The Artist’s Muse – Elemental Exhibition at the Portland Gallery from 3rd to 23rd December 2014
Looking at my pieces grouped together and thinking about how people will view my Elemental Exhibition at the Portland Gallery which opens on the 3rd December, have both made me realise what an enormous influence my surroundings continue to have on my work.
The elements have a daily impact on my life, far more than on someone who lives or works in a city. My home in Cumbria, on the edge of the Lake District, is too isolated and wild for a lot of people but I love it. I live high up on an escarpment and look out across my gardens to rolling hills full of sheep and beyond to brown, windswept crags, rising up out of the landscape and majestically defining my horizon.
I love the way the light moves across the hills – on sunny days, the light can turn them golden but I equally love the way the clouds can appear to bruise them with purple shadow as they scud across the skies on windblown days. From my studio window I look out at sheep sturdily surviving on a steep, unkempt hill. I’ve seen that hillside scoured by rain, mottled by cloud and gilded by sun. I’ve seen grass bent taut by gales or rippled into rhythmic patterns by breeze. With all this informing my subconscious every day, it’s perhaps no surprise that many of my new figures represent the human figure battling with the elements and hence the name of my exhibition – “Elemental”.
My new series of Umbrella Girls shows girls in all seasons – one is tugged by her umbrella in an unexpected squall, another crouches beneath the umbrella to shelter from a gentle shower (or even the sun). The umbrella can represent a benign sanctuary from the rain or a weapon conspiring with the wilder windier elements to blow the girl off her feet. I have been fascinated by how the slightest change in tilt of the umbrella can make all the difference to a figure’s power because the umbrella has a way of capturing and delineating the space around a figure, imbuing the girl with life and the space around her with palpable energy. I’ve also experimented with the umbrella girls’ patination, casting them in shades of blue, green and turquoise to mimic the drama of sky and weather. I wanted to convey a sense that the girls were as much a part of the elements as affected by them.
Charlotte Metcalfe’s film has captured the excitement, colour and movement in my new work.
Just as the umbrellas contain the energy around a figure, so too my series of female archers, all titled Flame, have their vitality defined by their bows. My archers reach and stretch towards the sky, the great arc of their bows drawing the energy back from the atmosphere and into the figures, making them truly dynamic. I’m pleased too with their patination – they are in dazzling shades of fire-burst scarlets and searing yellows and oranges, giving them that added flicker of fire that brings them even more alive.
Apart from a life-sized Umbrella Girl, Maelstrom, my latest work of all is Squall, a larger than life figure, in searing, potent red, furiously and powerfully challenging the elements yet remaining exquisitely delicate as she retains her equilibrium and balance in the face of a battering wind. She echoes my earlier work, Sunrise, which will also be shown at the exhibition, in which two female figures intertwine and create an almost heart-shaped window, which theatrically frames and enhances the landscape beyond the orchard for which the sculpture was originally commissioned. Both works convey my passion for placing sculpture within a landscape. Rather than being a distraction from its surroundings, I believe sculpture can lead the eye and draw attention to a certain aspect of the landscape, encouraging it to be looked at and appreciated afresh. At my own home, I have placed my figures to point and stretch and incline outwards to those beautiful hills that bound my view.
In recent years there has been a move away from figurative sculpture as if its classical elements somehow detracted from the contemporary relevance and edge of a piece, rendering it merely decorative. My view is if a figure is sculpted with passion and communicates its energy, beauty and power, it thrusts it way beyond the ornamental, making it more than just a contemporary piece – it becomes timeless. What I hope my Elemental Exhibition at the Portland Gallery achieves is to cement figurative sculpture’s position centre stage where I believe it belongs.