EL ANATSUI: MATERIAL WONDER
El Anatsui: Material Wonder marks the 40th anniversary of October Gallery and celebrates the vision and creative force of El Anatsui. The exhibition also coincides with the largest retrospective of the artist’s work to date, El Anatsui: Triumphant Scale, at Haus der Kunst, Munich. Moreover, in February 2019, TSIATSIA – searching for connection was installed in the atrium of Zeitz MOCAA, Cape Town. When this immense work first covered the façade of the Royal Academy, in 2013, the artist won the prestigious Charles Wollaston Award.
El Anatsui is undoubtedly one of the most influential artists of the present time. Throughout his long career, he has focused his many interests to examine a wide range of subjects and explored an extraordinary array of media from cement, ceramics and tropical hardwoods in his early years, to corrugated iron, cassava graters, milk-tin lids and bottle-tops in his later installations. Today, he is best known for his mesmerising works composed of many thousands of aluminium bottle-tops laboriously sewn together.
The success of these works owes much to the protean nature of the material itself, which being light and flexible yet still robust, is capable of repeatedly being reshaped and re-formed. Speaking of the plastic qualities of his metallic composites, El Anatsui recalled:
“I was playing with this idea of a ‘fabric’ as something that’s not fixed. The folds in the material have their own way of running – I don’t create them – they happen naturally, by themselves. The amazing thing about working with these ‘fabrics’ is that every time you display one of them it becomes an entirely new work of art.”
The metal wall sculptures in the exhibition are accompanied by a series of prints made in collaboration with Factum Arte, Madrid. El Anatsui has always been fascinated by the physical history of the materials he employs and the journeys they undergo. The basic materials for his ‘fabrics’ are made by a team of assistants, who cut and pierce the aluminium strips on tables and smaller wooden ‘flats.’ After years of repetitive pricking and piercing, these wooden worktops present a scored landscape of textured relief. Using Factum Arte’s cutting-edge, 3-D scanning and plate-making technologies, these scarred surfaces are translated into printing plates. Given Factum Arte’s expertise in traditional printmaking, the resulting prints encapsulate the hidden histories of the making of the aluminium works. In this way, the fabrication process itself is ‘recycled’ into a major new series of prints.
In 2014, El Anatsui was made an Honorary Royal Academician and elected into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2015, he was awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 56th Venice Biennale. In 2017, he was awarded the prestigious Praemium Imperiale Award for Sculpture in Tokyo.