Daniel Silver: Rock Formations

16 January – 28 February 2015, Frith Street Gallery, Golden Square, London

By Pavel S. Pyś

Untitled, 2014, bronze, Carrara marble, 170 × 70 × 60 cm. Photo: Alex Delfanne. Courtesy the artist and Frith Street Gallery, London

Over the past two decades, Daniel Silver has repeatedly returned to the sculptural representation of the human head, testing the boundary between raw material and sculpted image. Rock Formations, the artist’s first exhibition at Frith Street Gallery, presents nine works (all Untitled, 2014), each the result of making and unmaking sculpture to question where value and meaning lie.

Occupying the back of the gallery are four marble heads, some purchased and some sculpted by assistants to resemble classical portraits. Each is then reshaped by Silver, who obliterates their patiently copied features. One head (possibly Brutus?) bears the impression of a hand pushing down as if into a soft piece of clay, while elsewhere eye sockets and hairstyles are made smooth and barely discernable. While familiar, the faces are ultimately anonymous, divorced from the subjects they ostensibly portray. Cracks and the colouration of the stone are celebrated in Silver’s mark making, which seeks to return these portraits back to their original status as lumps of marble. An artifice is at play, as if time itself aged these new sculptures.

In the front of the gallery, a group of four sculptures juxtapose readymade material (quarried Carrara blocks left outdoors to weather) with the manmade (gestural, bronze portraits). There is a clear visual divide between the two components – marble bases are cut flat at the top to provide a support for the bronze portrait heads. The separation is kept clean in one sculpture, while others are necessarily stabilised at their base by flat steel plates or mounted to solid cement blocks. Drawing attention to these various display solutions risks pedantry, yet seen together they blunt the clarity of the natural/ human binary Silver sets up. In his past works, plinths were often made of roughly hewn wood slathered with paint, and were as much part of the sculpture as whatever occupied them. Those seen in Rock Formations are made to evoke typical exhibition furniture found in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, a site whose collections inspired many of the works on view.

Silver’s most recent sculpture is by far the strongest – two hulking pieces of marble, one balanced on top of the other, and both mounted to a concrete block. The bottom half twists like a torso, while the ‘head’ turns to the left, as if looking out. While some chip marks betray Silver’s hand, it’s impossible to attribute the work’s overall shaping to either the artist or nature. A single red spray mark recalls the marble’s past life in the quarry, yet also points to the future, to the possibility of being worked further. Cleaner surfaces might seem recently exposed, but only those familiar with working in marble could make a claim with authority. Suspended between figuration and abstraction, the finished and unfinished, the forces of nature and culture, this sculpture distils the essence of Silver’s project – the act of charming images out of stone. 

This article was first published in the April 2015 issue.