© Phillip King. All rights reserved, DACS 2023.

BRAKE 1966

Phillip King (1934 – )


213.4 X 366 X 488 CM
Accession number


For Lynne Cooke, walking around Brakewas an unsettling experience. She spoke of the viewer being

“anxiously conscious of a horizontal slab cantilevered precariously just above toe-height: from another position a form thrusts out at eye-level, its sharp angles protruding menacingly.”[1]

She thought this the first of King’s works that needed such a circuit “for its character to be fully revealed”. Initially, this seems rather counterintuitive, as it comes from a group of works taken up after King had temporarily abandoned making pieces in the form of cones, upended so as to have circular bases. From their first – Rosebud (1962) – to their last – Through (1965) –, however, these pieces had presented the viewer, or photographer, with a distinct “front”. In the first case, it was formed by a curved, sensuous slit from top to bottom, like a bud slowly opening and curling apart its lippy petals; in the second, the gaps created by the cone being egg-sliced, and the pieces arranged on a kind of Olympic medal winner’s podium, the highest step on the middle. The cone couldn’t survive this kind of dissection, and King was free to adapt the series of downward strokes to make work that moved along the floor, like the interlaced, angled book-end shapes of Slit (1966).

Brake’s title suggests this movement skidding to a halt, like Disney’s Roadrunner. In this state, we can go around, rather than along it, following King’s suggestion that

“There is a spiral movement in Brake reminiscent of the tradition of form in the round (Bernini etc.). The spiral in its movement describes a cone” […][2]

Here, he refers to Bernini’s portrait of Mussolini, in which the silhouette of Il Duce’s head has been carved all the way around the piece. In much the way Bernini uses one image all the way round, King has used the same mould for different parts, and laid them at various angles. One, unconnected to the others, led Tim Hilton to suggest the piece also showed King embarking on “a kind of environmental sculpture”[3] in 1966-8, and it certainly looks forward to the separate elements of Call (1967), communicating with each other across the gallery floor like the two halves of a walkie-talkie set. Blue Blaze (1969) went on to create similar same gaps, which King took to be the effect of bright blue paint “disintegrating shape, isolating it”.[4] This gap is big enough for gallery-goers to comfortably stand between them, and represents a step forward in King’s desire for space to be a “felt notion”:

“My work began with relating my physical body to what I was doing. I thought about things like my total skin area, the volume of my body, my height, and my reach, and I was conscious of relating those physical proportions to my work.”[5]

Brake is in fibreglass, a material that King remembered made sculpture look “very different” in the Sixties. It still looks fresh; King often repaints works, but the deceptive bronze-grey here adds to this feeling of surprised discovery which it can still inspire in its visitors.

Tom Overton, 2010.

[1] Lynne Cooke, ‘Works in the Exhibition’, in Lynne Cooke, Robert Kudielka & Rudolf Oxenaar, Phillip King [exh. cat.](London: Arts Council, 1981), pp.30-80; p.46.
[2] In conversation with Lynne Cooke, cit. Ibid.
[3]Tim Hilton, Phillip King (London: Lund Humphries/Henry Moore Foundation, 1992), p.48.
[4] Phillip King [exh. cat.](Otterlo: Kröller-Muller National Museum, 1974).
[5] In Conversation with Victor de Circasia, Phillip King: The Artist in Conversation with Victor de Circasia and John Edwards [exh. cat.](Wakefield: Yorkshire Sculpture Park, 1992), pp.8-17; p.9.