Daniel Silver is a strange and compelling sculptor. His work has been described as dyslexic, which seems to me to hit the nail on the head. Anybody who saw Dig his installation on a piece of sodden waste land off Tottenham Court Road in 2013 is unlikely to forget it.
The visitor descended into a dank basement inhabited by a bewildering array of sculptures: fragments of body parts, tools and, most strikingly, herms surmounted by great bearded heads. In the ancient world intimations of unconscious drives were felt to be to the voices of the gods, the Shining Ones. When we looked at this installation it was as if we heard the echoes of those messages.
The installation grew out of the artist’s experience of the sculptures on one shelf in a cabinet in the Freud Museum. In the last room a recumbent figure represented Freud himself. Covered in bulbous spheres the modern visitor might have seen it as reference to Louise Bourgeois – but she took the motif of the many breast-like forms from antiquity. This blend of the archaic and the modern has become a signature of Silver.
The work in the present show is less oppressive but it is still uncanny. The first figures are made of marble and onyx from the Serravezza and Pietrasanta stone yards. But they are not conventional: the balance of these figures is odd, they seem almost to sway, while their faces are smudged a la Medardo Rosso. The second part consists of heavily altered shop mannequins. Hands have been cut off and replaced by very white ones, which make odd and flamboyant gestures. Their bodies also look as if they have been hacked at, then car body filler has been used to patch the cracks. The ensemble ends up as an effete but disturbingly contemporary version of a pagan bacchanal.
‘The backward look behind the assurance
Of recorded history, the backward half-look
Over the shoulder, towards the primitive terror.’
(T.S.Eliot, les trois sauvages, Four Quartets).
You may not warm to this work but I think that you will find it interesting.
Daniel Silver is at Frith Street Gallery (Golden Square and Soho Square) until 3 November.