A collection of immaculately turned out objects populate the two floors of Cole Gallery for Jackson Sprague’s latest exhibition, emanating a dapper, old-school charm. Indeed, on walking through the door I half expect a jazz band to swing into action, such is the predominant mid-century style.
Upstairs, a bronze work joyously titled ‘Whomping Good Time’ (2014) is all jaunty angles and vibrant motifs, capering about on its plinth like a Le Corbusier mural that has zinged its way into three dimensions. Downstairs, colourful free-standing sculptures adopt the idyllic poses of Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson, their uneven, handcrafted surfaces complete with apertures and artisanal sincerity.
At the heart of this sprightly company, and inspiring the title of the exhibition, is ‘House’ (2014) which is a windowless building carved from solid limestone. At no more than 30cm in height, it is roughly the size of a human head. This attractively polished object is, quite literally, tasked with providing the conceptual architecture for the exhibition. For ‘House’ is the imaginary home to the other artworks on show, an exterior to their interior, its mix of bodily, architectural and ornamental references is key to the semi-fantastical landscape to which they belong.
The notion of the figure pops up flirtatiously throughout the show, in the abundance of holes and limb-like protrusions, and in the soft cardboard curves of wall-based assemblages. This reaches a crescendo in ‘The Breathing Heads’ (2014), a free standing structure made from painted and shaped ply. In appearance it lies between a dressing screen and a room divide, but any allusion to modesty is a ruse. Two eyes loom large in its modernist filigree: this screen is designed to reveal, not conceal, the body.
Everything, here, spins on an axis of euphemism. But the prevailing effect of this suggestiveness is neither humour (although it is entertaining), nor eroticism (although it is, after a Victorian fashion, seductively coy), but rather a richness of character. By situating his work on the cusp of multiple recognisable forms, Sprague coaxes them into performing a remarkable variety of roles. Furniture becomes body, building becomes sculpture: the entirety of an interior - residents, possessions and all - ingeniously captured in eight sculptures. Sprague’s meticulous attention to the material register of the show is crucial to this, spanning utilitarian lead to decorative bronze, encapsulating the home from structure to display. It is here, in its understanding of the theatre of the object, that the exhibition truly excels.
Little wonder, then, that the tub of free beer at the opening night stuck out like a sore thumb in the gallery. For surely, in the world of the head sized home, there is no room for the lowly bottled lager. I picture, rather, highballs being sipped from architectural maquettes, or tea poured from some Hepworthian spout. This super refined, other wordily sensibility of the show is testament to Sprague’s finesse as a maker. However labour intensive these works undoubtedly were to produce, not a trace of elbow grease remains to bring them back down to earth.