charles Darwin, was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1944 and studied at the Chelsea College of Art and Slade School of Fine Art, both in London.

She joined the staff of the Slade in the late 1960s and taught there for more than 40 years, retiring from academia in 2009.


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Among her many pupils at the Slade were Rachel Whiteread, Martin Creed and Tacita Dean, who all became distinguished artists. Whiteread and Creed both won the Turner Prize, and Dean was nominated for it in 1998.

Dame Phyllida’s own break as an artist came in 2004 when she was shown at the Baltic, Gateshead, after which she gained representation by Hauser and Wirth.

She was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2015 New Year Honours for services to the arts.

She was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in the 2021 Birthday Honours, also for services to the arts.

“There’s something about walking around sculpture that has the possibility of being reflective, like walking through a landscape,” Dame Phyllida once said.

“The largeness of sculpture has that infinite possibility to make one engage beyond just the object itself and into other realms of experience.”

Throughout her career, Dame Phyllida exhibited extensively across institutions internationally, including Tate Britain, and in 2017, when she was 73, she represented Britain at the Venice Biennale.

In a tribute this week, the Henry Moore Foundation said that her impact upon the trajectory of sculpture was immeasurable, both through her own work and as a teacher.

The foundation not only acquired a number of her works, but also worked with her on a handful of exhibitions over the years, including an extensive display of over a hundred of her ‘bad copy’ drawings in 2012.

Dame Phyllida’s assertion that “sculpture is the most anthropological of the art forms” formed the basis for the inaugural Yorkshire Sculpture International, a festival of sculpture taking place across Leeds and Wakefield in the summer of 2019.

Following her death Dame Phyllida Barlow was described as “one of the most extraordinary forces in British sculpture and arts education”, who had reshaped British sculpture as it was known. She is survived by her husband and children.