Current exhibitions

SUNLIGHT: Roger Ackling

  • 18 May 2024 - 22 September 2024
  • Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery
  • Supported by EAAF - if you're not a member and would like to attend this event Join Now.

SUNLIGHT is the first survey of British artist Roger Ackling (1947-2014) and the most significant exhibition of his work to date. Reappraising Ackling’s practice 10 years after his death, SUNLIGHT is an unprecedented examination of one of the most quietly influential artists of the late 20th century.

For 50 years, Ackling consistently made objects by burning wood - focussing sunlight through the lens of a hand-held magnifying glass to scorch repeated patterns of lines on the surface. Collecting driftwood from the beach at Weybourne near his home on the Norfolk coastline, as well as reclaimed broken and discarded materials, Ackling took little from the world to make his work and left nothing beyond a wisp of smoke in the air. His primary tool was the light of the sun – transforming energy in a process that was fundamentally photographic and yet also akin to a cauterising of the surface, much like a tattoo. Ackling is best known for his work on found driftwood, but SUNLIGHT expands this reputation to include lesser-known works made using domestic wooden objects, tools, and incorporating ready-made elements such as elastic bands and mapping pins. SUNLIGHT also features works on card and paper that have not been exhibited in the UK.

Ackling’s career is notable for both his unique practice and his long and influential teaching career. SUNLIGHT reveals the artist as a socially engaged, highly networked individual, consistently dedicated to making, exhibiting and teaching – in equal measure, with each activity influencing the other. Ackling’s works are shown alongside previously unseen and little-known materials from the artist’s extensive archive at the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds, as well as a film of interviews with fellow artists and students such as Tony Cragg, Maggi Hambling, Dean Hughes and David Nash, examining the impact and legacy of Ackling’s practice.

From the mid-1970s, Ackling exhibited consistently internationally – most frequently in France, Switzerland, the US and Japan – but his work was comparatively less seen at home. He showed in lively and playful installations, arriving in a space with a suitcase full of works to install each object by hand. Informed by the Roger Ackling archive, SUNLIGHT references key exhibitions at distinct stages of his career as precedent for installations to capture the grouping and rhythm of work as Ackling intended.

Guest Curator, Amanda Geitner says: Much has been said about the quiet beauty of Roger Ackling’s objects. I was fortunate to work with him on two exhibitions in the 1990s. SUNLIGHT presents the wonder of his works en-masse and the playful brilliance of his installations. An artist’s artist, Ackling had a gift for teaching and for friendship. This exhibition has been swept along by the affection and admiration of so many artists, students and curators – testifying to the enduring significance of his work today.

Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art, Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery, Dr Rosy Gray says: Within the parameters of his method, Ackling made a great variety of objects that are beautiful, enigmatic and powerful. They occupy a unique place in contemporary art practice – understood in relationship to Land Art, Minimalist and Conceptual Art practices and yet not defined by any one of these movements. SUNLIGHT testifies to this variety with more than 150 works on display, many of which have not been shown before in the UK.

Exhibition credits

S U N L I G HT is realised with the critical support of key funders, to whom we are immensely grateful: Norfolk Museums Service, Arts Council England, the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Norwich City Council, Norfolk County Council, East Anglia Art Fund, Henry Moore Foundation, Norwich University of the Arts, and Art Fund.

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