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Billy Teasdale ‘Boy with a Towel’ 2006, acrylic resin

A figure with a mirror as a body, a child’s dummy with a sculpted head in place of a teat, female figures seemingly hybridised with the supports that hold them up and present them—this is the stuff of Teasdale’s aesthetic world. His work brings together an investigation of formal issues in sculpture with concerns relating to the body —the sexual body in particular.

The work he presented at his degree show at Glasgow School of Art in 2004 suggested an interest in objects that combine the supposed self-sufficiency and indifference of the commodity with a perverse reading of the body as object of desire. More recent pieces pursue the latter theme, but use a much more engaging sculptural vocabulary, sometimes contextualised by paintings and drawings, which serve to suggest fragments of narrative. Teasdale achieves a marked sense of fragility, thanks in part to his technical facility and lightness of touch; but also to the subtlety with which objects relate to concepts. In his new work, figurative sculpture is combined with found objects such as shoes, mirrors and umbrellas, in ways which encourage psychoanalytic readings of such objects—and make effective art historical allusions (most obviously to Degas, and to 1930s Giacometti).

The objects in his work are engaged in a broken conversation about form, desire and culture—and while Teasdale’s most recent works do hold their own as individual pieces, they really come to life in relation to each other. Some are suggestive, refocusing attention on aspects easily overlooked in others, enriching and complicating our experience of them. This is most markedly the case with those that —when seen in isolation—seem the most ‘straight’ or conventional. For example, the cast of a boy which could seem merely contemplative, once juxtaposed with more enigmatic pieces, comes to suggest a range of possible interpretations relating to sexuality and subjectivity.

According to psychoanalysis, psychological development depends on the child’s acceptance of a self/world distinction; that is, on establishing boundaries of inside and out. In adulthood, the erogenous zones of the body are characterised by their status as openings, or crossing points, between inside and outside. Teasdale’s work explores this uncertain terrain, but introduces new propositions rather than merely illustrating existing concepts. In contrast to either Louise Bourgeois’s traumatic vision of childhood, or the visceral assault by ‘abject’ artists on mature subjectivity as cultural achievement, his work maintains a poetic and playful dimension that is central to its effectiveness. Teasdale addresses themes which are neither entirely cultural nor entirely personal, but rather to do with the complex interaction of the two.

Dominic Paterson is a lecturer at Glasgow University