Judith Cowan (b.1954, London, UK) is a contemporary of the New British Sculpture, which emerged in the early 1980s, but her work stands out by the relation existing between her body and her sculptures; by the need to fully immerse herself into the space and the material. In a footnote, by a lick of her tongue she shaped the cast glass piece sitting on a red stool. Her arm consciously moving at the surface of the wet clay is at the origin of the large translucent green fibreglass and resin sculpture, a tree.
“I work with the breaking points, capacity or limits of materials”1.
Her fascination with the molecular structure can be found in her use of an extensive range of casting materials (glass, metals, and plaster) as well as for more randomly behaved medium (film, fabric and collages). The materials she uses are indeed tested to the limits such as in the film, Observation Room, where a steel box was shot by armour piercing bullets leaving holes in the metal; the outer copper layer of the bullet once trapped became like a flower. Judith Cowan’s search for materiality goes far beyond, to the invisible negative space that surrounds the object as “nothing is as it seems to be”2. A space she wants to acknowledge and share with the audience.
The body as a tool and the mind as a narrator. The large scale of Judith Cowan’s sculptures and installations tell her stories to an audience with more intensity. In the film, Angelica, projected on the walls of the Sharjah Art Foundation, one experienced the unexpected vision of a traditional Sicilian female puppet released with its puppeteer onto the streets of Palermo. The audience, reduced to the size of mice, embarks on Angelica’s unpredictable journey.
Cowan’s metamorphosis into a chameleon, a flâneur or a trickster brings playfulness and humour to her work and allows her to reflect on a more universal matter, time - the transience of time; the movement, the gesture, the breath, and sound are captured and preserved by casting, enveloping, filming, and photographing to save them from oblivion.
Judith Cowan lives and works in London. She received awards and prizes from the Henry Moore Foundation (1998, 1996 and 1992); the Elephant Trust (1993); Rassegna Internazionale di Scultura Contemporanea, San Marino, prize-winner, Italy (1979); and Gulbenkian Rome Scholarship, British School at Rome, Italy (1978); and has exhibited internationally in the Czech Republic, Italy, Norway, Sharjah, and USA.
1. Caroline Barnes in conversation with Judith Cowan, “Judith Cowan, On the Life behind the Landscape”, Rugby Art Gallery & Museum, 2021
2. Richard Wentworth in conversation with Judith Cowan during Cowan’s exhibition, Passages & Incidents at Kettle’s Yard, 1996.