20th October - 12th November 2005

Peter Startup:


sculpture 1960 - 1969

sculpture 1970 - 1976


Peter Startup: Sculpture

We have concentrated for this show on the "metamorphic" works from the Sixties, some of which have the capacity to "morph" into two or three different positions: but we could have put together several very coherent shows from other stages of his versatile and inventive career. Startup remains, even after close scrutiny, an enigmatic and singular figure in British sculpture, who produced work of both subtlety and quality, work which is not easily pigeon-holed with that of either his predecessors or his peers. He belonged to no group or "movement", and whilst he had many artist-friends who held him in the highest regard, he did not easily share his motivations for work. Such an isolated position is not necessarily benefi cial to an artist's career, but Startup's detachment seems to have kept him true to his own thoughtful terms of engagement with the discipline and history of sculpture. He was able to develop a very singular formal language with his favoured material – wood – which took him in some utterly original directions, and produced sculptural surprises which have a continuing power to delight.

Poussin Gallery would like to thank Peter's son Jasper Startup for his help in preparing this exhibition.


"My work is made with assembled wood, discarded furniture, machine-moulded parts, machine-sawn planks, etc… They are part of the discarded junk of urban life and through them I want to find relationships which surprise and excite me, and that project an image through the terms of classical sculpture – that is, in terms of space and volume."

"It is with these assembled parts that I hope to find analogies with the sensuous, and discover qualities of compression, density and weight that will state the mood that has kept me going throughout the making of the work."


"In some respects his sculptures are loosely, almost carelessly, assembled. There is no sign of craft worship. Nails, dowelling, glue, any method that will fix one chunk or strip of wood to another is good enough. At the same time he is obviously fascinated by the way that, if skilfully constructed or carved, wooden blocks can be made to slot and lock into each other. In several of his sculptures there are passages that seem almost oriental in their self-justifying structural complexity. And just as the rough-and-ready section is juxtaposed to one demonstrating technical virtuosity, so also thin strips of wood are set against massive lumps or slabs, smooth or rounded forms against rough or angular, old wood against new, dark against light. As he builds them up the sculptor richly exploits the infinite variety of wood: grain, age, colour, surface. Occasionally he adds stain or colour to point a contrast of form or function."

"[The] departure from any reference to the human image may be thought to diminish the work's power to invite … recognition and empathy. In fact, this invitation remains, has changed its character, and has been incorporated in the sculpture in a very specific way. In one or two of his earlier sculptures Startup experimented with movable parts – not in the sense of free motion, at the whim of the spectator, but making his objects so that one or more portions could be lifted out of them, allowing the spectator two or three alternative versions. He has now developed this multiplicity of image into a major characteristic of his work and this has involved him in finding functional and aesthetically contributive means of linking the separable parts of his sculptures. It also involves the spectator in an active relationship that satisfies very deep needs in his personality: he is invited to make and to unmake, to select the composition (out of two or three possibilities available) that seems most meaningful at a particular moment, and generally to contribute to the sculpture's existence."


"Looking at Startup's sculpture we have to keep our wits about us, and on not too short a leash. They are dramatic and serious, but there is humour and sensuousness in them too. They are not easily categorized."

"The process of finding form through assembling pieces brought with it the possibilities which surfaced in Startup's sculptures of 1964/65. Earlier he had allowed marked individuality to many of the constituent elements of his sculptures, and he had enjoyed finding ways of holding them together that did not deprive them of all independence. Now he made adjustable sculptures, parts of which could appear in different positions and thus form different total images. (At this time there was much talk among artists about 'participatory art', about giving the spectator an active role vis-a-vis the work of art. Most of the results were very disappointing – games of a very limited and unproductive sort.) Startup called his adjustable sculptures 'metamorphic'. He had used the word before, in the title of the large sculpture Metamorphic Participation. Its two standing forms relate to each other in an almost human way … in addition, parts of the sculpture can physically be moved to alternative positions. Thus, 'metamorphic' refers to physical change but it is clear that Startup was not intent on displaying a view on the insuffi ciency of static sculpture or static spectators. He was releasing an implied mutability inherent in the earlier work."