In 1969 King rented a large shed on a farm, Clay Hall Farm, near Dunstable, just outside London, and set about equipping it for working in steel. At the time he was using a London engineering firm, W. Hartley Ltd, to fabricate his steel sculptures from models, usually made in cardboard. But King found this process unsatisfactory; the larger and more complex the structure the more closely the model had to be followed, making the possibility of:
changing the work in mid-stream less open-ended. Dunstable reel was even larger [than Reel] and therefore more tightly bound by the conditions of the factory. I let them get on with it a bit more than I would have liked and although I found the whole process interesting, I missed my freedom and that is why I set up my studio at Dunstable in a way that is closer to a fabricating shop than a traditional studio.1
Dunstable reel grew out of the sculpture Reel 1969, in which King first used a sequence of rhythmically unfolding shapes. Dunstable reel is larger and more measured in its rhythms, 'a slow lift and movement of one thing against another rather than a tip-toe jumpy thing'.2 Henri Matisse (1869-1954) is frequently mentioned in relation to the prancing curved shapes of these sculptures and there is no doubt that King was greatly impressed by the Matisse retrospective at the Hayward Gallery in 1968 and the 1970 Grand Palais exhibition. When Dunstable reel was first exhibited at the Rowan Gallery in July 1970, John Russell wrote: 'The title derives from an English folk-dance, and I don't think it is fanciful to see in Dunstable reel a sculptural equivalent of the round-dance re-created by Matisse in his great Dance of 1909 and 1910'.3 However, according to King himself, 'One could say Matisse was on my mind at the time, but the fact that it [Dunstable reel] appears to be cut out of a single sheet of steel which is bent and opened out has more roots in constructivism than Matisse'.4
Dunstable reel was made in an edition of three, the other two examples being in the Tate Gallery, London (Alistair McAlpine Gift) and with the Leicestershire Education Authority (installed at Countersthorpe College). The artist retains the right to produce one further sculpture in the edition.
Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.416.