When I started my art education in the 1970’s the sculpture studios were pretty much a monoculture. ‘If you kick it and it doesn’t move – then it’s sculpture’ was the joke at the time and amongst the painting fraternity ‘sculpture is the thing you bump into when you step back to look at a painting’.
I was less than moved by the dry formalism of the time and I wanted art to be more human, colourful and sensuous. I thought the subject of the figure should be reinstated and revivified and set about making bright, animated, ‘in your face’ figures. Naked not nude, they were fun, they were outrageous and more importantly they felt contemporary. I flirted with Nicholas Treadwell’s ‘Superhumanism’ and together we briefly thumbed our noses at the art establishment.
I had spent several years working at a zoo before going to Art College, so perhaps not surprisingly my figures soon developed animal alter egos. An exciting new vocabulary of forms, these animal images began to take centre stage. Although on the face of it my work still had an amusing quality, I took it very seriously and underlying the humour were a number of major concerns with both sculptural language and our relationship with nature.
Up until this point all my work had been made in resin and glass-fibre. It had the benefit of being cheap, cheerful and was sympathetic to the content of my work. Moreover I actively enjoyed being irreverent to the mantra of the previous generation of sculptors of ‘truth to materials’. The problem came in wanting the work to be durable enough to withstand the rigours of the outside environment and I needed to consider the more traditional material of bronze for my work.
During the Eighties anxieties about the environment became much more prevalent and for much of the next decade I worked more overtly to show my own concerns with these issues: ‘Peaceable Kingdom’, ‘Tree of Life’, ‘Man and Fish’, ‘Preserving the Fish’ and ’Embracing the Sea’ all referred to our relationship to the natural world and the guardianship we hold over it. These compositions took the form of tightly held embraces of animals and humans. We all need others to feel protected, loved and cherished and it seemed logical to return and reflect on our relationship with ourselves. These compositions became complicated knots of human form, often so tightly entwined they shared each other’s limbs; some were protective and passive while others were more ambiguous and passionate. A time came when I was in danger of repeating myself and I could see there were others around me now producing work that looked uncannily like my own. It was time to move on.
Although these compositions had been sensuously satisfying, to some extent they failed to exploit the full potential of bronze as a medium. Unlike carved materials, bronze can be thin and extenuated and can entrap spaces as exciting as the forms they penetrate. In response to these deliberations, sculptures such as ‘On Our Heads’ and ‘Equilibrium’ exploited this new freedom and introduced a new spatial dynamic that caught echoes of some my earlier work. Eventually the figures became pulled apart, perhaps suggesting that to focus on our own individuality has the potential to isolate us not only from each other but also from the rest of the living world. In ‘Cast Apart’ the embracing couple remain separated in frozen animation; in ‘Man of Parts’ the figure even becomes divorced from his own body parts in a disembodied assemblage, as if in some Descartian dream. The viewer can be engaged imaginatively however, mentally cutting the individual elements free to reconstitute them in one’s mind.