Richard Wilson interview

Richard Wilson Richard Wilson
Posted: Tue Jan 5 2010

In 1987 Richard Wilson famously filled the Saatchi Gallery with gallons of reflective black sump oil to create his seminal walk into nothingness, '20:50', which has now been re-installed at Saatchi's new Chelsea Barracks location. Another recent large-scale work 'Square the Block' involved the embellishment of the London School of Economics' New Academic Building with an entire corner section that was never meant to be there. Time Out catches up with the artist who likes to create architectural spectacles.

Is '20:50' still your signature work?
'It has become something of a party piece. And it recently gained a new dimension in November when a version was installed as part of an arts festival in Iraq in The Red Jail - Saddam Hussein's former security building in the city of Sulaymaniyah. Being the home of oil, it was a bit like taking coals to Newcastle.'

A lot of your works are installed abroad but you seem to have a lot happing in London right now...
'Yes, I'm in negotiations to create a light piece on two of the cranes on a building site near Tate Modern which will delineate the outlines of the cranes in a way that makes them appear to be jumpng or bouncing. If that's successful it might lead to a larger version of the idea being commission for a new building.'

Why did you add a corner to a building that didn't need one?
'I was commissioned by the Contemporary Art Society and the LSE to create an artwork on that corner of the university building. When I first went to the site one of my immediate questions was why there was a flat chamfered (45 degree) corner there rather than a 90 degree one? One of the reasons for a chamfered corner is that it creates more pavement space, so my idea was to add a fake, 90 degree corner cast from Jesmonite (an environmentally friendly mix of acrylic and concrete) along the full 18.5 metre height of the building but not to lose any of the pavement space by casting the section just above street level as if it had been crumpled up.'

Apart from its crumpled bottom, how does your new corner blend in?
'The Jesmonite has been be treated to resemble the surface of the Portland stone the building is constructed from but the corner is actually cast from two random sections of other parts of the building, so if you look more closely it doesn't make any architectural sense - for example there are windows that are cut in half. There is also very subtle LED lighting behind the corner that at night gives the impression that it's almost floating off the surface of the building.'

Projects with the scale and complexity of yours are very costly to produce. Have you been affected by the recession?
'Because my works take a long time to be realised, a lot of them were commissioned before the recession - so it hasn't affected me personally, but I do feel privileged that, at the moment, I still seem to have no shortage of opportunities to make work.'