Shelagh WAKELY was part of the alchemy of the British Sculpture Movement of the 1980s, with fellow artists Richard Deacon, Shirazeh Houshiary, Barry Flanagan and Anish Kapoor, amongst others. With a prolific career spanning more than four decades, Wakely produced an impressive body of work comprising sculpture, installation, drawings, prints and video. A pioneer of installation art, her artworks are illusionary plays on perception that disturb patterns of thinking and seeing and are characterised by tender marks, ghost-like and evanescent, made with a variety of media: from clay to wire, cut silk to gilded fruit, ink on paper to canvas. Despite the diversity of her work, her oeuvre circles around a cluster of themes relating to fragility, time, aging and decay, all united by her singular interest in 'the surface' – as a shield, a barrier, a sign, a veneer. Her sensuous work was also inspired by the flamboyant and lavish decorations of Brazil, along with the work of Brazilian artist Tunga (1952-2016), with whom she collaborated in the 1990s.
Wakely was born in a small village in England and spent much of her youth in Kenya surrounded by ecologists and natural scientists. After a spell as a research agronomist, she turned to the arts, studying painting and screen-printing at the Chelsea College of Art (1958-1962). Wakely worked as a textile and clothing designer in the 1960s but a research fellowship at the Royal College of Art (1968-1971) led her to sculpture. Early exhibitions were held at the Serpentine Gallery, London, UK (1977); Institute of Contemporary Art, London, UK (1979); The John Hansard Gallery, Southampton, UK (1982); and The Showroom, London, UK (1989). Her work was posthumously featured in a solo exhibition 'A View from a Window' at Camden Arts Centre, London in 2014 and was included in Manchester Art Gallery's group exhibition 'Speech Acts: Reflections-Imagination-Repetition' in 2018. Later in her career, she worked on numerous outdoor installations, including Rainsquare at South London Gallery (1994) and other public commissions for the Royal Albert Hall, London, UK (2001); Marunouchi Building, Tokyo, Japan (2002); Beckenham Beacon Hospital, Kent, UK (2009); and Nottingham University Hospital City Campus, Nottingham, UK (2010).