THE ARTIST RACHEL Whiteread (born in Essex in 1963) sees the world from an original perspective. Her sculptures depict the spaces contained within or around objects. One of her sculptures currently on show in an exhibition in London’s Tate Britain Gallery illustrates her approach well.
The artist has made a plaster cast of the space enclosed by the staircase in the building housing her studio. When you look at the artwork carefully, it can be seen to consist of sections of plaster, rather than one single piece. I am guessing that what Whiteread did was to make plaster casts of parts of the staircase, its walls, and ceiling, and then assembled them to create what is effectively the shape of the space enclosed by them. The result is something that at first glance makes one think of staircases, but after a few moments realisation, you notice that it is not what it first seemed to be.
One of the artist’s first and maybe best known works was created in October 1993. Called “House”, it was a plaster cast of the interior of a whole house, which was about to be demolished, on Grove Road in the East End of London. I remember going to see this unusual artwork during the short time it existed; it was tragically demolished by the local council in January 1994.
In addition to large projects such as described above, Whiteread has created many smaller works, such as plaster casts of the insides of containers (e.g., hot water bottles) and the spaces surrounding objects (e.g., chairs and doors). However, it is the larger works like the staircase and the house that I prefer.
Some people may criticise Whiteread’s work as being, to quote Hans Christian Andersen, the stuff of “Emperor without clothes”, but that is a simplistic view of her creations. What artists like Whiteread (and other much criticised artists such as Picasso) make us do, is to see and consider things in a new way – you might say “with new eyes”.