This exhibition of Vaughan Grylls’ sculptures and photographs shows the consistent strength and originality of his work across his career that began in the late 60s. The earliest work in the exhibition, The Drunken Clergyman, was made in 1967. It is timeless and has a freshness that is characteristic of his work.
There is always an interesting relationship between Grylls’ work and its title. While many artists title the work following its completion, Grylls places great importance on the role of the written word in the development and interpretation of the work.
Grylls’ approach dates back to his early interest in philosophy and the work of Marcel Duchamp. Whilst at the Slade, in the 1960s, he coined the term ‘Punsculpture’, where there is a play between the visual and the verbal. This playfulness has continued and can be seen in works such as Signs of the Cross (2012), and A Fresh Window (2012), the latter referencing Duchamp’s Fresh Window (1920). Grylls’ interest in Duchamp, and Duchamp’s interest in chess, is played out in the most recent work in the exhibition, Duchamp in New York (2014) – a visually unsettling chess board coffee table where the pieces loom like surreal skyscrapers.
In Grylls’ philosophical approach he often includes a political, historical or social dimension – sometimes a combination of all three. I first saw Grylls’ early work in 2010 at an exhibition at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham. The exhibition was a survey of the gallery’s artistic programme of the 1970s. Grylls’ installation An Indo-Chinese Punsculpture, (1973) addressed the signing of the Paris Peace Treaty that was intended to end the war in Vietnam. The photograph was cut up and arranged so that the Vietcong and North Vietnamese sat in the northern half of the gallery and the South Vietnamese and the Americans sat in the southern half. The newspaper from which the enlargement was taken was placed on the west wall facing the windows. Each wall was then labelled accordingly: View of the North, View of the South, View of the East, View of the West with a copy of the New York Times above it. The work was visually compelling, deadpan and ironic.
Grylls has tackled many difficult political subjects – some now historical, others that are ongoing – exemplified by the works in this show. Grylls’ huge murals are too large to exhibit here but we have included the working study for his celebrated Site of the Assassination of President Kennedy (1980). Grylls sometimes merges the political with the personal to create a narrative that resonates, as can be seen in London Layers (1988), Mother (2009) and Grandmother (2011). Other potent themes include race and women in contemporary society.
Grylls’ work is catalogued comprehensively on his website - www.vaughangrylls.com. His inclusion in the exhibition at Ikon Gallery inspired the launch of my own gallery. I am thrilled that GX Gallery have decided to present this collection of Grylls’ work – the most comprehensive survey to date.