I was interviewed by Jack Perks, a wildlife cameraman and fish expert, for his podcast. We chatted about what inspires me, how I make my work and recent projects. To listen click here.
This life sized sculpture of a throughbred foal was commissioned by racehorse breeder Sara Cumani for the grounds of the new home that she and her husband Luca have built near Newmarket.
I wanted to capture the leggy potential of a thoroughbred foal and enjoyed using all the found objects within the piece. The new house and grounds are at the heart of the Cumani’s successful stud, surrounded by immaculate fields of contented mares, foals and youngstock. The foal sculpture is visible from the house and stands overlooking some of the stud fields where the broodmares and foals graze. It is a very beautiful setting for the piece and I was thrilled that Sara has planted wildflowers in the lawns around the foal sculpture.
The 57th annual exhibition of the Society of Wildlife Artists is going ahead this year. The Mall Galleries have worked hard to enable visitors to enjoy the exhibition whilst ensuring that social distancing is in place.
I have managed to make seven works for the exhibition this year. Secret Squirrel was inspired by seeing grey squirrels visiting a walnut tree in my garden. The drill bits worked perfectly as a tail.
I have created three different birds for the show: Scissor Winged Tern is made using sickles, scissors and lots of chromed and light coloured items to reference the plumage shape and colour.
Twice Shy is a pretty much life sized bittern sculpture. Bitterns often adopt this strange pose when disturbed as if trying to blend into the reeds so the title works very well. The old dog lead chains hang really well on this piece but it took quite a lot of tinkering to get them right.
The third sculpture of a bird that I have created for the exhibition is of this resting Shag. These almost prehistoric looking birds nest on craggy shorelines and are often seen resting with outstretched wings. Thought to be drying their wings some scientists think it may be more to do with aiding digestion. Either way I think it makes a lovely shape. I needed to find a suitable base for the piece and was pleased to unearth a toolbox that obviously used to belong to someone called Ron, hence the title.
I always enjoy watching hares in the fields around my home in rural Norfolk. This year I have made a pair boxing (Lockdown Hares) and a study of one sitting hunkered down in a furrow (Red Hoe Hare).
Spanner Frog incorporates all kinds of old tools including ring spanners for the eyes and an old bottle opener in the back. It’s quite tricky capturing the way that the frog folds its back legs when at rest, especially when using old tools!
The Natural Eye runs from 24th October to 3rd November 2019 and is held at the prestigious Mall Galleries, London. The exhibition shows the very best of art inspired by the natural world and includes paintings, drawings, sculptures and artist’s original prints. It’s a fantastic mix of excellent work and well worth a visit. Work exhibited at the show is available for sale via the Mall Galleries website.
The largest sculpture that I have created for the show this year is Doe Hoe Roe, a life sized female roe deer. I tried to use large tools for key parts of the sculpture such as the big g-clamps and sickles in the body. I used a couple of hoes, most notably in the back end, and could not resist the terrible title of the piece.
This year I have been looking at swifts and have made three different flying swifts. They are such amazing birds and I am so happy that we have some nesting in special swift boxes on the house. I was lucky enough to see a hobby over the house quite regularly this summer, so I decided to try and make a hobby in flight. All four sculptures relied heavily on sickles for the structure. I think I used 15 in total across all four sculptures.
I enjoyed making Spoon Backed Egret. It was satisfying to get the bird balanced whilst capturing the movement. I found an old silver plated salad spoon which worked perfectly in the back but obviously I could not weld the silver, instead I used a nail to keep it in place which I then welded onto the sculpture.
The annual exhibition is held at the Mall Galleries London from 25th October to 4th November. I will have eight pieces on show there but it is well worth a visit if you are keen on all kinds of art inspired by the natural world as there are over 350 catalogued works by numerous artists in addition to unframed project work in the Out of the Frame room which includes work by the amazing Ben Woodhams SWLA.
Sawblade Raven is about life sized and involved a lot of shears for the wings and tail feathers. The bill began as a ‘finger’ from a combine harvester, the point through which the recipricol blades slide back and forth to cut through the crop.
Spoon Wild Dog was inspired by a trip to Kwazulu Natal several years ago I was lucky enough to see a small pack of dogs and made many rapid sketches before they disappeared into the bush. This sculpture has a slotted spoon for one ear and what appears to be a holder for an air filter from an engine of some sort for the other ear. I am pleased with the balance of the piece and the hind foot off the floor.
This Curlew sculpture was inspired by an unusual pair of curved forceps. They could have been a little longer for my purposes but I chose to keep them as I found them and hope the curlew experts would forgive me.
Leaf Rake Pike is a bit of a monster at around 4 feet long. A few years ago I made a multiple fish sculpture which had a pike and more than twenty small fish in a river setting. I always loved the power of the pike in that piece so I decided to make a similar one as a stand alone work. Here is Fishscape from a few years ago.
I also have Iron Hawfinch, Itchy Hare, Coat Hook Hare and Stair Rod Grasshopper on show at the exhibition.
The annual exhibition of the Society of Wildlife Artists is held at the prestigious Mall Galleries and runs from Thursday 19th to Sunday 29th October (closes 1pm). I will have eight pieces on show including Spoon Lttle Owl, Scissor Bee-eater and Scissor Nuthatch. I will be giving a talk on my work on Tuesday 24th October at Mall Galleries at 3pm. The talk is free but you will need to pay to get into the exhibition. The exhibition shows the very best of art inspired by the natural world and is well worth a visit with over 360 works by more than 100 artists on show. www.swla.co.uk
James Thomas, 13, asked me to a couple of questions for his DT project. I thought I’d share it here…
For my DT homework for school we have been asked to choose a designer and produce an informative sheet/leaflet explaining and showing what they do. I have chosen yourself as, I too, love wildlife and my Grandad has a farm and has sheds full of old tools and I love making things. I also watch Countryfile and saw you on there too. We have several questions but the ones I am unable to find on your website are ‘why do you recycle?’ and how does it help the planet? Once I have completed my sheet I will email it to you to see what you think if that is OK with you.
Many thanks for your help and I really look forward to hearing from you.
I shall try to answer your questions but it’s actually not as straightforward as you might think.
You ask ‘why do I recycle’?’ As a nature lover and conservationist I always try to recycle and conserve resources in my day to day life, however as an artist I don’t use scrap metal because it is recycled. I am happy that it is recycled but I don’t use it because it is. The reason I use it is that it has a past life and that I enjoy incorporating the shapes into the work. I think it adds an extra interest to the sculptures. The reason I weld steel is that it enables me to make a diverse range of pieces with movement and balance that I could not achieve using clay or wood for example. Steel is very strong and welding is an immediate process that i find really appeals to the way that I work. So it is the very fact that the old tools are made of steel that I use them, not because they are recycled.
Your next question is ‘how does it help the planet’? Well this is another complicated answer. I use a lot of electricity to make them by welding, but nowhere near as much as would be needed to cast them into bronze. The bronze would be melted down using a lot of energy. So my welded sculpture is better for the planet than if I made bronzes. If I used newspapers and glue that would be even better for the planet though wouldn’t it? So I can’t say that my sculptures are particularly good for the planet in that respect. But, I like to think that when someone sees a sculpture of mine that celebrates a wild creature they may take a moment to consider the beauty of that creature and think about why that animal needs to be conserved or its habitat preserved. I don’t always make exciting big animals like some other artists (lots of wildlife artists paint lions, tigers and eagles) for me I find an ant or a lizard as interesting as a giraffe.
I hope this helps your project and keep making things with your grandad!
Last month Ellie Harrison came and visited me at the studio for a piece for CountryFile about the Brecks in Norfolk.
The programme is aired on Easter Sunday so they wanted to get me to make a rabbit to fit the Easter theme. I insisted on making a hare as this area is so well known for them. I took Ellie out onto the farmland a stone’s throw from the studio where we were rewarded with great views of several hares interacting. We spent a little while sketching (I like using biro) and I also took aluminium wire with me so we could make a quick 3D sketch as well. The hire car that I was asked to drive was far too hi-tech for me and I managed to lean my sketchbook on the horn which caused the hares to scatter but it didn’t take long for them to return.
We visited a friend’s farm to scavenge for scrap. The Eyles’ farm is on the edge of the Brecks and Stephen Eyles runs his agricultural engineering business from the farm. I was allowed to rummage around in old sheds and collected some great items. Unfortunately the footage wasn’t used on the final film.
Back in the studio I was asked to make a small sculpture with Ellie which was a little unexpected. With less than an hour to make it and 4 people in my tiny shed it was a bit of a challenge! Luckily I had borrowed a spare welding helmet from Stephen and kitted Ellie out so she could have a go at welding. She did pretty well at angle grinding and managed to do a half decent weld on the hare.
The resulting collage worked well and involved less than 10 items. Ellie took it away with her and is supposed to have given it to Matt Baker but she wants to keep it for herself! It was a pretty hectic day but good fun. I’m so glad that we found hares so easily and that everything went smoothly.
I was lucky enough to see a caracal when I was in South Africa a few years ago so I was really excited when I was asked to make one.
It was very important to get the head right, as I think felines can be especially difficult to capture. I had a pair of very large split pins that worked well for the eyes and I used pliers, coathooks and other curving items to get the muzzle and cheekbones.
I used steel cable for the characteristic tufts on the ears and bow saw blades for other fur-like texture in places. The legs and paws used up a very large number of bull-nosed and other types of pliers as they helped define the toes.
I was very pleased with the movement in the piece and was careful to get the overall balance so that the front paw is just off the ground. The power in the hindquarters and shoulders are conveyed with large items such as horseshoes, clamps and spanners. On one side I even managed to incorporate a large bolt from a door.
I am very grateful to my clients for allowing me to borrow the piece back so that it can be shown at The Natural Eye, the annual exhibition of the Society of Wildlife Artists which is at the Mall Galleries from Thursday 30 October until Sunday 9th November 2014.