The origins of sculpture are likely to have begun with early man finding naturally formed objects which already looked a bit like something familiar. Holidaying in the Dordogne with family a few years ago, I found a piece of wood which looked just like a horse’s head. I added an ear and an eye to create Primitive Horse Head 2016, a contemporary sculpture reminiscent of Neolithic art.
The area around Lascaux has long inspired me. I’ve always enjoyed the beautiful scenery, the river Vézère running through the valley and the rocks above. I’ve gathered quite a collection of ancient flints on my walks around La Roque St. Christophe. And of course, the paleolithic cave paintings are breathtaking.
OLD OR NEW?
Although I am best known for my wildlife sculptures, I am constantly looking to evolve my art and stretch my thinking of how I sculpt. I find inspiration in many places and am often driven to experiment with new forms and ideas. Like with my Primitive Horse Head, I am conscious of the history of sculpture and man’s inherent desire to express his experience creatively.
The cave paintings at Lascaux were on my mind when I made Bull Relief 2017. Cattle have always been a favourite subject of mine, having grown up on a cattle farm in Cornwall. I wanted to create a contemporary sculpture which gave a nod to the ancient aurochs depicted by stone age man 17,000 years ago. However, I also wanted to convey a sense of historical continuity with a modern twist. The viewer should ask whether this is an old or a new piece of art.
The same question applies to my Mud Tablet 2017. Visiting Paris the previous year, I took the opportunity to go to the Louvre to view the antiquities and artefacts on display there. Mud Tablet owes much to that trip. Often I am so busy in my studio or researching wildlife abroad, that I don’t make the time to go to museums or exhibitions. The terracotta cylinders and clay tablets etched with cuneiform script from the ancient Near East were fascinating. I felt compelled to make a creative bridge between the old and the new. And I couldn’t resist a little tongue-in-cheek humour with the etching of ‘mud mud mud…’!
Working with different mediums was a great way to try out new processes. I wrote into the mud while it was still wet and when it had dried, I manipulated the natural effect of cracking. I have seen tessellated mud cracks in dried up river beds in Africa and always found the patterns and marks fascinating. The local people call it the ‘bush telegraph’ as the tracks of passing wildlife are left behind in the mud. One can see which animals have recently gone by.
This idea inspired River Bed 2017. I had seen La Jeune Martyre by Paul Delaroche in Paris, and it had reminded me of Millais’ Ophelia. I wanted to construct a narrative history that brought these inspirations together at a point further on in time. Our eldest daughter Isabella was my model! I made the original composition in mud and then took a mould and cast the piece in jesmonite. It is a modern reimagining of Ophelia’s story. The outline of her body is preserved in the river bed, delineated by the natural process of mudcracks over time.
I really enjoy finding inspiration in ancient art and coming up with new ways to express it. At the moment, I am waiting for the foundry to finish casting two giant ammonite fossils. These new works of contemporary sculpture build on the processes I experimented with in my other modern pieces. The foundry installed a new induction tilt furnace which enabled me to cast them into stainless steel. I’m looking forward to seeing them when they come out. They should be available for sale by May.