Kevin Francis Gray Studio
Kevin Francis Gray’s Reclining Nude I features in Sculpture in the City’s 9th Edition, extended until late spring 2021. Here, we catch up with the Irish sculptor ahead of his solo exhibition at Pace (6 Burlington Gardens, opening November 25th and running until February 13th, 2021).
Can you introduce us to your new exhibition?
For people who have been able to come see the piece at St.-Botolph’s-without-Bishopsgate, I’m hoping they’ll find the connection between that era of work and the new one I’m presenting at Pace this month. I’m very excited for the show, because it feels like yet another iteration of my relationship with marble. “The Breakdown Works” are the crux of this new show – it’s a collection of about 25 pieces that mix marble with a broad range of other materials like bronze, wood and new stones. Each piece is unique and seeing the full suite together has been really fulfilling.
Please tell us about one or two highlights in the Pace Gallery exhibition.
This is a somewhat novel installation, because we’ve been able to populate the gallery with a broad selection of The Breakdown Works, and a number of key related sculptures that connect beautifully with the new series. There are two pieces that I find particularly striking though. The first is “Breakdown Work #7”, which features a Kilkenny marble head – it has been so exhilarating working with a new stone, and the result is quite breathtaking. The second is “Striding Youth”, a new figure that connects to the Young Gods series. This piece is important to the show because it is the sum of key themes that developed in relation to the show: a young, anonymous figure stepping into its power.
Despite the recognisable signature of your hand in the work, there’s a clear progression from Reclining Nude I onwards to your new works – can you walk us through that development?
When I was making Reclining Nude I, my relationship with the marble was still at a very venerable stage. By that I mean I still felt beholden to the material, and pushing it into even that level of abstraction felt bold. Now, I’m at a stage in my practice where I am engaging with marble differently. There’s more freedom to my usage of marble, which is why I felt like I could start combining it with other materials, testing how it would react in new environments.
What has it been like developing a show and a body of work during lockdown?
In some ways, I was able to keep to my routine – I had access to my studio, and was able to work per my usual schedule. Of course, the weight of this year and this lockdown made itself felt. So much of my London studio life is linked to life in the city, and the sudden quiet was very striking. It did offer up the time and space for a lot of self-reflection though. In the run-up to an exhibition, that can be a good and a bad thing – as an artist, you’re able to spend more time with the work and really finesse the pieces; but the flip side of that is the stasis, whereas as an artist, I’m always trying to challenging my practice. At the start of lockdown, there was definitely a period of welcome quiet, though – and it served as an important reminder that taking time for contemplation, and not making, can be as important as actually making.
How do you approach exhibitions in public spaces?
When working at my studio in Italy, the set-up is predominantly outside. Even in winter months, so much of the working experience is tied to the exterior, to natural light. So it’s always a joy to be able to place finished work in outside spaces. The marble reacts so beautifully in natural light. With large pieces, like the Reclining Nude I, seeing them set up outside feels a bit like they’re where they’re meant to be.
Where can we see your work now, and in coming months?
One silver lining of the London lockdown has been the fortunate (for me!) extension of this edition of Sculpture in the City. So, the Reclining Nude I will be on view in London, at St-Botolph-without-Bishopsgate, until late spring 2021. Until then, my exhibition at Pace’s London gallery (at 6 Burlington Gardens, in the Royal Academy) will be on view online and, hopefully in person, until January 23rd, 2021. For anybody based in Italy, or able to get to Florence, there’s also an absolutely beautiful show at the Museo Stefano Bardini running until December 21st, 2020, that I am particularly proud of.