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b. 1963, United Kingdom

Gillian Wearing Biography

Gillian Wearing is a British conceptual artist associated with the Young British Artists (YBAs). She was awarded the Turner Prize in 1997, and in 2007 was elected a lifetime member of the Royal Academy of Arts, London.

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Early Years

Wearing was born in Birmingham and moved to London in 1983. There, she studied at the Chelsea College of Arts, and Goldsmiths, University of London, where she earned her BFA in 1990. In 1993, she held her first solo exhibition at the artist-run gallery City Racing.

Gillian Wearing Artworks

Gillian Wearing's art draws largely on documentary photography, film, and television techniques to investigate notions of individual identity in private and public space. Her work also explores the role of media technology in blurring the distinctions between the public and private, reality and fiction.

Early Work

Wearing's early work included photographs and videos that recorded chance encounters with ordinary people, with an emphasis on interactions that elicited moments of confession or self-exposure.

Wearing first attracted public acclaim with the photographic series Signs That Say What You Want Them to Say and Not Signs That Say What Someone Else Wants You to Say (1992—93). This series of around 600 colour photographs captures passersby on the streets of London, who Wearing asked to pose with a phrase written on a piece of paper, thereby 'displaying their thoughts'. The resulting photographs depict everyday people in often incongruous juxtapositions with their written text, such as I'm Desperate (1992—93), subverting the generic conventions associated with documentary photography or photographic portraiture.

Wearing's challenging of norms associated with the genres of documentary photography and photographic portraiture is also evident in Confess All On Video. Don't Worry You Will Be in Disguise. Intrigued? Call Gillian (1994). For this 35-minute video, Wearing recruited subjects through a classified advertisement with the title of the artwork as its text, and filmed participants disclosing their fears and fantasies while disguised in masks or wigs. Using the distancing technique of costuming, Confess All On Video disrupts the power relationships inherent in both the staging and viewing of documentary footage; the subjects are permitted to espouse a 'truth' that viewers do not have access to.

Masks

Much of Wearing's work includes the recurring use of the mask as a motif. Aligned with her interest in the tension between truth and fiction, the use of the mask as a performative device has a long history of enabling the wearer access to a more fundamental truth in the absence of superficial markers of identity. In Wearing's works, however, the viewer experiences the disorienting effect of having their access to an objective version of truth denied.

Wearing has produced many self-portraits that involve wearing masks of her own face and of the faces of others in a bid to explore the various personae of her subjects. For the photographic series Album (2003—06), Wearing recreates her old family photos by dressing herself in highly realistic silicone masks based on the appearances of her family members and herself at younger ages, such as Self Portrait as my Mother Jean Gregory (2003).

For Lockdown, Gillian Wearing's exhibition at Maureen Paley, London in 2020, Wearing continued her exploration of identity, reality and fiction through a series of watercolour self-portraits and a sculpture entitled Mask Masked (2020), which brought the emblematic surgical mask of the COVID-19 pandemic into the fold of her interrogations of identity and masking.

Gillian Wearing Books

Wearing has been the subject of several publications, including Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun: Behind the Mask, Another Mask (2017); Family Stories (2017); Living Proof (2006); and Unspoken (2001).

Public Commissions

Wearing has completed several public commissions, including a statue of the suffragist Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square, London. Commissioned by the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, the statue was unveiled in April 2018, becoming the first statue of a woman to stand in Parliament Square.

Awards and Accolades

In 1997, Wearing received the Turner Prize for her hour-long video 60 Minute Silence (1996), which depicts a group of 26 police officers posing for a group portrait. What at first appears to be a photograph is gradually revealed to be a video, as the police officers begin to grow frustrated by their subjection to Wearing's silent interrogation.

Wearing has also been awarded a CBE (2019) and an OBE for contribution to the arts (2011) and was elected as a Royal Academician in 2007.

Exhibitions

Gillian Wearing has been the subject of many solo and group exhibitions. The first retrospective of her work in the United States, Gillian Wearing: Wearing Masks, opened at the Guggenheim in 2021.

In 2017, the National Portrait Gallery in London staged an exhibition that explored the similarities between the practices of Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun. The exhibition compared Wearing's and the surrealist photographer's use of photography and the self, often through performance and masquerade, to interrogate notions of identity and gender.

Solo exhibitions include Confessions: Portraits, videos, Musée Rodin, Paris (2009); Living Proof, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA), Melbourne (2006); Snapshot, Bloomberg SPACE, London (2005); Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Helsinki (2004); Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem (2004); Mass Observation, Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Chicago (2002-03); CaixaForum Madrid (2001); Unspoken, Kunstverein München, Munich (2001); Sous influence, Musée d'Art Moderne de Paris (2001); Serpentine Gallery, London (2000); and Kunsthaus Zürich (1997).

Wearing's work is included in several major collections worldwide, including Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Tate Britain, London; and Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.

Alena Kavka | Ocula | 2022

Gillian Wearing
featured artworks

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My Charms by Gillian Wearing contemporary artwork sculpture
Gillian Wearing My Charms, 2021 Bronze chain, 3D-printed objects, and mixed media
239.4 x 396.2 inches
Maureen Paley
Claudia and Me by Gillian Wearing contemporary artwork print
Gillian Wearing Claudia and Me, 2023 Framed digital c-type print
Maureen Paley
Volodymyr Zelenskyy, one year on by Gillian Wearing contemporary artwork painting, works on paper
Gillian Wearing Volodymyr Zelenskyy, one year on, 2022 Fr Framed watercolour on paper
32 x 23.8 cm
Maureen Paley
Helena Swanwick: feminist, pacifist and Walter Sickert’s sister by Gillian Wearing contemporary artwork painting, works on paper
Gillian Wearing Helena Swanwick: feminist, pacifist and Walter Sickert’s sister, 2022 Framed watercolour on paper
40.6 x 32.6 cm
Maureen Paley
Untitled (lockdown portrait) by Gillian Wearing contemporary artwork painting, works on paper
Gillian Wearing Untitled (lockdown portrait), 2020 Oil on board
40.5 x 30.5 cm
Maureen Paley
Mask Masked by Gillian Wearing contemporary artwork sculpture
Gillian Wearing Mask Masked, 2020 Fabric mask, wax sculpture, steel rod and wooden plinth
56 x 14 x 10 cm
Maureen Paley
Untitled (lockdown portrait) by Gillian Wearing contemporary artwork painting, works on paper
Gillian Wearing Untitled (lockdown portrait), 2020 Oil on board
30 x 30 cm
Maureen Paley
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Gillian Wearing
recent exhibitions

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Represented by this
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Maureen Paley contemporary art gallery in London, United Kingdom
Maureen Paley London, Hove
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