An English sculptor and installation artist

Focus of work: Fragility of existence and the transformation of matter

Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View” 1991 – the restored three-dimensional volume of a garden shed exploded by the British Army at her request. The surviving pieces are suspended from the ceiling, lit by a single bulb, and create a dramatic effect. Parker altered the scale and substance of things and also the meaning conveyed by the found objects.

Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View 1991 Cornelia Parker born 1956 Presented by the Patrons of New Art (Special Purchase Fund) through the Tate Gallery Foundation 1995

Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View 1991 Cornelia Parker born 1956 Presented by the Patrons of New Art (Special Purchase Fund) through the Tate Gallery Foundation 1995

‘Pornographic Drawing’ 1996 in the middle of black canvas are two asymmetric abstract shapes, made from ink that was made from iron-based material ferric oxide. Parker acquired pornographic video tapes that had been confiscated and shredded by Her Majesty’s Custom and Excise in Wales and extracted the ferric oxcide component, forming a liquid and applying it to paper. She then folded each sheet down its centre so that the image printed on both sides, creating a mirror image.

Pornographic Drawing 1996 Cornelia Parker born 1956 Purchased 1997

Pornographic Drawing 1996 Cornelia Parker born 1956 Purchased 1997

Parker has described the act of producing these drawings as an expression of her own subconscious, as well as producing a form of abstract art.

‘Poppies’ at the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester ‘War Room’ – collected rolls of punched poppies from a factory in Aylesford in Kent and layered them to create a tent-like poppy room. Each poppy shaped hole represents a life lost in war – thought provoking and sobering.

‘A great enthusiast of materials and processes, an instinctive fossicker of order out of chaos ‘(Guardian Jan 2015) – work involves collaboration with scientists, military men, ordnance experts.

Casts of cracked pavement, using a rubberised solution and then casting them like hopscotch ladders in bronze.

Cornelia Parker - Pavement Cracks - Frith Street Gallery

Cornelia Parker – Pavement Cracks – Frith Street Gallery

Interview with Jack Southern Nov 2010 from ‘Drawing Projects’

Asked about drawing, comment that all of her work is drawing even the sculptures.

Asked about materials in drawing…A drawing can be made from anything…drawings by heating up a poker until red hot and then burning holes into folded paper, made poison and antidote drawings using snake venom mixed with black ink…pornographic drawings using chopped up pornographic video tape…drawing from a gold tooth made into wire threaded through a needle.

Making drawings in relation to the creative process…”For me the conscious part of making a drawing is deciding on a process, what the process then releases is something else. Your unconscious mind always knows more than your conscious and this needs to be released. A concept can do that…”


Brought up on a small holding in the country so early experience was centred on practical chores in the home – can now see that early experience coming through her work. In her degree she struggled with representing something on a flat surface…was much more interested in the real thing rather than creating an illusion in space…so became a sculptor.

Drawing is very basic and so to use materials with a history echoes this idea….like to put objects through extreme processes such as explosion, burning, crushing, stretching or submerging and thereby end up with the unknown – unpicking it in a way.


  1. What do you think Parker is trying to do in her piece ‘Poison and Antidote Drawing 92010)

It seems to me that the answer to this lies in the title itself. In the process of this drawing she is initially looking at opposites. Parker comments about this image, “I was thinking about Hitler and Freud, for example, in terms of how they seem to personify contrasting parts of the psyche.” She then went on to think about wanting to make something which was physically dangerous and so the idea of poison evolved. The use of Rorschach blots produced the element of the unknown into the concept.

I’m interested in this idea of process which Parker talks about in regard to her drawing and this image is an example of this.

  1. ‘Poison and Antidote Drawing ‘ is created using rattlesnake venom and black ink, anti-venom and white ink. Parker often uses bits of her subject to make her artwork. Why do you think she does this?

I think Parker is deeply embedded in a love of and fascination for materials. Her early life on a small-holding in the country gave her the experience of a practical, hands-on approach to daily life. She describes this, “it was my job to lay the fireplace in the morning, folding up newspapers to make paper sticks, and using the poker to keep the fire going. I ended up using both processes as tools to make my red-hot poker drawings.” Early on also at art college, she realised that she was only interested in ‘real’ things, the real material, and not in creating an illusion in paint. Her use of found objects illustrates her fascination with the history behind the object. Her focus is always on capturing a sense of reality through her use of real materials.

  1. How do you think it feels to stand in the presence of artworks that are constructed from original objects of great cultural significance. How does that differ from, say, standing in front of a painting of the same object?

This is an interesting question. I think it depends on the integrity of the artist’s concept. I don’t believe that it makes any difference if the image is constructed from original objects or the image is painted of the object, if the concept and process come from deep within the artist’s subconscious. If the use of materials in the way that Parker uses them is simply a gimmick then the response from the viewer will reflect this. My research on Parker leads me to believe that standing in front of any of her sculptures would be powerful indeed because she is expressing concepts which are authentic and deeply held.






About pbfarrar

I am an Australian living permanently in England. I have recently retired from the position of Principal of an independent school and have taken up the study of Fine Art with the OCA.
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