Richard Wentworth

London, 2013

“You say to a brick, ‘What do you want, brick?’ And brick says to you, ‘I like an arch.’

‘Or, on second thoughts,’ says brick, before the famous architect can continue with his peroration, ‘I like an arch that comes to rest on one side, for reasons that are not completely clear, on a trapezoidal corbel in a way that necessitates a nifty reconciliation of triangular, curved and perpendicular, all so that a regulation Flemish bond wall can progress from right to left, with a setback of half a brick, a door being formed at the point of overlap. And if a bit of slippage should occur, such that the right-hand side of the arch drops a little, to which the carpentry of the doorframe must adapt, so be it.’”

By now, the famous architect might have lost his thread, but Richard Wentworth is in his element. He is, one can guess, in his home territory of London, specifically the ex-industrial area of Kings Cross, in which Lockean theories of property coincide with industry, trade and clay, all devolving onto an unknown bricklayer who, with a bit of skill and expediency, with a trowel, plumb line and whatever else, must find a fix that, as it turns out, lasts for centuries.

Wentworth is of a nationality, class and age where (as he puts it) “finding fault” was something with which you grew up. So he has made a career out of finding faults. He intently observes walls and pavements, looking for the fissures and half beats in the official constructional narrative of the city. He finds rhymes in DIY. He is a poet of the not-quite-intended. He likes the way that the coming-together of matter and action can disclose surprises in the order of things.

In this photograph, the relation of figure to architecture has something of Vitruvian Man about it. There is play-heroism about the fact that he is standing on a plinth, which, as if it were a preliminary sketch by Carl Andre, is made of a few assembled bricks. This is consistent with his version of nobility: he wants to extend honour and sympathy to people who make things, even as he makes visible their absurdities and eccentricities. He is sceptical of established hierarchies of value. He is, himself, modest.

One noted curator likes to say that Wentworth invented Instagram. Without using the social medium itself, the artist spreads nebulae of his photographic observations among overlapping sets of friends and colleagues. No one gets to see this cosmos in its entirety. This photograph, though, offers a doorway into it.

Rowan Moore