Blown Away, Leighton House, 2012
Published: 11 March 2016
Tell us about your practice at the moment, how would you describe your work?
My work is in a really enjoyable phase at the moment. Fundamentally I am interested in the formal aspects of art – colour, shape, form, materials etc and how they can reveal aspects of the spaces and issues around them. I found though, that I was designing and planning works, rather than them come out of the process of making, and I was beginning to bore myself. A couple of years ago I decided to change the way I worked in an attempt to find a more interesting way of working. I spent a couple of years playing really. Taking all the materials around me and turning them into groups and sculptures, then considering how I might take aspects of this play to make more resolved pieces. It has been a really exciting time and, whilst I’m still fundamentally interested in the same things, there is a lot more energy in what I am doing and I feel a lot freer to take risks in my practice.
My most recent work is being shown in Leeds University School of Design at the moment where I hope it creates an interesting dialogue between the different departments in the building – fine art, design, material research, photography and fashion. On entering the building there is a large 5 x 3 m screen with vitrines on either side. On the screen I have made a photographic projection – 400 slowly changing photographs of a weekend of improvisation with found objects and materials set alongside made sculptures. The more resolved sculptures, the ‘actors in the piece’, are displayed in the cabinets.
Improvisations, Leeds University, 2016
There is a play in your work between formal and minimal compositions of line and colour, alongside more instinctive use of found materials and objects. How do you see these things combining?
I have always been interested in how a line or plane of colour can change the way we see the things around it. At the moment I am playing with the ‘stuff’ of life that surrounds us – everyday objects from the home, materials we use, tools or parts of tools from my studio. As with all my work I am not ‘giving a message’ but rather posing a question about a grey area. Is there too much stuff, too much production of unnecessary goods, or is life better if we are surrounded by, what Daniel Miller calls, ‘The comfort of things’?
So to go back to your question, the minimal lines and colour pose the question, but they also show us interesting elements of the found objects which have weight and colour and form too. I am hoping that the work will encourage others to see the sculpture in more than just ‘art’ works.
Pink with Concrete and Plaster, 2015
Much of your work is very site specific, and existing outside of gallery spaces. What draws you to work in these different settings? How does the context influence your work?
It is usually starts with a question or issue that draws me to a place but these issues usually are about something material that exists there already. And the answers about the issues are not black and white. The benefits or otherwise of CCTV cameras or mobile phone cameras, the boxes left out for recycling at night having transported goods around the world, the proportion of the ubiquitous A4 rectangle. At Leighton House, the studio home of Frederick Leighton, my question was about whether a minimal form could hold its own in such a lush environment, and I focussed in Leighton’s use of drapery and how monochrome paper forms might encourage visitors to notice this aspect of his practice. The solo show I had at the end of last year, at William Benington Gallery, Pink, was triggered by the younger students I teach being drawn to the colour and I wanted to see if I could make it neutral, free of association.
Whilst these questions are the trigger, in the end the making process and the surrounding formal elements (space, materials etc) are what determine the outcome. By this I mean that I find a personal danger in overthinking and my work tends to be more robust when I leave this at the studio door. Of course it is there at the start and at critical moments when I assess what I am doing, but I find that very often, it is words that get in the way.
Leighton House Residency, 2012
Tell us a bit about the work you do with the Royal British Society of Sculptors?
The RBS has been my main professional support structure throughout my adult career. For example, just in the last year I have been to talks which expand my ideas, have been mentored and mentor a younger artist, have borrowed a compressor, rung artists for specific advice, had critical conversations about my work and made new friends. The aim of the organisation is to promote and advance the practice and art of sculpture and we do this by ensuring that, at all times, we put the artist at the centre. Our public talks and exhibitions are designed to give the public insight into the concerns of contemporary artists and, for the individual artist, we always try to build a process that will benefit their practice. For example, I hope that all those who get to the shortlist stage of an Award such as our Public Art Award, First, or our recent three year Sculpture Shock programme, will feel that the process itself was useful, rather than it was just about finding a ‘winner’. Anyone wanting to know more can visit www.rbs.org.uk and sign up to the Sculpture News monthly newsletter.
As President my role is really that of an Ambassador for Sculpture (in all its contemporary forms) and as Chair of the Board. It is a voluntary role so I need to balance it with my practice and other commitments, but I hope I will be able to spread a message that the broad range of sculpture from bronze to light to video installation is alive and well and that it thrives when artists, audiences and organisations are generous and share all they can with each other.
Which artists working at the moment do you admire?
I am a great fan of Phyllida Barlow, the way she creates spaces and her brave and physical use of colour and material together and I’m delighted that she has been selected for the next Venice Biennale. I looked a lot at her work whilst preparing for my Pink exhibition, and also at Philip Guston. I have a couple of firm favourites who have remained over the years – Ellsworth Kelly and Phillip King. For the Leeds exhibition I learnt a lot from Fishli and Weiss. In terms of ‘admiration’ the prize really has to go to young artists who manage to get through their first years of practice and survive, often against all financial odds. Going back to the RBS it is the biggest privilege of all to learn from and to see what early career artists are doing.
Pink Exhibition, William Benington Gallery, 2016
What have you got coming up?
My Leeds show continues until the 13th April. I am currently working on a new solo show for June. This is an interesting collaboration with the architects John McAslan and Partners, and I am hoping to work with their modelmakers and architects to look at issues of scale and space. In terms of questions for my practice I want to explore how my recent ideas about improvisation can work outdoors and am hoping to find some resolved solutions for William Benington Gallery’s biennial Sculptural show next year.
Published March 2016