Raindrops keep falling on my head: Robert Therrien at Parasol Unit

Written by: Victoria Highfield

It’s a dreary Saturday morning in Islington so the idea of killing a few hours at North Four’s favourite art space, Parasol Unit, sounds dreamy. The gallery is hosting a new exhibition featuring the early work of American sculpture artist Robert Therrien, and to art lovers like me that’s kind of a big deal.

North Four, North London magazine, Robert Therrien, Parasol Unit Gallery

However, unless you’re a contemporary art buff and caught a glimpse of his work as part of the Artist Rooms Project at the Tate, I’m guessing many will be unfamiliar with the artist. This is largely because the majority of exhibitions of his work have taken place in America and more reason why this first UK solo show is so exciting.

The guy is also famous for his larger than life installation pieces, such as No Title (Table and Chairs) which shows Therrien play with everyday objects by blowing them up to extraordinary sizes. Basically big-ass furniture that will make you feel like Jack immersed in the giants house – a bit like a theme park attraction, and perfect for today’s instragram generation (just type it in the search bar and watch the flood of photos appear).

North Four, North London magazine, Robert Therrien, Parasol Unit Gallery

Robert Therrien’s early work interacts with 20th century art movements such as Minimalism, Pop Art and Conceptualism. Taking inspiration from Duchamp’s ready-mades (think of that urinal, signed R Mutt) at the heart of Therrien’s work are everyday things – a water pitcher, a hat, a snowman, a cloud and even, wait for it…a bin. 

Furniture is a reoccurring theme for the artist. As you walk into the exhibition you are greeted with a large set of black doors to your left No title (black Dutch Doors) formed of two identical rectangle shapes stacked one above the other, mounted to the wall and extending out from it at different angles. Although it’s a shame you can’t pass through them, the doors give a welcoming openness to the rest of the space.

North Four, North London magazine, Robert Therrien, Parasol Unit Gallery

There is a playful quality about Therrien’s work and a sense of familiarity that I love. A childhood memory of a snowman motif is simplified and manipulated to create immaculate toy-like sculptures, reliefs and works on paper. The ever-changing elements are a key part in this exhibition, and this pays tribute to curator and director Dr Ziba Ardalan’s background in Science.  Snow melts and eventually reforms as snow. In the upper gallery, there is a looming aubergine coloured cloud with faucets. The cloud, created from three rounded shapes, suggest a state of flux, with the taps evoking imminent precipitation and dissolution. This is an obvious link to the beautiful silver rain droplets on the first floor as if the cloud is raining down on you.  There is a real sense of continuity throughout the space – each piece lends itself into the next like it is telling a story.

North Four, North London magazine, Robert Therrien, Parasol Unit Gallery

Parasol Unit is a non-profit organisation whose aim is to enable the public to access art and art research through captivating and thought provoking exhibitions and this one is no exception. Therrien’s vibrant colour blocks of red, brown hues and cool silvers are metaphors for seasonal change and perfect for a frosty morning of browsing an artist’s work that’s often over looked.

Educational events and a comprehensive publication also accompany the exhibition. So if you want to improve your knowledge of Art History this could be the one for you.

Robert Therrien: Works 1975–1995, Parasol unit Foundation, London, 2 October – 11 December

Photos via Parasol Unit

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