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In March this year, we went to Finsbury Park in London to the home of Phyllida Barlow to interview her for the A brush with… podcast. Tragically, Phyllida died just a few days later. So this conversation is a tribute to one of the most significant British artists of recent years.

Phyllida Barlow’s untitled: dock: emptystaircasehoarding (2014)

Ardently committed to sculpture and convinced of its special power, she was coruscatingly erudite and perceptive, yet also irreverent and suspicious of orthodoxies. This was evident in her combinations of simple materials such as wood, plaster and scrim, cement, paint and fabric in extraordinary sculptures and installations. She managed to achieve at once awkwardness and grace, humour and pathos, the grand and the intimate.

Phyllida Barlow’s untitled: hangingmonument (2015)

Among much else, Phyllida discusses the morality imposed on sculpture in her art school days, the underacknowledged “dirty side of making” in Marcel Duchamp’s work, her admiration for Louise Nevelson and Eduardo Chillida, the writing of Fyodor Dostoevsky and the films of Robert Bresson. Plus she answers our usual questions, including a moving response to the ultimate question, “What is art for?”

Phyllida Barlow in 1978

• Phyllida Barlow, Chillida Leku, Hernani, near San Sebastian, Spain, until 22 October

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Toronto, 8 September-4 February 2024

• Phyllida Barlow: PRANK, presented by Public Art Fund in City Hall Park, in New York City, will be on view June 6, 2023–November 26, 2023

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