Richard Wright brings art to Dean Gallery stairwells

He teases audiences with glistening art that enchants then disappears. Now Richard Wright is finally putting down roots in an Edinburgh stairwell…

It is strangely fitting that a gallery that housed a former orphanage should be home for the next brainchild of Richard Wright. The Turner Prize- winner renowned for producing temporal art from paint and gold leaf is putting down roots at the Dean Gallery in Edinburgh. He has chosen two stairwells in the building which once echoed with children’s voices to create a piece for Edinburgh Art Festival (EAF). And unusually for the artist who stunned audiences at the Tate Britain, London, with his exquisite gold leaf fresco until January this year, his latest work will be designed to last.

The project’s curators Julie-Anne Delaney and Keith Hartley want the painting in the former Thomas Hamilton’s Dean house to be long lived.

“There are never any guarantees surrounding the life span of an art work” says Delaney, “but the galleries are taking every step possible to ensure that the work will remain in the stairwells for audiences and staff to enjoy and admire for as long a period as possible.” Wright, who was born in London in 1960, grew up in Glasgow and studied in Edinburgh, is known for his unconventional approach towards art. Working with materials that aren’t designed for duration, his creations are not meant to have a long life span. His art is mortal and its mortality emphasises the moment of its existence which heightens the audience’s experience.

However, Edinburgh Galleries will try achieving what was thought to be unachievable and breathe continuous life into Wright’s next piece.

As Delaney says: “Richard will work closely with our conservation department to have discussions about material choices and base coats so that the work will last for as long a period as possible. This is a challenge but also part of the excitement that comes with working with an artist such as Richard – whose work normally only exists in the spaces it is created for the duration of the show.”

Wright’s first solo show was in Transmission Gallery in Glasgow in 1994. After that, dominos kept falling and his elusive art appeared and disappeared in places from London to Sydney, and several other galleries inbetween. The exhibition of Wright’s work in Ingelby Gallery, Edinburgh led to his nomination for the Turner Prize.

This collaboration between the artist, Edinburgh Galleries and The Edinburgh Art Festival was planned earlier in 2009, prior to his nomination. According to the curator it came about through the desire for the Galleries to work with an artist that they have held a long running respect for. Wright was already involved in a show for the Gallery of Modern Art in 1997-1998 called “Correspondences: New Art from Scotland and Berlin” and now he will work in the building of the former Dean Orphanage.

“We are pleased to be once again working with him on such a major and more permanent work,” says Delaney. “Richard is one of the most celebrated and leading Scottish artists and the galleries are incredibly fortunate to be able to work with him on such an exciting project. The stairwells of the Dean Gallery provide a rich visual and historical context for the placing of the work, and they are to be repainted before Richard begins to provide the perfect backdrop for the work.”

Richard Wright with Joanne Brown

Wright’s painting promises to be one of the highlights of the sixth 2010 EAF, which opens from July 29 until September 5. The festival director, Joanne Brown, is delighted to have Wright’s project as a part of Edinburgh Art Festival. She says that it is a wonderful privilege for her to be in charge of such a fast growing event promoting the work and talent of outstanding artists, curators and organisers as a pool of unusual visual talent on the international arena.

“We take more steps forward every year” says Brown, “the profile of the festival has grown extraordinarily. It is very exciting because we can invest in Edinburgh galleries, so they can benefit from it and because it helps to spread the message about the enormous curatorial talent in the city and carry that message internationally.

“With the investment of the Scottish government, we ask galleries across Edinburgh to make proposals to us for artists and projects they would curate. The Dean Gallery offered to work with Richard Wright, prior to his nomination. It was shocking to find out that he became the 2009 Turner Prize winner. It was a great night.”

There will be many great nights in store as Wright scrupulously works in his latest project.

The artist is said to continue once everyone else at Dean Gallery has said bonne nuit – not just because the scaffolding prevents visitors from moving around the gallery, but because he prefers to work nocturnally. The surfaces are demanding and they also carry a heavy historical weight and Richard is the one who is provided with the challenge of uniting them conceptually through his work.

The subject of the work remains a mystery for now. What is known this time; his work won’t be erased. It will not be able to escape the cognitive mode of experiencing the audience’s applause by being destroyed and then be born to the principle of continuous life, outside the prison of mortality. This time it is going to be mortal. The child will hopefully settle in the Dean Orphanage, grow old gracefully and always retain the essence of its sweet bird of youth.

Richard Wright’s stairwell project can be seen at the Edinburgh Art Festival from July 29 – September 5.

Words by Agnieszka Gryczkowska

Photography by Angela Catlin

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