David Thorp: Coracle Men (2023), based on vintage photographs from J. Geraint Jenkins’ book The Coracle.


Life is a Leaking Boat – David Thorp

Opening & Performance: Friday, 12 January 2024, 4-8pm.
Exhibition: Monday, 15 January to Friday, 19 January; 11 am-5 pm.
At England & Co’s Project Space at the Sotheran’s Building, 2A Sackville Street, Piccadilly, London W1S 3DP.

Life is a Leaking Boat is the overarching title for a new body of work by David Thorp. The core image and theme of which is that of a coracle. A notoriously unstable vessel, the coracle is a symbol of vulnerability and of response to the environment that is used by Thorp as a metaphor for the anxieties and uncertainty of life.

Although each work stands in its own right, together they are part of an ongoing project in which the various elements inform one another. The works originate from, and are contextualised by, the starting point for the whole work, an artist’s book – Life is a Leaking Boat – that is available to be picked up and looked through by visitors to the exhibition.

Central to the exhibition is a coracle frame made by the artist. It has no skin and therefore will never be able to float. It has no practical purpose. It is a boat for dry land. From the coracle frame flow paper origami boats. These act as symbolic representations of life ebbing away from a person; sperm flowing to a mother vessel; or fish; or life force.

Dressed in a dinner jacket and carpet slippers, a lonely figure sits in a room as life forces in the form of origami boats overwhelm him and flow out and away from his body. The detritus from the performance form a table top installation.

Throughout his adult life Thorp has returned to Wales at personally significant times. And the connection between the coracle and Wales, while not essential to the project, is an extension of its symbolic relevance. Some of the works include a sound piece – two are poems about coracles read in Welsh. The photographs of coracle men are based on vintage photos from J. Geraint Jenkins’ book The Coracle from which the poems also come. These men carry their boats on their backs in the traditional way but here to no avail. These coracles will never float. They are just a burden.

Two triptychs incorporate short poems adapted from correspondence between Thorp and the artist A. K. Dolven. They include photographs of the coracle frame and details of a painting by Duccio di Buoninsegna from the 13th century and a painting by an unknown follower of Hieronymus Bosch from the 15th century, The Ship of Fools – the other sub-theme that runs through all this work and is included in the book.

Overlooking the whole exhibition is a photocopy collage on canvas based on an image of an idealised and rationalised coracle frame. This image also appears in the book and in one of the triptychs.

• There will be a display of works by Anne Bean in the rear gallery.