Papers of Brian Catling

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The collection contains the papers of poet, performance artist and sculptor Brian Catling, including sketchbooks, notebooks, project files, press cuttings, photographs, slides, exhibition catalogues, correspondence and publications. The material represents what Catling describes as the 'sculpture' part of his archive. However, this is not to say that the literary and performance aspects of his career are not represented in the collection. The project files in particular contain papers related to the 'Cyclops' and 'The Blindings' - performance pieces which fuse together the writing of poetry, sculptural installation and performance.

Catling's papers have been arranged into the following series order:

  • 2010.540/A: Sketchbooks and drawings
  • 2010.540/B: Photographs
  • 2010.540/C: Slides
  • 2010.540/D: Project files
  • 2010.540/E: Press cuttings and reviews
  • 2010.540/F: Text and notes
  • 2010.540/G: Published Books
  • 2010.540/H: Exhibition catalogues and publicity materials

Administrative / Biographical History

Born in South London in 1948, Brian Catling is a sculptor, poet, novelist, academic and performance artist. He studied at the North East London Polytechnic (1968-71), the Royal College of Art, (1971-74) and is a Fellow of Linacre College, Oxford. His installations and performances have been staged in a number of countries including, Spain, Japan, Iceland, Israel, Holland, Norway, Germany, Greenland and Australia. He was the first Henry Moore fellow of Sculpture at Norwich School of Art (1982-85) and in 2001 won the Paul Hamlyn Award for Visual Art. He has been a visiting lecturer in England, Norway and Holland and has taught at The Ruskin School of Drawing & Fine Art for over twenty years.

For the first few years after leaving the Royal College of Art, Catling pursued a relatively conventional career path as a sculptor and academic. However, by the mid-1980s Catling's direction started to change. After completing his Henry Moore Fellowship at the Norwich School of Art, Catling chose to take on a commission in Denmark. His 1986 exhibition 'On Touching, Haunting and Marking A Noble Silent Room' held at Leifsgade 22 in Copenhagen, Denmark, was to prove pivotal. The exhibition was held in a large room that had previously been a drying shed for tobacco and a repository for archival documents. Catling wanted to acknowledge this history and let the room, and its resonances, direct his work. This way of working, exploring the history and atmosphere of venues, was to influence much of his work throughout the 1980s and 1990s. This exhibition was also responsible for a more fluid way of working and freed Catling from the conventions of the artists' studio. Commissions undertaken abroad were made in their locations, sometimes using the surrounding landscape to make his pieces. For his exhibition 'White Breath ? Red Heart' held at the Hordaland Kunstnercentrum in Bergen, Norway, Catling made his final work at midnight by making a leaden cast of the full moon's reflection on the frozen lake at Trollhaugen Lake, located on the outskirts of the city.

From the mid-1980s onwards, Catling started to allow his writing to meld more with his sculpture. His poetry had been published by Albion Village Press - owned by Catling's friend and collaborator, Iain Sinclair -since the early 1970s, but up until that point, both disciplines had been kept relatively separate. However, these elements started to collide and found expression in performance art. Catling honed his craft during the late 1980s, combining performance, sculpture and writing to make site-specific works throughout Europe. These performance-based exhibitions have been staged in international venues since the early 1990s and include significant shows such as 'The Blindings' at the Serpentine Gallery in 1994, a durational work that lasted nine days, and a series of 'Cyclops' manifestations made between 1995 and 2002, each uniquely made for its venue. Some of these manifestations were placed in galleries as video installations and much of his later work has included the creation of video pieces.

In 2001, Catling founded the international performance collective 'The Wolf in Winter', a group of six solo performance artists who come together at various intervals to perform at international venues. Catling has also collaborated extensively with the screenwriter Tony Grisoni, producing various pieces together, including the 1999 film 'Vanished: A Video Séance'. He has had numerous books of poetry published and his poems have featured in various anthologies, including 'Anthology of Twentieth-Century British and Irish Poetry' (Oxford University Press, 2001).

Despite Catling's prolific literary and performance output, the process of creating sculpture has always proved to be a satisfying experience for Catling and he has been unable to abandon his formative passion, remarking that "there is a constant boomerang back into the physical studio, where the forge and materials demand an archery of actual presence. It is sculpture that is proud of its simplicity and of the scars and of its construction. The process of cutting, grinding, welding and forging are considered as poetic acts, as much as structural necessities" ('United Enemies: The Problem of Sculpture in Britain in 1960s & 1970s', The Henry Moore Institute, 2011). In 2006 he was the winner of the Historic Royal Palaces commission to create a monument at the site of execution at The Tower of London.

He is professor of fine art at The Ruskin School of Drawing & Fine Art, University of Oxford, and a Fellow of Linacre College.

Conditions Governing Access

Available to all registered researchers. The Archive is open by appointment only.

Other Finding Aids

A finding aid is available for consultation in the HMI archive searchroom

Archivist's Note

Archives Hub description was created by Katie Gilliland