Among my bronze wildlife sculptures, there are a number of animal subjects that I come back to again and again. Otters, hares, deer, cheetah, and leopards feature frequently. They have become signature subjects for my wildlife sculptures and they provide a great way to evaluate my changing style over the years.
March has come around again and appropriately enough, I have been working on another series of bronze hare sculptures. I wrote in my blog on Bronze Hares last year about my relationship with hares and how my approach has changed over two decades. I’ve always loved making hares. They’re such a dynamic subject, you can put them into almost any composition.
After the success of my Boxing Hares 2017, I wanted to revisit the theme. That sculpture really tested the structural limits of bronze casting. This time I have once again arranged a dynamic pose which utilises the strength of bronze. There is a mirroring in the stance of the two animals, a repetition in the placement of their front feet. I spent a long time pre-planning the composition so it felt balanced. The extraordinary thing is that when one gets it right, the measurements of the sculpture often come out unintentionally squared. The sculpture also tends to free stand naturally.
I settled on a twisting s-shape, which demonstrates the sinuous agility of their bodies and explores the anatomical detail of what is hard and what is soft. It is going to require a complicated mould but Lockbund Foundry has the technical expertise to cast even the most complex of my wildlife sculptures into bronze. It is one thing for me to push my finger into wet clay, but Lockbund can reproduce even my tiniest gestural detail in cold hard metal. Their ability to do this always amazes me.
It is often efficient to make more than one sculpture of a subject at any one time. So I have been working also on two different hare head sculptures. They both show an animal listening, his ears in a relaxed state of alertness, but they are very different studies.
One is a carved from plaster. I haven’t done any carving for a while. Obviously it is quite a different process to sculpting in clay – taking away, not adding on. I love watching the form emerging from the block. It is quite symmetrical with directional chisel marks. There is a timeless quality about this piece. I was inspired by the Egyptian artefacts I saw in Paris last year and Aztec sculpture. In this sculpture, I want the viewer to question whether this is an ancient or modern work in the same way as Bird Form 2009, Mud Tablet 2017 and Bull Relief 2017.
I made the other hare head sculpture from grogged stoneware clay which I order to my required consistency. I prefer a very low ratio of grit. This gives me a loose consistency which is great for my bold gestural style. A directional history is left in the mark making. My wife banned me some time ago from using terracotta as it left a red mess all over the house! I got it on the walls, in the car, all over my clothes… The grogged clay transmutes the dynamics I am after. I am now brave enough to leave it as it is, to get the mark making right first time without re-working it.
Otters are another favourite subject for my wildlife sculptures. I’ve always had a passion for otters, even naming my youngest daughter Otterlie. The joy of sculpting Mustelids is that I can sculpt them in almost any position. Their incredible flexibility means they are one of the few animals that can touch its bottom with its head! In a similar way to the new boxing hares sculpture, the new otter sculpture is all about dynamics. I settled on a figure of eight composition, playing with the idea of an infinity curve. The eye is continually led around the sculpture and can be effectively viewed from every angle. Also like the boxing hares, the otters will be a complicated casting, requiring complex moulds. It’s always a challenge to support two life size spiralling otters so they appear to be under water, without the support getting in the way of the composition.
All the new wildlife sculptures are being cast now at the foundry and will be available for sale in a couple of months. Their first outing will be at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in May 2018 where I’ll also be showing old favourites like Toad 2007, Mole 2014, Grouse Flying 2016 and Warthog 2016.