Based in London, my main focus as an artist is sculpture. I am particularly keen to work on commissions for the public realm.
I believe I am well placed to do this, with hands-on know-how in using materials, added to architectural knowledge, and experience of working with many community groups. The time is ripe for creating public art out of a meaningful conversation with the community.
I think of my sculpture as being ‘architectural’. Anything you study intensively teaches you a way of looking at the world, and it can stay with you. As a discipline, architecture gives you a spatial language which is broad. It includes structure, scale, context, history and imagination, all in addition to function. Traditionally, function is where art and architecture go separate ways, but that is not so clear today, and that is where I have something to offer.
What if public art is itself considered as infrastructure? Rather than a luxury add-on? Increasingly, the health benefits of art are being acknowledged: why limit them to easily controlled media and contexts? The problem is: how?
Where is the space between top-down imposition on the one hand, and design death by committee on the other? ‘Public consultation’ may work, but it is, unfortunately, open to manipulation, and everyone knows it.
Can an artist, while doing their work, effectively act as an independent mediator between public and private interests?
Stepping back for a moment, it’s fair to say that we are all attempting to cross over to a different relationship with environment. But do non-architects feel free to imagine architecturally, beyond their homes? That’s a direction we can move in, as a society and as citizens of the world. Artists can help make space for that movement, in a different way from architects themselves. The irrational element of creativity is becoming functional, however it is still artistic territory.
What would I actually do then, to engage in such a conversation?
Every situation is different, and I would bring my imagination into play for the right approach. First of all though, who is ‘the public’? What cohesiveness is there already? What groups are active and might we be interested in working with each other?
How does the dialogue start? In the case of my design for Oldfield House, a council-run property, a community art group had been offered the site by the council. I then met residents who were interested in the idea of having a sculpture in their communal garden. At the first meeting I heard from them what they wanted for their garden and told them what my initial ideas were. It was immediately clear that I needed to change the location within the garden to the one they wanted. It was not the way I had been thinking, but I liked that change, and having to see it from a different point of view. Then the idea of a bench as well as a sculpture came up, with a bird table as well, so it became a composition of sculpture and furniture.
If the site is not yet chosen, the way into the process could still be particular to the place, but over a wider area. A walking tour is a good way to connect with local architectural heritage, and movement becomes integral to the interaction. Surprising discoveries can be made through interpreting buildings, like a history book which challenges your preconceptions, sometimes talking about what is foreign and what is local, and long forgotten upheavals.
Common ground could also be a universal subject, such as pattern and geometry, which underlie visual culture throughout the world: I have often used this powerful theme in workshops.
During a workshop the physical work of making allows a different sort of conversation to happen between people. This is one of the reasons why I like using hand tools so much. In the right setting, I can imagine inviting the public to be with me while at work on the sculpture for their site.
A big part of my identity as an artist, what I bring to the conversation, lies in using hand tools. 3 years ago, when part of that same community art group, we were using the wood of an oak tree for permanent outdoor sculptures. I decided that in order to really understand this material I needed to use hand tools and, for me, that meant learning traditional woodworking techniques. The reward has been huge. Time-consuming, demanding physically and mentally, the work becomes a sort of homage both to the wonderful natural substance of wood and to the generations of craftsmen who have worked with it all over the world. It offers important lessons in patience and self-sufficiency, for the here and now, and opens you up to a sense of great potential when you know what can be done with just a few tools. Nor is it all about reverence for the past: most of my instruction in technique came from online resources.
Many people in an urban setting are drawn to wood, and the process of working it. It breathes a tangible sense of time of its own, which operates outside of the ‘normal’ framework. It has become central to my work, and also connects me with the trees I used to draw and paint from observation, often outside, throughout the seasons. That work outside nurtured a sense of place within me.
When combining wood with other materials, I see that as echoing architecture. I also enjoy growing my skills with those materials: stone, steel, plaster and card. I hope my pleasure in all these processes is infectious.
Now you have an idea of my approach to creating a public artwork. If this resonates with you, would you be interested in commissioning a sculpture? Whether private or public, I enjoy making artwork for specific places and the dialogue which leads up to it.
Fundraising for a public art project is not for the faint-hearted, but it can be done. I can help, but the onus needs to be on you.
I hope to hear from you.
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