Thursday, 4 October 2012

First Day Back

This piece is called First Day Back.  It's made of plaster and shoes and I'm just in the process of submitting it for inclusion in the RWA Autumn Exhibition.  It's part of a series of pieces I made rather privately this winter.  Although they didn't fit ostensibly into the 'normal' type of work I make, I felt at the time that there was a kind of truth to them.  Rather than being the result of gathering acorns from under exquisite and powerful trees, or finding rusty objects during riverside walks, these pieces reflect the day to day reality of my gathering - the gathering up of shoes!  Needless to say there are many other objects scattered on my home floor that need picking up on an endless basis, but there is something quite symbolic about shoes.  In a way, of course, many of them are also very sculptural objects in themselves.

There are actually very few of you who follow this blog.  And I post rarely because I always feel that I should say something that has some meaning or post an image that has some power.  So, today I have set up a new facebook page for my work.  I'm going to try and use it more fluidly than these posts.  I'm going to keep the work facebook page separate from the one I use for social reasons.  Funnily enough that separation - or lack of it! - may just be what First Day Back is all about.

If you'd like to subscribe to my new facebook page it is:

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Two pairs of hands at work in the studio over the last few days.  Always a joy.  This is Dickie helping me chainsaw a bit of 'found' wood into some kind of 'gallery-fit' state.  I found the piece itself about two years ago when walking with a friend.  We came across a young man with a chain saw dismantling a fallen tree in a field of the farmer he works for.  My rather mad request for him to saw off a huge chunk and get it back to his yard was met with equanimity based, I think, on a shared love of wood.  The bottle of wine offered can surely not have been enough for the effort he had to make.  Dickie, in the picture above, then heroically risked the suspension on his van to get it back to my studio where it stood in a corner for the best part of 18 months.  The idea for a small man to rest on the very peak then came to me, which I made in wax and then looked at for a couple of months.  Later this week I will pick that same figure up from the foundry but transformed into bronze.  In the meantime Dickie and I have been carving off bits at the back to make the piece manageable in terms of weight, stabilising the bottom, and generally tweaking this old giant. I must go out to the studio later and grey down a small damaged area.  There is a tiny bit of filling to do on the back.  Later in the week I will no doubt have to fiddle around to get the bronze man to settle properly in his resting place.  At some point soon my photographer friend Colin Hawkins and I will spend time trying to get a decent photograph of it.  What all this is leading to hard it is to answer whenever anyone asks one how long a piece of sculpture took to make.....

Friday, 11 May 2012

Two figures in a tree.  Not sure of their meaning yet.  But as is often the case I'm happy to let multiple possibilities roam in and out.  I've just taken the figures to the foundry to be burn out in the lost wax process. When they come in bronze and are back on their perches I'll be very interested to see what interpretations people bring to the work and if they tally with mine - which I will hold back.  I'm happy not imposing meaning on this piece.

Friday, 2 March 2012


This week I installed my sculpture Solace in Gloucester Cathedral as part of the Open West exhibition which is showing there throughout March and involves about 50 artists.  Having been focused on details such as transport and insurance and the costs of moving a large bronze around, I didn't expect to enjoy the experience.  But as soon as we entered the building I was truly awed by its magnificence.  The sculpture, Solace, was created in an attempt to express some of my grief at the damage we are doing to the natural environment and yet also the deep solace I still find in the beauty of nature.  But in this ancient sacred place, the cathedral, its meaning seemed to shift.  Amongst the tombs, which are everywhere including making up the very floor, the grief and the solace seems to relate more to human history - to all the people who have passed through the space, inhabited it and shaped it, over the centuries.  It feels like a privilege to have my sculpture there, to be part of all the people and events that have made up the stream of time that has filled the stone container.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

A week of contrasts

It's been a week of contrasts.  I was up at the foundry in Wales for three days last week supervising the finishing touches to the metal work and then the patination of my two new works Solace (the standing figure seen in the first and third images) and Gathering Time (in the foreground of the first image).  I felt privileged to have such skilled people working on my behalf.  Then yesterday Niki and I were out collecting acorns from one of my chosen trees - again I feel lucky to have her support.  And now tonight, as I write, it is the private view of the Art London art fair and Aidan Quinn at Beaux Arts Bath is taking it out there to the public.  Solace is shown here in the garden area of the fair.

So, it feels as if all the of the 'timeline' of my work has been evident this week, from the gathering, through the foundry process and on to the final showing of the finished piece.  The week has also involved most the people who make it possible.  Perhaps I should have put a picture in of Giles washing up and picking the boys up from school when I was away in Wales, or the courier with his impeccably organised van, or Ali at the gallery typing out labels, or the six men at the Nailsworth foundry who loaded the van.  So although I refer to a 'timeline' of bringing work to fruition, there are many ways in which it feels more like a web than a straight line.

Friday, 16 September 2011


So it's 'that' time of year again for me.  The children have gone back to school, the studio has been cleaned and I am starting to look around for trees to scavenge under this autumn for beech mast and acorn cups.   I've returned once again to my trusty Beech tree which I've been scrabbling round under each autumn for about five years now.  This year it feels as if the mast is falling early - or perhaps it's just been blown off by the intense winds.  I am amazed how it can produce so much 'stuff' year after year just from sunlight and water and whatever minerals are left in the soil.  It's this kind of thought, this kind of connection, which makes this sometimes back-breaking, sometimes boring, sometimes frustrating activity so rewarding.

I have also decided this year to spend less time wandering hither and thither looking for oak trees and have settled on three trees all of which seem to have a fantastic amount of healthy looking green acorns sparkling out from the dull green leaves.  For my own reference I'm going to call the places where they stand 'churchyard', 'ditch' and 'lake'.

The tree in the photograph is 'ditch'.  It stands by an ancient wall in parkland and in front of it runs a kind of haha ditch which contains a simple iron fence in its depth.  The ditch, the wall, the fence, the gate, the earth worn under the tree by sheltering sheep, the nettle patches, the exposed oak roots, the dipping branches and bits of caught wool are all such familiar parts of our closely used and inhabited land.  Somehow this feeds my soul.  Anyway, I shall return now to this spot and to my other trees about twice a week - waiting to catch the moment when 'the fall' of precious bounty begins in earnest.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Printmaking on Dartmoor

Have just come back from a week long printmaking course taught by Kip Gresham as part of Dartmoor Arts Project's week of summer courses, lectures and general getting together with other artists.  The top picture shows us working in Peter Randall-Page's studio (I am on far right carrying paper) which he kindly converted into a temporary print studio for us.   The second image is one of the prints I produced using screen printing - something that was a first for me.  Both with the screen printing and the woodcuts I found myself wanting to get away from the marks most typically associated with each media, and with the help of Kip and his assistants found that that was quite possible.  The week flashed by so quickly, and producing series of monoprints can also be speedy, so I feel as if I have hardly absorbed what happened, what I learnt or what I feel about the images I made.  However, come September I shall get them all up on the studio wall and start to let them sink in.  There is plenty of fuel here and I know that some of it will cross over well into my drawing practice.  All good stuff.  Great once again to get away from the studio and play in a concentrated way.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Magpie's nest

Last week we had a big old fir tree in our garden cut down.  I was pretty sure there was going to be a magpie's nest in it and indeed that is why we waited until this time of year - when the young were sure to have flown - before taking the tree down.  We were lucky enough to have both skilled and sensitive tree surgeons come round and they hardly blinked an eye at my request to save the nest.   They couldn't just lift it out of its perch though as it was so interwoven with the tree and the creeper that dominated the tree, that the whole branch was lowered down on a rope for me so that I could unentangle it slowly on the ground.

Having known that the tree was coming down weeks in advance, and being convinced that we would find a nest, my dreams had been plotting a figure.  So, within a day of receiving the nest a little porcelain man emerged in the studio.  Here he is.

Now, this is a figure from the unconscious.  One of the figures that I consider a gift in that they just come to me ready formed from somewhere in the mind and then all I have to do is make them into a reality.  A few days after the figure was made a man, whose opinion I respect and to whom I am very grateful for the honesty of his opinions, came to the studio.  He felt the piece was sentimental.  I had felt that the fact that the figure was male and was curled in such a way that he was quite exposed, would mitigate against that possible accusation of sentimentality.  I don't have any answers here, but it is certainly a question that I find myself asking in the studio quite a bit at the moment.

If a sculpture comes up from the unconscious does it have a validity even though it might be considered sentimental?  If it has a validity for me in the confines of the studio should I fight for its right to see the light of day in the sophistication of a gallery or simply accept it as a private work?  Is 'sentimental' necessarily a bad thing?

Lots more thinking to do on these questions but in the meantime I shall simply hang on to the nest and the little figure and let time do its work.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Gather To Me

I made this sculpture called Gather To Me just before Easter.  It's made out of wax and beechnut casings and here it is in the wax and mould-making room up at Castle Fine Art Foundry in Nailsworth.  I was there this morning putting the final touches to it before a mould of it is taken tomorrow.  The foundry will also be making a mould of the companion piece which is a life size standing man called Solace.  I find this moment, of leaving a sculpture in the foundry's hands, a bit tense.  It is the moment when I walk away and accept that the piece is finished.  I can do no more.  It is as it is.

The silicone rubber moulds for my two figures will each have at least four parts as the forms are complex.  The surfaces are complex too and the runny silicone will have to be brushed on to the surface, and then blown with an air line to get it into all the tiny and all the deep detail.  The beechnut casings present a particular challenge to the foundry in this respect.  A fibreglass or plaster 'jacket' will then be made for each part of the mould because the rubber is too floppy to keep its shape by itself.  Indeed, its very flexibility is its beauty as it can then be peeled off the complex shapes both of the original sculpture and then of 'the wax' that will be created later from it.  The different parts of the mould are constructed with 'keys' built into them which mean the separate parts can be fitted snuggly back together again.

The moulds of many other sculptures can be seen on the racks behind the figure.  What you are seeing  are the white jackets inside of which are nestled the flexible silicone rubber moulds.  The foundry keeps hundreds of these, of which you can only see a few here, each labeled with the artists name and the title of the sculpture.

Friday, 24 June 2011

A day at the beach...

Last week, at the rather inspired suggestion of Patricia Singh at the Beaux Arts in London, I took some of my new work down to the beach to photograph it.  My companions were Colin Hawkins, who takes most of my photographs, and my friend and studio assistant Niki.  Despite fearing the worst in terms of the weather, it turned into a magical morning.  Sunny and with only the odd threatening shower, it was also very very windy.  Apart from the 'official' photographs which can be seen on my website, this one is my favourite as it captures Niki and I using all our body weight to hang on to one of Colin's lights.  I feel it captures the reality of the daftness, hard work and friendship behind the final calm images.

As soon as Patricia came up with the idea I realised it was spot on.  And in some ways obvious too, to take the objects, most of which were found near 'the sea', back to 'the sea'.  Aesthetically it made sense.  But when I saw the objects in their 'natural' setting, something else happened too, something which I can't quite pin down yet in my thoughts.   Perhaps something to do with wanting some of the work to stay outside - to live in that vast space.  Interestingly, my aunt Elizabeth sent me a postcard this week of the day mark at Baltimore in Ireland.  A similar tall structure to the one in this photograph but I think about 20m high, whitewashed stone.  Beautiful.  And at a scale that no sculptor could help but covet!