Daniel Silver: The Skin is the Depth
The Skin is the Depth explores Daniel Silver's use of colour, including oil paint on raw ceramics, and coloured glazes on a series of heads.
Influenced by the art of ancient Greece, modernism and Freudian psychoanalytic theory, Daniel Silver’s sculptures often manifest as monuments or fragments, as if emerging from an archaeological excavation. Applying his restless imagination to the form and structure of the human body, his sculptures speak of the intimacy of touch, with each head or figure seeming to take on a unique personality.
In 2020, during lockdown, Silver has made a body of work where colour features prominently, including a group of large sculptures constructed from segments of unglazed ceramic, which the artist then finishes with oil paint. In this series, the artist reworks the body as kind of plinth, describing the sculptures as born from a desire to ‘make a body for a head’. Referring to them as ‘totems’ to describe their multi-part form, the sculptures shift between abstraction and figuration, micro and macro, recalling as some of them do a limb, a geological growth, an internal organ or perhaps even an artery.
While colour has often played an experimental role throughout Silver’s oeuvre, here he has used it emphatically. The artist applies oil paint directly to the rough, unglazed surface of unglazed ceramic, describing the pigment as a ‘skin’ on the body of the sculpture. The use of colour in sculpture can be traced back to the ancient Greeks, or, in modern sculpture, Antony Caro’s Early One Morning (1962). Silver’s use of colour lends a painterly sumptuousness to the works, as well as a poignant humanity and a playful humour.
In parallel with the 'totems' the artist has created a series of more intimate ceramic heads. Once fired, each head is painted with oils, allowing the pigments to blend and interact with the rough, unglazed ceramic to create tactile surfaces and intimate expressions. One head, titled Mother, is in part based on a woman the artist saw on his way to and from his studio, while another, called Clown, conjures the fool or comedian – often the father, according to the artist – in the family. The artist regards these works as individuals from a dream-like family, faintly recognisable yet also surreal.
'Once they were fired, I could paint them. And I could paint them in such a way that I could walk around them. And I could use the texture and the materiality of the ceramic to add another skin onto it, and that was something I really enjoyed and felt was quite a breakthrough for me.'
In early 2021, Silver started a new series of ceramic heads based on a group of three figures the artist first created in 2003. Derived from the head of a female mannequin, the artist added a prominent extension to the lower part of the face, transforming the head into what could be a balding, bearded man. For the artist, however, the extension could also be a tongue – and thus each head could be either a bearded man or an androgynous figure with an oversized tongue. Colour in these works is unpredictable, with the glazes creating luscious, abstract surfaces. Each sculpture is supported by a unique wooden base chosen by the artist to complement the tones and patterns in the head it supports.
See below for a podcast conversation between Daniel Silver and Craig Burnett, in which the artist describes some of the ideas behind the work in The Skin is the Depth.