While the monolithic works that sculptor Rachel Whiteread became famous for can cost millions to transport, the contents of her latest show can be folded up and put in a back pocket. Whiteread has opened her sketchbook to display a collection of drawings which contain the idiosyncratic use of negative space she is known for, just on a more human scale.
They are in sharp contrast to the monumental relief sculptures of rooms, bathtubs and – infamously – an entire Tudor house cast in plaster with which she made her name.
While the sculptures are impossible to ignore, her drawings have a subtle presence that announces itself more quietly. They retain their sculptural quality through layers of collaged paper, textured paint and heavy application of correction fluid.
Taking a torn up sofa catalogue or the pattern of a herringbone floor, Whiteread makes an art of turning the mundane into the extraordinary. The artist’s sketches are like a diary, tracking the evolution of thoughts and ideas from conception to detailed technical drawings of resolved works.
As different as the drawings are from her monumental sculptures, Whiteread’s ability to imbue forgotten spaces with depth and meaning is still very much evident. She has a nostalgic concern for the domestic, and the residue its inhabitants leave behind.
Like tombstone blocks, Whiteread’s sculptures have been all but purged of the human hand that fashioned them. It is through her drawings that it is finally possible to see the emotion and detail in her work.
In the same way as the reliefs of domestic spaces, Whiteread’s drawings are as much about what has been taken away as what is included. An old postcard has had holes punched in it until the image is almost totally obscured, and the windows of a house in a real estate listing have been ominously blacked out. While her use of negative space is more delicate, it still has a powerful effect on the viewer.
Whiteread’s work is liable to jump dramatically in scale and scope without warning, from the everyday to the immense. Even though her innate sense of proportion is always present, it is not hard to see why Whiteread has requested that the sculptures and drawings never be shown together.
In contrast to the undeniable weight her previous artworks possess, these drawings have a fleeting quality – the materials ephemeral, her hand light. It is as though the viewer has simply gathered up the scattered fragments of a project left unfinished.
In this way, the preparation becomes a work of art in itself, laying bare the progression of the artist’s thoughts and emotions. Whiteread’s new work offers an invaluable opportunity to catch a glimpse into the private process that goes into rendering an absence visible.