Compendia Wentworthia

*This text is a response to the brief “The Interview” in which I conducted an interview with renowned British sculptor Richard Wentworth.

Throughout the text, Richard Wentworth’s words are in bold.


“We’re in King’s Cross. We’re even in a place in King’s Cross you couldn’t get to by accident… it has to be a destination.” If there is one thing Richard Wentworth is interested in, it’s context. He suggested we meet at Caravan Café in The Granary Building situated directly behind King’s Cross Station, and Wentworth is on the job this morning. This is his second meeting of the day; his first began at eight o’clock in the morning, ours will be followed by another appointment, then a posh lunch reception at his gallery – “I’m just going to have to be professional this time… I’m going to tell her I’ll be there.” He was hoping to have his hair cut at some point during the day, too.

Mr. Wentworth introduces himself, “I’m Richard,” and is apologetic for being “a bit mad” as he is gearing up to open a new exhibition at the Lisson Gallery the following day. He is also working on a project just outside the café in the main thoroughfare of the Granary Building – “Do you know about this thing I’m doing out here? Do you know all about it?” – a project entitled Black Maria. A new commission and collaborative project between himself and GRUPPE, a Swiss architectural practice, Black Maria is a part of RELAY, a program focusing on transforming King’s Cross into a destination for international contemporary art. “Well, we’ll get into that later…”

We have a lengthy introductory conversation about human nature, about me, and about him. Richard describes himself as “overly gregarious” – he loves to watch people, to hear their stories, to be an observer: a sociable man in every sense of the word. Fascinated by my story about arriving in London, I couldn’t help but take mental note of his charisma. His questions for me, which at times made it seem as though he were the one doing the interviewing, were thoughtful and emotive. I felt rather distinct for a while in that large, industrial café, and I can imagine he has this effect on most people with whom he converses. As for the gregariousness, we were cut in upon no fewer than five times during the course of our conversation; by friends, patrons, staff alike – our waitress exclaimed to Richard, “This is your court!”

I arrived list in hand and prepared to ask away, but the only real, formatted question I had the opportunity to pose to Richard Wentworth was this: “Could you tell me a bit about what you’re most interested in conveying through your work? Bringing attention to every-day found objects as sculpture is something you are widely known for…” And before I could finish, he was off.

“Hold on, let me get a pen…” He draws a spiral on the paper table covering, explaining to me “I have a tendency to talk like this [drawing the spiral] and then do a bit of this [crosses his pen over the spiral in every which way], and then there might be a point of focus just here [draws a miniscule dot in an ambiguous area off to the left] which is quite interesting, but I can’t start there because I have to feel that in context. And that’s an instant metaphor. And that’s why I need a pen.” He warned me before we began that I wouldn’t be able to control him.

“Well… you used the word convey… which I think is really nice because there’s a lot of activity in convey – it even has a sense of continuity. I’m not sure whether I really need to do that, meaning I’m not sure whether I’m a missionary. Another part of the word missionary would be “to transmit,” and I’m aware that if I do anything, if somebody finds that which I put there and have presented … or in my need to speak to myself, but as I do that, it spoke to somebody else. I wouldn’t do that for myself, because I’m not that self-obsessed. But then, suddenly, it’s there… and then other people can find it and give it meaning or not.

On Children, Narrative and Bad Décor:

So, certainly when I was a child… maybe all children are interested in things like that [touches a knot in a piece of wood on the table] – that’s a point of focus in a surface. Certainly I watched my own children, who would have to sit there and watch me go like that… [counts the rings on the surface to see how old the tree was] So that’s twenty years. And if you were with a child you might even start that conversation and say ‘You think this is a pretty surface, but actually it’s a narrative, an invisible narrative cause you can’t see it… but it’s revealed every time we cut down a tree.’ So I think I’ve always had a kind of obsessive focus. And I’ve always been very interested in the fact that things are made. And they’re either made in a way that you can investigate … as in, you can work out that this [knocks on the table] is an embarrassingly cheap piece of nonsense, and you know that this [points to a diagonal groove on the surface of the table] is a rather childish reference to making something. It’s just bad décor.

On Architecture:

I suppose I’ve become very interested in what I’m beginning to think of as the puzzle of the decorative. So that, there, is a little graphic really – a sort of friction. [holds up the sugar jar on the table with a little swirl where the thumb is meant to go] The fingerprint has a kind of decorative energy, which is to do with repetition. And this place understands quite a decorative repetition… like the tables with the light coming down, filtering through the glasses on the table. You walk in here and you think it’s a very welcoming place, and people at the edge of architecture and design know these things didn’t just land in here. Maybe I should have been an architect, but nobody told me you could be, and I was quite unruly as a child, so perhaps I would have resisted. I suddenly thought – and I’m sure this will have been written about in the Renaissance or something – I suddenly thought the other day that maybe architecture is just the art of ending things, and nobody knows how to end anything. Every time you do that there’s this point where you have to end something. So if “end” is also rather wonderfully the word “finish,” and things have finishes, which interior design is full of… maybe architecture is nothing more than “how’s it going meet the ground, how’s it going to meet the sky, and how’s it going to end because economically it doesn’t go on forever…” and it’s just a constant question of encounter. How does one thing happen upon another? There’s something underneath all of this, which is about language and meaning and mutation and misperception.

On Misperception, Legibility, and Unlikely Homicide

I like misperception. I’ve always been quite voyeuristic – I like watching. If you said to me, and this would be under extreme circumstances, but if you said to me [speaking as me] ‘I’ve got to go and murder that man now, [points to a man dining two tables away from us] and I’ve got to use something on this table’, there’s only one thing I think I think you’d be likely to use [picks up our weighty glass carafe full of water from the table]… but it doesn’t have written on it “MAY ALSO BE USED AS MURDER WEAPON.” [both of us laughing] And I think that’s incredible. It has something to do with a mixture of legibility and the fact that it’s all text. See, all of these tables are ready for people to be with each other, and everybody who comes in here somehow knows how to do that. You even were gracious enough to sit somewhere else when you could have perfectly well joined us – but you read something about the situation… We don’t know how we really even get a hold of that.

On Found Objects as Art:

Things have stories. It’s all second-hand, everyone is using stuff and they don’t know where it’s come from, and it’s gorgeous. In a way, that’s what cities are. When all this stuff escapes into the city and you wonder what on earth it’s doing there… I’m fascinated with that. Cities are hilarious collections of stuff with us as the primary players, and I want to work in a way that is like a metaphor for that untidiness. I think that what I do carries with it some sort of friction, which a group of people recognize, and then that friction is shared, so in some way I communicate something.

On Stories:

“Everyone has a story. We’re components in a theatre set that we didn’t build, which we inhabit. It’s all of a moment – it’s all gonna go… soon somebody else is going to sit at this table and talk about something different.” And as if on cue, his next visitor approaches our table and takes my place. He invites us both out to see work in progress of the Black Maria project he spoke of when we first sat down, and sends a quick text message to the gallery that I’m on my way over to have a look at his newest installation – “Just ask for Blair and tell them I sent you.” Richard Wentworth is overly gregarious, indeed.