A few personal thoughts on the process of creating sculpture:
‘Pelagos’ by Barbara Hepworth: Infinite curves parallel breaking waves; tensioned strings fight like ripping pebbles in the suction of an undertow; a metaphor for the wild Cornish coast.
The first time I saw ‘Pelagos’ it truly captivated me. The first time I saw ‘Pelagos’ I knew nothing of its Cornish coastal metaphors; it was just myself gripped by an unfamiliar sculpture. The first time I saw ‘Pelagos’ I didn’t know its name; I saw it just as it was in its purist form. The first time I saw ‘Pelagos’ I remembered the words of Robert Irwin ‘Seeing something is forgetting (or in this case not knowing) the name of the thing one sees’. There’s no logical reason why anyone connects with one particular thing; it seems to come directly from the subconscious; something just ‘clicks’.
I've always found Sculpture fascinating. It can encompass, evoke or represent almost any thought or feeling the mind can create. I liken it to a polygonal picture with infinite sides. It tells a story by movement and interaction of the viewer, not only in time and space, but visually, emotionally and physically.
Personally I feel art movements are most purely defined when newly emerging. Barbara Hepworth was an early experimenter of Modern Sculpture and the use of abstraction. ‘Pelagos’ describes such an abstraction in its pure untarnished modernist form.
Literal interpretation requires a close representation of the subject. Conceptualism or abstraction is derived from freedom of thought without preconceived restraints. With this linked so closely to personal interpretation and emotion, I find instinct, imagination and the phenomenological my path to creativity.
My sculptures resonate from many years living in the New Forest. I had an early affinity to the Keyhaven coastal marshes and spreading heaths of the ‘Forest’. I feel an inescapable oneness in these wide open landscapes, an emanation of life and energy and a space for the mind to work freely.
My familiarity as a garden designer, led me to begin making garden sculpture. I’ve always seen plants and garden forms as sculpture in their own right; the individual garden spaces like rooms in a gallery.
I now work mainly with alabaster, onyx and soapstone’s combining them with copper and other soft metals. Alabaster’s opaqueness gives it the added dimension of light and depth. Copper has the earthy quality of acquiring the velvet sea green patina of Verdigris.
I’m a true believer of Henry Moore’s philosophy of ‘Truth to Material’. It’s the choice of what finish best describes the subject and simultaneously best describes the stone. It’s the choice of what to remove and what to keep. I always see how much of the natural surface can be preserved. There’s a complex natural perfection here of colour, pattern and texture that can’t be replicated. Personally I feel it’s too valuable to remove or deface it. Time and careful consideration is needed to embrace this quality rather than simply removing it.
Ideas or concepts can emerge from many sources and derive even from seemingly unrelated thoughts or experiences. Sometimes it’s the feeling of a piece of music or seeing a shape suggested in a piece of stone. Sometimes it’s something quite arbitrary like the diffusion of smoke in the breeze. Sometimes it’s holding a concept in the mind and allowing it to develop freely in a ‘thought bank’, when later, an idea might suddenly be triggered. Sometimes it’s like a simultaneous reaction of thoughts and feelings that quickly turn into a strong efficacious image in the mind.
It’s useful to remember that unexpected experiences might also provide unexpected and exciting answers.
The process is an emotional synergy of thought, action and material. I like to approach new sculptures with, as far as possible, the raw original untainted image fresh in my mind. I find the distraction of a single plane, like a piece of paper or a screen, often loses the clear spontaneity of the initial concept.
It is of course necessary with complex or large commission, to proceed in a structured and pragmatic way, as with the above scale images. Most importantly it’s keeping that spark of life, energy and emotion that were created at the point of conception.
The process of creation from thought to form is often a series of challenges. Most pieces are unique. Creativity is needed to overcome often new complex techniques and practical issues. Turning problems into solutions is a useful asset.
There are many reasons for being a sculptor. It’s a cathartic process of personal feeling and expression. To create something unique, that’s born from pure thought, is a magical thing. To quote Immanuel Kant, ‘I always desire to create beautiful form’ although some may argue there’s a strange brutal beautify in what maybe commonly defined as ‘Ugly’.
Creating a sculpture feels like giving something inanimate purpose and life. From this position I can only ever have the view point of the creator, so I’m always curious about the observer’s perspective. I like the edge; the split second of an observer’s first reactions. As a creator of visual art you can’t escape the viewer’s spontaneity in the phenomenological guise of simply ‘like’ or ‘dislike’; the first reaction with only subconscious intuition before conscious preconceptions and structured thought begin. It’s when you have the realisation that your work has connected with someone else’s mind and created a whole new unique series of thoughts and feelings.
Robert Irwin ‘Seeing something is forgetting the name of the thing one sees’