I have really fond childhood memories of summer holidays in Dorset. Sunny days on the beach, foraging in rock pools, exploring Lyme Regis and the magnificent Jurassic coast. One of my favourite things to do was fossil hunting. It seemed amazing to me that I could find stones marked with impressions or holding the preserved remains of ancient life. As a boy, it filled me with wonder and started a life-long fascination with fossils.
Fossils have long inspired philosophers, scientists, writers and artists to tell the story of life on earth. They were probably part of the earliest art collections. Leonardo da Vinci wrote of the marvel he felt at seeing the fossil of a whale in a cave in Tuscany: Now unmade by time you lie patiently in this closed place with bones stripped and bare, serving as an armature for the mountain placed over you (Leonardo da Vinci, Codex Arundel, fol. 156r).
I have been drawn to sculpt fossils throughout my career. There is something compelling about creating a contemporary artwork based on an object, hundreds of millions of years old. I want to convey the timeless beauty of these incredible objects and also communicate that sense of wonder. My first fossil sculpture, Fossilized Crustacean, was based on a bivalve and exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition in 1999. Fossil Hybrid, is on public display at Chapman University in California.
Flint and fossil hunting in the Dordogne a few years ago, inspired me to make a series of contemporary sculptures based on found objects or inspired by ancient art. Primitive Horse Head, Mud Tablet, Bull Relief, River Bed also experimented with new processes.
Most recently, I have returned to fossils again, and pushed further the creative possibilities of more new processes. As well as making them in bronze, I have worked with Lockbund Foundry to cast two ammonites into stainless steel. It is thought-provoking to use a modern, highly reflective material to represent a pre-historic object to contrasting effect. Indeed, both these sculptures are studies of contrast in many different aspects.
Ammonite Cretaceous 2018 is my interpretation of a Cretaceous ammonite fossil. The organic shapes, the spiral horn-like structure of the fossilised shell, inspired me. The term ammonite refers to the Egyptian god Ammon who wore the coiled horns of a ram. I think it looks particularly effective when placed in contrast against hard architecture.
When making Ammonite Jurassic Cracked 2018, I used a number of techniques to produce both form and texture. I wanted the cracks to look random, though they were carefully controlled by the construction of the armature. After sculpting in clay, I used a gas torch to burn the surface at very high temperature. This produced the cracking which contrasts with the geometrically precise tight ribs of the fossil. Ammonite Jurassic Cracked is also available in stainless steel.
I am very pleased with how my new fossil sculptures have turned out. They complement both a rural and urban environment, indoors and out. Whenever I look at them, it reminds me of those childhood holidays, hunting for fossils on a beach in Dorset!