Saturday, 19 March 2011


Shelagh Wakely

Shelagh Wakely, Curcuma Sul Travertino, 1991, turmeric on travertine marble floor, 17 x 4.5 m, at the British School of Rome

Shelagh Wakely, dustculturenobodyfloorpreciousfalseone, 1993, golden powder on wood floor, 5.50m x 3m

Shelagh Wakely, Golden Cloth, 2008, cut silk drawing golden leafed, 4.5m x 6.5m

Shelagh Wakely, rainsquare, aluminium leaf on glass patterned by falling rian, 6 x 6 meters, 1994, at South London Gallery

Shelagh Wakely, Fuente Imaginaria (Imaginary Fountain), 2000, aluminium leaf between glass, at Ex-Teresa, Mexico City,

Shelagh Wakely, Fruit Ghosts, 1999-2009, ripe fruits enlaced in fine metals and allowed to dry out

Shelagh Wakely, A Space For Dreaming, 2000, feathers & steel wire, 2.2m high x 3m x 1.40m

Shelagh Wakely, Pleached Hornbeam Arch, Bristol Temple Quay, 2008, corten steel, 3.5m high x 2m x 2.9m

Shelagh Wakely passed away in London today.

An artist of British origin, born sometime in the late 30s/early 40s, Shelagh was a pioneer of installation art in this country. Her work was delicate and ephemeral: floors covered with coloured golden dust or spices recreating vegetation patterns, glass covered with fragments of aluminium leaf patterned by falling rain, a floating tent under which to dream made of feathers, fruits covered with golden leaf and allowed to ripe and rot, gold threads covering fruits which were then dried - the wire structure becoming the ghost of the dead fruit...

Shelagh was my first landlady when I moved to London in 1997, when together with Kenneth Bostock we rented the ground floor flat of the house where she lived (and where she had her studio) in Falkland Road in Kentish Town. There I discovered her savage garden, which was at the same time her work and source of inspiration. From there I went for walks and swims to Hampstead Heath, and began my discovery of English culture.

Contrary to many British who suffer of insularity , Shelagh was curious of other cultures and countries. With her then husband urban consultant Patrick Wakely she traveled through the then called "developing world" during the 60s and 70s, going to Asia, Africa and Latin America. Shelagh also transmitted me with her passion for Brazil, a country which had become one of her sources of inspiration. It was through Shelagh that I met Brasilian artist Tatiana Grinberg, now a dear friend. It was also through her, at parties and dinners at her house, that I met Brasilian artists Tunga, Ana Holck, and Thiago Rocha Pitta, as well as art critics/curators Guy Brett, Micheal Asbury, Frances Horn and even Cuauhtemoc Medina. It was through Shelagh, in those early days in London, that I had my first contact with London's local and international art scene.

In the last ten years she had done mainly public art commissions, her talent being under-recognised by the British art world. Her works do not form part of the collection of any British museum. I hope that this omission will soon be corrected, and that history will make her justice. Sadly the importance of her work and her influence will be rediscovered now that she is absent.

I last saw her last summer, when she gave me a copy of a small catalogue of the work she had done between 1991 to 2009. Like with many other friends that have left, I wish I had spent more time with her learning from her wisdom.

Shelagh, thank you. We will miss you.


  1. Dear Pablo, what a wonderful post. I'm sorry you lost your friend. Her work is beautiful, I hope it will be recognised xx

  2. Dear friends,
    I here come to share with you all these feelings and express a deep sorrow for such a lost.
    Shelagh,our dearest friend, who we could never imagine in any other state than the awareness and most lively open mind.That is how she will for ever appear in our hearts. Be in peace. With love,
    Carla Guagliardi & Thomas Florschuetz

    20 March 2011 13:19

  3. thiago rocha pitta20 March 2011 at 13:26

    indeed, we'll miss her...

  4. The Corten structure in Bristol is particularly impressive. So intricate and vivid in colour in contrast to the bland background.

    Such a sad loss of British talent.

  5. Dear Pablo,
    Thanks for providing this glimpse into Shelagh's work.
    For more, see
    What can we do to make sure her web site remains available for others to enjoy?

  6. Beautiful words indeed Pablo.
    She definitely deserves the light of recognition but for sure her light and her energy will keep shining on us!
    Thanks for this hommage! Missing her...

  7. As a friend of Shelagh's for almost 20 years I too feel that I wish I had learned and shared more with her. Your posting is excellent and I agree with everything you said. She was a very special British person, yes not insularity like so many here. She welcomed different, she laughed and joked and played with life in ways we all need to learn from. I am so very sad to lose her. And yes her work was overlooked and lets hope this can change. thank you for writing this. Denise Hawrysio

  8. Unfortunatley I only knew Shelagh for a few years but she had a huge impact on me. I first met her when she asked me to help build part of her website and got to know her and her incredible history. Not only was Shelagh incredibly open-minded and sharp, but she was also extremely generous. I am an artist of half her age but Shelagh was always keen to look, listen, discuss and support my practice. She was never condescending and was always eager to understand new things. Her inventiveness, her enthusiasm for creative output and high standards was infectious. It is a rarity. The time I spent in her company taught me many things and she was always a laugh. The world will be darker place without her, I will miss her.

    I intend to try and keep Shelagh's site online in some form and maybe to add to it if it is appropraite. Any additional material available would be welcome.