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Rachel Whiteread

British Sculptor

Rachel Whiteread Photo

Born: April 20, 1963 - Ilford, United Kingdom

"I make all this stuff in the studio, but I also work on these white elephants - like House or Untitled Monument - things that are incredibly ambitious, take an awful long time to do, involve a lot of controversy, an awful lot of people, and don't make any money particularly, but it's just because I need to make them."

Rachel Whiteread Signature

Summary of Rachel Whiteread

Before Rachel Whiteread, no artist had ever found a way of making the air that surrounds an object the subject of their work. Rather than pouring a liquid, such as molten metal, plastic, rubber, or fiberglass into a mold to make a replica of a regular, pre-existing work, she made a plaster cast of the negative or unseen space around an object. The air trapped inside a hot water bottle, the space underneath a bed and the interior of a three-storey house - Whiteread turned the traditional process of cast sculpture on its head. The first woman to win the Turner Prize, the most prestigious art award in the UK, Whiteread continues to make work that is remarkable for its ability to comment on themes of absence and loss in monumental and subtle ways.

Key Ideas

In making the air or space rather than the thing itself the focus of her work Whiteread singularly reinvented the traditional casting process. This was a remarkable achievement in that it helped to redefine the very nature of what a sculpture was.
Her approach broke new ground in the fact it was based on the conceptual idea of absence - a position that one could perhaps see as almost anti-sculptural.
Her sculptures deal with psychological space as well as physical space. Evoking themes of absence and memory, their sheer presence in specific sites - such as deprived areas of East London and the Holocaust Monument in Vienna's Judenplatz - provide an affecting social and political commentary.
Repetition is key to her work - as Whiteread herself noted in her remark that "I've done the same things over and over". However, even in her series of hot water bottles, mattresses, or translucent resin cubes, the slight imperfections and subtle color changes help create variety and a sense of time passing.
Rachel Whiteread Photo

Born in Ilford in Essex, Rachel Whiteread moved to London when she was seven. Her mother, the artist Patricia Whiteread, was involved in important exhibitions of feminist art at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts in the 1980s. Consequently, Whiteread and her older twin sisters grew up surrounded by art and materials for art making. Her father Thomas, a geography teacher, supported his wife's artistic career, and converted part of their house into a studio, where Whiteread remembers helping to install a concrete floor as a child. The artist has frequently cited the importance of her upbringing to her later artistic practice, feeling a particular debt to her geographically minded father, "whose interest in industrial archaeology enabled me to look up" and appreciate concepts of architecture, spatiality, and memory.

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