Francis Upritchard creates figurative sculptures and installations that reflect her interest in countercultures and the perceived failure of hippiedom in the 1960s and 1970s. Across her oeuvre, the New Zealand-born, London-based artist (who represented her country at the 2009 Venice biennale) mixes the formal with the supernatural. She works intuitively, fabricating her seemingly delicate, spindly characters from a polymer clay called Super Sculpey, which is then pressed over wire armatures before being baked and painted. The resulting figures are sometimes equipped with found objects and artist-made adornments, such as the loose, hand-sewn garments worn by (Blue Turban) Egypt Walk, 2013. As well as revealing her knowledge of and respect for both current and historical craft and design traditions from the around the world, the objects and accoutrements that accompany her figures are used to emphasise the figures’ status as objects. This is also reflected in their often-diminutive size; her sculptures are never monumental.
(Blue Turban) Egypt Walk is an elongated female figure of indeterminate age and ethnicity. Peering out through half-closed eyes, she sports a harlequin-chequered complexion and is wrapped in a bright-coloured textile – embodying the character of a deeply spiritual New Ager. There is a vulnerability to Upritchard’s figures, evident in the patchy, mottled shades of their skin and the strange, ascetic postures. Typical of her work, (Blue Turban) Egypt Walk is captured in a simple, inexplicable gesture, curling and retracting delicate orange hands. The figure’s custom-made steel plinth, designed by the artist, elevates it to human height. Despite meeting the work at eye level, the figure’s heavy-lidded, impenetrable gaze and profound interiority confounds any opportunity for exchange or revelation. Upritchard presents us with an ambiguous and idiosyncratic archetype that exists outside of space and time.
(Blue Turban) Egypt Walk 2013
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013
© Francis Upritchard, courtesy Ivan Anthony Gallery, Auckland