Jon Buck’s experimentation with colour in bronze over the past three decades has pushed the boundaries of what can be achieved in the medium more than any other contemporary artist. This film explores Buck’s journey where new processes and patinas have been devised to bring into being an extraordinary artist’s vision.
Film by Distant Object Productions, commissioned by Pangolin London.
“Taking the time to look again at Buck’s work offers rich reward. Those that dismiss simple form for simple ideas will overlook the diverse lines of enquiry that Buck engages to explore the world around us. From Nickolaas Tinbergen’s theories of ‘super stimuli’ in the natural world and VS Ramachandran’s applications of it in art, to prehistoric cave paintings, anthropology and a love of poetry, Buck’s voracious reading informs and feeds his passion for exploring sign and symbol through sculpture. Whilst these interests have remained fairly constant over the past three decades Buck’s making process has been relentlessly re-developed and refined, at times taking great leaps forward and at others enjoying a period of consolidation whilst Buck takes time to gain a fuller understanding of the impact on his sculptural language. Coded for Colour offers the perfect opportunity to gain an overview of Buck’s exciting adventure with form, surface and colour. In its most distilled sense this can be seen as a detailed naturalism steadily pared down to the brink of abstraction in an attempt to capture what Buck calls ‘the essence of the thing’ and ultimately to delight the viewer and stimulate the senses to maximum effect.”
“Marked Cat and Recalling the Dog shown here for the first time illustrate two new techniques that Buck has developed to continue his exploration of colour as an important fourth dimension in his sculpture. Marked Cat uses uniform stickers to mark out, rather like masking tape, the areas he does not want painted and to give regulated pattern to an abstract organic form. In contrast Recalling the Dog uses multiple layers of paint rubbed back in areas to give an almost thermal image of the sculpture which at once makes it throb and fade, challenging our senses of sight and touch. The technique also seems to give an instant timelessness leading us to question whether the layers of paint have been worn back and eroded over millennia. Like the Acropolis what is revealed beneath the surface of Buck’s work is innately beautiful but to enjoy it with colour we can relish the full impact and savour the delight.”
“An exhibition of sculpture and works on paper celebrating ‘the bull’ in all its guises.”
Gallery Pangolin, GL6 8NT
Saturday 18th April – 29th May
I have two sculptures exhibited in this show, one dating from the 1980’s, ‘Bullcalf’ and the other made in response to this exhibition, ‘Earth Bull’. The first was made as part of a group of works of animals and figures reflecting images relating to our biblical mythological heritage. The current sculpture makes more of a reference to the bull’s prehistoric symbolic history. The bull has been part of man’s lexicon of visual imagery since the Palaeolithic times, as illustrated by the beauty of the painted caves of Western Europe, and has continued as a cultural symbol to the present day. The bull has always been connected to power, potency and procreation and because of this has a strong connection with the life force of the earth itself, hence the title of my sculpture.
Are these associations relevant today? Well the bull remains very much in our everyday language and we use it readily as a suffix to describe strength and power: bull-headed, bull-market, etc. Any doubts that an engagement with this symbol remains are soon dismissed by a visit to the Camargue or Andalusia. Close proximity to these feral beasts awakens a profound visceral response to their power and our primal connection to them.
Canary Wharf are celebrating their collection of public art by publishing a new book, Canary Wharf: A Permanent Collection, a companion volume to Sculpture at Canary Wharf: A Decade 0f Exhibitions published in 2011.
My sculpture, Returning to Embrace, isincluded in both volumes. It became part of the public art collection after being exhibited at Canary Wharf in the exhibition to celebrate the millennium, Shape of the Century: 100 years of Sculpture in Britain. It was sited at 10 Cabot Square and by popular demand was purchased by Canary Wharf to remain there.
Public Art has been an important part of my output as a sculptor and has had a considerable effect on how I consider my practice. I fulfilled my first public art commission back in 1985 as part of my remit as Community Artist in Residence for the Borough of Thamesdown. Since then, when offered the right opportunity, I have enjoyed the challenge of undertaking a number of prominent public art commissions. One of the prime reasons of course is that the commissioning of sculpture normally means that one is able to realise work on a scale that is not tenable in normal situations but perhaps even more importantly, I have relished the challenge of addressing my work to a much broader audience than might normally visit a contemporary art gallery.
Commissioned public art also requires a response to criteria one might not normally consider. The context of the site can be a major influence on the form and content of the work; the history and the environment of the location in which it will be placed can also influence the final outcome. For instance, my recent sculpture Bird in the Bush 2014, is a piece that is very much in keeping with my current work. Its inspiration however, came directly from the physical and historical context of the African landscape in which it is placed. Its form takes much from the series of Clan Totems I had previously designed to celebrate indigenous Ugandan tribal culture. The content however, very much symbolises the environmental restoration work that the commissioners, The Ruwenzori Sculpture Foundation, are undertaking on site in Western Uganda. The work is piece of public art that can be seen as a totem to the centre by both the local people and by foreign visitors.
Gallery Pangolin’s annual exhibition of works on paper featuring prints and drawings by Modern and contemporary sculptors.
Over time, drawing has become an increasingly important part of my practice, both as a way of investigating ideas for three-dimensional work and as a process in its own right. This has had the consequence of the two activities becoming thoroughly intermeshed. Drawing has gradually been introduced onto the surface of my sculptures as a substitute for a feature or a plastic form and my drawings have become more sculptural in their production through physical scratching into the surface of the paper and moulding of the drawn lines with abrasives.
Not all my drawings have been blueprints for physical sculptures and in recent years the process of drawing for its own sake has been a stimulus for me. I very much enjoy the opportunity to explore a contained context within which images can exist and to develop more narrative compositions that simply become clumsy and over-theatrical in three-dimensional work. However, I am also fascinated by the possibility of the sculpture surface becoming a kind of canvas for drawn designs. For example, a series of drawings entitled Mind Maze directly influenced the textured imagery in my silver sculpture Lexicon, made for the Sterling Stuff II exhibition held at Pangolin London, King’s Place in 2008.
A natural evolution from reproducing images onto sculptural surfaces has been the use of replicated images in two dimensions on paper. Printmaking and sculpture have always had a natural affiliation due to the similarity in their physical production. Relief printing in particular is a sculptural process in its own right. My own early monoprints use more or less the same technique employed to imprint motifs on the sculptures made with repeated patterns on their surfaces. These negative-positive combinations fascinate me and like the drawing process, my printmaking and sculptural practices have become closely intertwined.
Forging Links is an exhibition highlighting the work of the Ruwenzori Sculpture Foundation in Britain and in Uganda.
My own contribution and affiliation with the Foundation began in 2005 when I was asked to undertake a bronze sculpture workshop at Makere University in Kampala, Uganda. In asking the students to make simple animal motifs suitable to cast into bronze sculptures, it became apparent that most individuals possessed an animal totem that symbolised their inherited membership of a clan.
Preliminary research could find no surviving ancient visual references to these clan totems. With the establishment of Rwenzori Founders and the Ruwenzori Sculpture Foundation’s Art Centre near Kasese in Western Uganda, I was commissioned to design a series of animal totems that would be suitable for casting into bronze. Virtually unique among the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, Uganda has little or no surviving tradition of representative visual art. The development of a foundry to cast bronze sculptures would be a unique enterprise, not only in Uganda but in fact in the whole of East Africa. The aim was to design simple aesthetic motifs capable of becoming a visual representation of clan.
The first stage of my research was undertaken in November 2007 when I travelled to Kampala to look into the derivation and origins of the totems that represent the fifty-six clans that make up Uganda’s most prominent tribe, the Baganda people.
In February 2008 I returned to help the foundry team start the process of making and casting the very first bronze sculptures. It is hoped that this enterprise will help the foundry to become self-sustaining, will promote the Ruwenzori Sculpture Foundation’s work in encouraging cultural exchange and will aid the development of contemporary visual art in Uganda.
Now, seven years later, there are over thirty totems being produced as small bronze sculptures by Rwenzori Founders and exhibited in the on-site gallery and in several other locations in Uganda.
This year, 2015, has seen the completion of my six foot high bronze sculpture, ‘Bird in the Bush’. I was commissioned to make this work on my last visit to the Foundation’s Centre in February 2014 and in the two weeks I was there, along with the foundry team, we managed to make and cast the work in twenty individual bronze sections. It has been an enormous task, particularly with the limited facilities available, but over the last year the foundry team have achieved a wonderful monumental bronze sculpture and their success and hard work can be seen in the attached short video.
This is a public lecture in which I have been invited by the Friends of the Royal West of England Academy to talk about my work. I begin by describing how my early experiences have affected my thirty-five years as a working sculptor, starting with a fascination with the natural world nurtured by a childhood growing up in the Somerset countryside, the subsequent influence of working with birds at Bristol Zoo before going on to art school. I then describe my early sculptural influences while still an art student, of meeting John Clinch, who was my tutor and later close friend, and influential studio visits made to well-known sculptors Nicholas Monro and Reg Butler. I then describe how my early work was taken up by the Nicholas Treadwell Gallery to become part of what he termed the Superhumanist Movement.
I describe how I quickly became disillusioned with this group and its superficial nature, and began to focus on public art projects, for a period undertaking the role of Artist in Residence. I explain how this in turn led to changing my material practice and to starting to cast my work into bronze. This led to the building of an important collaborative relationship with the craftsmen at Pangolin Editions. My lecture follows the development of my work as a sculptor, both concerned with public art projects and with establishing bodies of work intended for exhibition in more conventional gallery settings.
In this public lecture I try to elucidate how and why my sculpture has evolved, both in terms of its subject matter and in terms of process and practice. This has involved developing from what might be termed a straightforward simplified naturalism to making more abstracted forms that have included inscribed lines and patterns, as well glyphs and symbols in relief. I pay particular attention to how the change of material and process initially led to a loss of colour in my work. Then how a close collaboration with the foundry allowed experimentation that has led to the reintroduction of bold bright colours to my bronzes.
In a recent newsletter, Pangolin London gallery introduces my forthcoming show in May this year thus:
“Jon Buck has been experimenting and exploring the impact of colour and its ability to enhance sculpture for the past three decades. Continually pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved with a medium usually associated with dull tones, Buck has reinvigorated bronze casting with bright, bold forms and powerful mark making. This exhibition seeks to share Buck’s exciting adventure where new processes, patinas and methods have been devised to bring into being an extraordinary artist’s vision.”
An exhibition of jewellery made by a wide range of established sculptors. Illustrating the long history of this still somewhat unknown genre, Sculptors’ Jewellery includes works from well-known 20th Century artists; from Picasso and Alexander Calder to Lynn Chadwick and Geoffrey Clarke, as well as commissioning over 30 new works from leading contemporary figures such as David Bailey and Damien Hirst.
For this exhibition of Sculptors’ Jewellery I contributed two silver sculptures, Beastiform’ and ‘Curviform’ both designed to be worn as necklaces. In the accompanying catalogue I wrote the following:
I find the idea of jewellery as wearable sculpture a fascinating and appealing concept. The normal practice for exhibiting small pieces of sculpture is to present them in splendid isolation on a plinth. Forms designed to ornament the body break free of this convention to become animated and to develop an intimate relationship with the wearer.
It would seem that the compulsion to adorn our bodies or to wear valued objects is an incredibly ancient tradition and goes back to the very origins of art itself. One of the very earliest sculptures ever to have been discovered is a small Palaeolithic figure, the Venus of Hohle Fels, that has a carved ring in place of a head, presumably so that she could be worn as a pendant or amulet.
Some jewellery becomes so part of a person’s identity that it is never removed; other pieces are reserved for special occasions. These items when not being worn are usually carefully secreted away from view. In contrast when the sculptor’s jewellery is taken off, it should posses a quality that allows it to revert to being an independent object again and urges it to be overtly displayed as a piece of sculpture in its own right.
In her introduction to this catalogue the art columnist Emma Crichton-Miller comments on my two pieces of jewellery:
“His pieces bring to the fore the ancient power of jewellery to
make its wearer special – a power that reaches back to the
This is a sculpture exhibition of smaller scale works reflecting and echoing the sculptures exhibited in Crucible 2 2014, or the previous Crucible 2010, both at Gloucester Cathedral.
My main piece to be shown in Mini-Crucible is a medium size bronze entitled ‘Right in Time’, which echoes the monumental ‘You and Me’ shown in the first Crucible. It is also a sculpture with many similarities to the work in Crucible 2, ‘In Man’s Nature’. Like that work, this is a very simple and highly-finished painted bronze with a simple incised line picked out in a contrasting colour to represent the salient features.
It was first exhibited in 2009 in my solo exhibition ‘Behind the Lines’ at Pangolin London and in the catalogue I wrote the following about its derivation:
“Closely related to ‘Eachway Heads’ and ‘Midnite Movie Heads’, (see catalogue Odd Birds and Other Selves, 2005) this work seems more animated. Oddly, the way in which the two heads incline away from each other makes them seem more intimate than in the other pieces. At the same time the sculpture is more dynamic and implies movement; perhaps they are dancing their way through time? The title makes several references: the attitude of the heads is reminiscent of the hands of a clock; perhaps conceitedly, they are also right for this moment. However, the title is mainly suggested by a Lucinda Williams’ song of the same name, in which she sings of her partner being ‘right in time’ with her.”
Although my current practice has inevitably evolved from his particular work, seeing it again in this sculpture exhibition, it was very pleasing to find how exciting and dynamic it still looked as a contemporary sculptural object and how beautifully it has been produced as a bronze sculpture by the foundry.
This second exhibition of public sculpture in Gloucester Cathedral follows the hugely successful show, ‘Crucible 2010’. It was the largest exhibition of public art to be seen in the cathedral in modern times, consisting of over seventy contemporary sculptures which were seen by more than a hundred and thirty-six thousand visitors over two months. Both exhibitions highlight just how contemporary sculpture can benefit from being taken out of the conventional setting of the gallery space. Placing them in this historic setting changes the audience’s perception of both the art and the space itself, the very ideal to which public art aspires.
Like most of England’s medieval cathedrals, over its long life Gloucester has contained and exhibited some of the most beautiful examples of public art ever produced by English artists and craftsmen. Sadly over time the Church’s turbulent history has meant that many of these works no longer exist. It is exciting therefore to see the empty spaces once again, albeit only for a short while, filled with thought-provoking public art. This new exhibition, ‘Crucible 2’, expands and develops the achievements of that first show by placing one hundred sculptures by sixty-one artists within the confines of the cathedral and its grounds.
I personally was asked to contribute five sculptures to this great festival of contemporary public art: ‘In Man’s Nature’, ‘Underdog, ‘Longdog’, ‘Bombird’ and ‘Midnight Movie Heads’. Some of these, such as ‘In Man’s Nature’ and ‘Longdog’, were always conceived as pieces of public art but others of a more intimate nature also unexpectedly benefited from the cathedral’s benign and beautiful architectural spaces. ‘In Man’s Nature’,the largest of the five sculptures, was not only the most appropriate of my work to be exhibited but also to my mind had the most impact, shown against the backdrop of the medieval architecture.
The startling red colour is a major part of this sculpture’s appeal and its vibrant colour and stripped-down form made a huge impact in this historic setting, yet the drawn elements of the common man and his collection of animal motifs and symbols found a close affinity with some of the cathedral’s own medieval carving and architecture. The sculpture as a whole is totemic; nature is both within us and outside us and it is these elements that made it a widely accessible contribution to this enormously successful festival of public art.