Richard Rome obituary | Sculpture

The Millennium Fountain in Cannizaro Park, Wimbledon, southwest London, stands out in the nearly 60-year career of sculptor Richard Rome for its strikingly different appearance from his usual large-scale abstract structures of painted steel and weathered bronze . With its formal nod simultaneously to Henry Moore and the Picnic Teapot (the name it quickly acquired from visitors), the relaxed, semi-reclined portly form relieves itself with endless streams of four stubby spouts which make patterns in the surrounding pool water.

The only water feature he has ever tried, the design embodies a fun day in nature and was the closest this shy individual has come to expressing the lighthearted and playful side of his personality in his art.

Yet her work always considered both her environment and those who moved through it. In a retrospective installation in Canary Wharf, London’s Docklands, in 2017, his pieces were placed indoors and outdoors, mingling with commuters and workers between high hallways and elevator shafts in columnar shape, and among park benches and green spaces.

Richard, who died aged 79, first came to critical attention in the 1970s when he showed his lifelong interest in physical geometry and the emotional experience of built environments during of an exhibition at the Kingston-upon-Thames Museum and Art Gallery (1972). There he built a low rectangular platform that took up the entire floor area except for a narrow margin around the walls where visitors could stand.

W1 (1977) by Richard Rome, as seen in the retrospective installation at Westferry Circus, Canary Wharf, London, in 2017. Photograph: Courtesy of Canary Wharf Group

Three years later, for the Serpentine Gallery’s Summer Show 2, he inserted 12-meter-high plaster triangular angles that echo those of the building’s cubic gallery. He then added freestanding partitions of the same height to the interior space, thus involving the spectators in the renegotiation of the modified configuration of an otherwise familiar territory.

Towards the end of the decade he returned to making free-standing sculptures, but unlike the prevailing influences at the time of Moore and Anthony Caro, both admired by Richard, and his peers, who mainly welded metal into compositions that emphasize gravity. and pressure, Richard most often builds and later casts objects that are notable for their plumbness and balance.

His steel sculpture No. 1 (1979), once located in the Great Cloister of Canterbury Cathedral (now in Millfield School), looks like a precarious stacking of thick, curving elements that nevertheless retain their cohesion. formal. Lugubrious but animal, latent energy, the sculpture gives the impression of rising from its base (Richard was not averse to the insertion of plinths, unlike many of his contemporaries).

Even modest in size, his compositions projected an assumption of monumentality that was never overwhelming. Emphasis was placed on the grouping of diverse and vaguely geometric elements into vertical structures that implied shelter or habitat. An example is its weathered steel construction Pepper Rock (1993-97)now standing in Bishopsgate, City of London, where a rectilinear frame seems to surround a grouping of various shapes like a protective arm.

Born in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, Richard was the son of Sidney Rome, an amateur painter and marine engineering draftsman, and his wife, Elsie (née Gosling). His first job after St Albans Boys’ High School was with construction company Trollope & Colls, as a trainee quantity surveyor. The mechanics of construction and architecture impressed him, and at St Albans School of Art, where he studied for his fine art degree (1962-64), he gravitated towards sculpture. This choice was facilitated by two tutors he met there: the sculptors George Fullard and John Wraggboth of which had a lasting influence.

After completing a postgraduate year at Chelsea School of Art in 1966, where Fullard and Wragg also taught, Richard became a tutor at Brighton School of Art. There he met Sally Gollop, a painting student, and they married in 1969.

Richard Rome with one of his works
Richard Rome with one of his works

His abstract sculpture never completely abandoned allusions to the body and physical movement. These references were rarely overt but invariably present, as in his first formally significant play after graduation, Night and Day (1966-67). It features two elements with linear silhouettes cast in glass-reinforced plastic and spray-painted with auto lacquer in contrasting colors that seem to follow each other.

However, he quickly moved away from the synthetic resins that were fashionable among the new generation of progressive British sculptors in the 1960s, such as Phillip King and Tim Scottand began building with steel in the manner pioneered in the UK by Caro.

The results were then either painted with primary colors or weathered. One such work, W1 (1977), was installed on a grassy, ​​open space in the Canary Wharf exhibition: the large, angular, red sculpture made a strong impact against a uniform backdrop of office buildings.

Richard has dedicated his career to both manufacturing and teaching. After a brief stint at Walthamstow College of Art, in 1975 he moved to Canterbury College of Art, where he was a lecturer for 14 years, then headed the course in site-specific sculpture at Wimbledon School of Art until until he moved to the Royal College. of Art in 1991, where he remained until his retirement in 2008.

There he taught bronze casting, on which he was a recognized authority; he wrote the standard guide to casting metals from molds (with Hamish Young), published by Robert Hale in 2003. other institutions.

Reserved by nature, Richard was reluctant to promote his work. Nevertheless, his contemporaries admired him and his best opportunities were invitations from other artists. In addition to the Serpentine, he exhibited wax and bronze objects at the Hayward Gallery, during the Hayward Annual 1979, selected respectively by the sculptors Hubert Dalwood and Nicholas Pope. In the United States, he participated in Caro’s Triangle Workshops and was artist-in-residence at Sculpture Space in Utica, New York, in 1984.

After living for years between his home in Southwark and his studio in Kent, in retirement he moved to the Isle of Wight to be closer to his son William’s young family. Always a keen observer and adventurer, rafting down the Colorado River five times through the Grand Canyon, he discovered his talent as a competent boater in his sixties.

His marriage to Sally ended in divorce in 1982. He is survived by William, his grandson, Freddie, and his sister, Elizabeth.

Richard Rome, sculptor and tutor, born January 8, 1943; died on January 17, 2022

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