On Friday morning,12 February 2016, I got a phone call from France letting me know British artist Pip Culbert, based in France but with close connections and an exhibition history in New Zealand, had passed away after a long battle with cancer. A wonderful artist and woman, Pip Culbert was born in 1938 and studied at the Royal College of Art in London, graduating in 1961. She first exhibited in New Zealand in 1993. Her work, characterised by its minimal aesthetic, its modesty and reserve, was shown at Te Papa in 2001 in a two artist exhibition curated by Ian Wedde called More and Less.
More and Less was developed as a curated and a localised offering, to coincide with the touring Gianni Versace, The Reinvention of Material exhibition Te Papa was also showing. The exhibition featured Pip Culbert’s work; minimal line drawings made from the skeleton seams of deconstructed clothing alongside a body of work entitled Teuanoa‛i – Adorn to Excess by Samoan/Japanese artist Shigeyuki Kihara, a T-shirt series which parodied well-known corporate logos. The show was based on the contrast of each artists work – Kihara’s overload/excess, Culbert’s restraint – and the relationship of their work with the fashion/textile industry. More and Less highlighted the reductive nature of Culbert’s work, her removal of the superfluous, the unneeded and unnecessary. It also showcased her adoption of the minimal ideal of ‘less is more’, employed to reveal the architectural structure of a garment/fabric object; the transformation of the ordinary to create line and space.
In the essay ‘The Expanded Seam; the Song of the Shirt’, from the exhibition catalogue Donc, the name also of a solo show by Pip Culbert held in Saignon in France in 2013, Writer Sarah Wilson said;
‘An encounter with the scope of her work offers us an oeuvre, both orchestral and architectural. The ironing board shape pinned on the wall may become ogive arch or phallic bomb shell; repeated we pass along cloister windows – or an ammunition factory. The tautness suggests both the line of drawing and potential collapse…
‘…On the gallery walls, Pip has pinned tents in perspective, Tatlinesques wingspans, Duchampian gliders, clock faces or parasols, English fanlights: the world of the revolutionary artiste-ingenieur and his pocketed worker’s shirt and heavy hold-all, the gendered world of perspective drawing, are gently mocked, marvellously expanded and the viewer is held in a dialectic of recognition utile-inutile…the useful, useless transformed into a proposition.
The French word ‘donc’, Pip explained when she sent me the catalogue a few years ago, kind of means therefore. The ‘therefore’ related to the show and catalogue which marked an important survey of her practice.
There are three works by Pip Culbert held in the Te Papa art collection, all from 1992. In the acquisition proposal for the works Curator Ian Wedde said;
…’ Her work with items of clothing is well known, and she has also used items such as furniture, tents and parachutes. Her work has been exhibited in major international exhibitions and art fairs, including The Armoury Show, New York, 1999; The Secret Life of Clothes, Fukuota, Japan, 1998; The Frankfurt Art Fair in 1995 and 1997.
Pip Culbert’s work references Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending A Staircase No. 2 of 1912 and Duchamp’s initiation of the ‘found object’ as art. It also makes connections with the ‘arts’ of seamstry and tailoring, and the material traditions of fabrics. Her Dress Shirts are iconic in her oeuvre, combining her interests in engineering and structure, sculpture, the modernist traditions of found objects and conceptual art, and the arts of garment making.‘
We are saddened by Pip’s passing. Our condolences and aroha go to Bill Culbert, Collette and Rae, her family and friends.
Pip Culbert’s Pup Tent, can be seen in the exhibition Above Ground at the recently re-opened Te Puna o Waiwhetu, Christchurch Art Gallery.