Gary Webb


View of Gary Webb, “Euro Bobber,” 2008, Pilar Parra & Romero, Madrid.

For the past decade, the London-based artist Gary Webb has developed a sculptural language conversant with the medium’s modern history and playfully experimental with its intrinsic characteristics: form, mass, color, and the relationship between constituent parts. His new exhibition, “Euro Bobber,” opens at Pilar Parra & Romero in Madrid on September 18 and runs through October 25.

Unlike my exhibition earlier this year at the Approach in London, this show comprises mainly freestanding individual sculptures; there are no wall-size “split” mirrors that visually knit together the space. What I have done, however, is paint the gallery in different colors. The space here is split up—its various levels are arranged around a central column—but you can see from one room to the next. That column is painted pink, the walls are various colors including baby blue, and the storefront window is painted black. One assumes on entering that there will be little or no color in the show and is then confronted with an overload of color.

Installing an exhibition offers me, in a sense, my first opportunity to see my sculptures whole. My studio ceiling is quite low, and we can hardly set up some of the sculptures inside it. I see the pieces side by side; I build them sideways, then wheel them outside, put them together on a patch of gravel surrounded by rubbish bins, and take a look. There is always an element of surprise in the work in that regard. It contradicts the sheer length of time it takes to produce a sculpture, which would imply that every aspect is planned out in advance.

Instead, I’m usually working on several sculptures at once. Everything is carved in polystyrene first and then cast from those molds. There are always at least three or four shapes in the midst of the casting process at the same time. We adjust and twist those pieces, find the best ways they fit together with small wooden pegs, decide the colors that should go on them. It’s important to balance a few at once, to be tweaking always, to make sure the works are not heading down the same route. For a while in the studio, everything is gray and white. It’s a little depressing, actually. The painting only happens at the very end, once the engineering is complete. Then the works can be sent off to be sprayed. It’s important to get as much of the experimentation as possible done early in the process, because it’s hard to go backward once a form is cast, and harder still once the paint has been applied.

Because the work has to be fabricated, many people think that the labor itself is outsourced. But I’ve found that no one else can do the polystyrene carving, the form giving. For example, the guy who sells me the material itself designs props for film sets, for which some company sends him a drawing and he creates its elements in polystyrene. So once, I thought I’d try that; I sent him a drawing and had him execute it. It didn’t work. The same goes for studio assistants. The whole thing is a strangely intuitive process, one that requires constant decision making.

I try not to interpret the works for viewers, but I can say that they represent aspects of reality, things that physically happen, rather than purely imaginative constructs. The works respond to how objects exist in the world, how buildings are put together, or how things are arranged on the street. I’m interested in the way that people have consciously decided how things should be arranged, and in ripping those decisions apart.

— As told to Brian Sholis