Doncaster-born and Bournemouth-bred, the Wimbledon MFA Fine Art graduate Daniel Curtis is the winner of the 2018 Clifford Chance Sculpture Prize. The prize – in its fourteenth year – gives MA students the opportunity to create a work that will be displayed in the lobby of Clifford Chance’s reception area. We caught up with Daniel to discuss what it was like to work on this commission.
As an artist, what do you make?
There is a kind of easy term for it, which is ‘Ikea furniture gone wrong’, but a more complex way of saying it is that I’m interested in having one foot in the history of abstraction, but then also playing with what is ‘comfortably’ abstract in the work by making things that look a bit like something that they are not. It’s that feeling, of slight familiarity when you’re left in a bit of a limbo. My work sits in that slippage space of meaning where you are not quite sure what one thing is supposed to be.
Another way of talking about my work is through the title of one of my pieces which were shown at my degree show: ‘People standing around at an after-work party. People that you think you recognise, seeming familiar, but that you can’t quite put your finger on, making you wonder if you know them at all’.
Could you tell us a bit about your application for the Clifford Chance Sculpture Prize?
In my application I wrote a short story about a guy coming for an interview at Clifford Chance and he puts his umbrella next to a table and that creates an interesting reflection, then a woman comes in to meet him and she’s got a set of folders and she accidentally hits against the wall and there’s a fold in them, the he stands up an knocks a bowl of pins over, and there are all these small moments and interactions and colours, and I said – eventually – that’s what I’m interested in at the moment. That’s how I came to the award!
The piece is called ‘They’ll be with you shortly’. It focuses on the pregnant feeling of a reception area.
How has the process of the prize been?
I applied before Christmas and the found out that I was successful in March, so that gave me about two months to make something new. But really what was great about the prize is that they were so open to my ideas they just said, well you’ve won – what do you want to do? The whole process is great, the Clifford Chance team are a really great group of people to work with, and they kind of hold you central – which is lovely.
What were the challenges in the commission?
Getting past the gigantic, gargantuan nature of Canary Wharf and the Clifford Chance space. You have to have a card to get in and you walk into this marble-floored law firm reception and it’s all very overwhelming in a lot of ways. And so processing that as a space initially was quite difficult. A space that I’m not familiar with at all, and a space where it is easy to feel slightly threatened. So to then play with that space and have fun with it, was the real challenge.
Do you have any advice for anyone applying for the prize in the future?
I was given the best advice from the previous award winner actually, another Wimbledon Graduate, Naomi Avsec. She said to make your application as simple as possible. In a really practical way, just stick to one side of A4. And get to the point – what are you excited about?
Has the prize enabled you to take your work in a new direction or explore something a bit further?
Yes, absolutely. The pieces that I created for the degree show weren’t site-specific, so to respond to this new form of making – creating everything myself and from scratch – in a very site-specific way was fantastic. Also, having prize money to work with enabled me a lot more freedom, knowing that I could purchase new tools to be able to make things that I hadn’t been able to make before. I could get the piece painted in the way that I wanted, and pay for the workshop space and expertise that I needed to be able to have fun and try things out without knowing if they were going to work. That has been really helpful.
What are you working on now, and what are your plans for the rest of 2018?
My biggest change in life is that I’ve just had a little son, Orrin, 8 months ago, so I’m hanging out with him a lot! The next big thing is that I’m collaborating with the curator Alice Bono. We are hoping to set up a gallery space in a very strange thin – 1 foot in width, but 10 meters long – space inside a shopping centre in Peckham, the Aylesham Centre. It’s the kind of space that you don’t really notice until you see it, it’s incredible.
Daniel Curtis’ installation at Clifford Chance, 10 Upper Bank Street, Canary Wharf, London, E14 runs until 9 November 2018 and is open to the public by appointment only.
Contact 020 7006 5183 for an appointment.
2017 Clifford Chance Winner
Naomi Avsec has also been busy since her time with Clifford Chance. She has recently had a residency, called Dust Garden: Little Particles of Happiness, in the bowels of Clapham, housed 100 feet beneath ground level in a WW2 bunker. Naomi describes her response to this unusual working environment – a huge tunnel hidden underground – ‘I have become something of a hermetic surrealist. I have been creating objects through the exploitation of chance. Some sort of subterranean madness has set in in this utterly unique space, which I am revelling in!’