Why do you sculpt?
It’s great to be questioned about (pretty much) anything. In answering, it requires forming thoughts into a coherent, communicable package, to consider rationally how and why I believe and behave in a certain way. Sometimes the answers are surprising, perhaps revealing patterns that have been long held simply out of habit. As with anything, it pays to take time to really consider – in this case how the work is developed from the first embryonic seedling of contemplation, to the final placing of beast on plinth.
It’s a fascinating journey and one that that’s been brought into sharp focus recently by a question from a sceptical buyer:
“So” she said, “Tell me why I should buy this piece rather than the one in the garden centre for sale for a tenth of the price?”
Firstly I must admit to be just a little riled, with ego on the defensive and hackles slightly raised. It is in fact a very good question and throwing aside my own emotional reaction, she had a point and one that I’m going to attempt to answer here in a very personal way.
The final act of making a sculpture, while techinically challenging, is often quite a rapid process, particularly working in plaster which sets very quickly and requires a deft and decisive laying of scrim. At this point the piece often seems to take on a life of it’s own, with the building happening in a state of flow that seems almost effortless at times. It’s often physically demanding and brings with it a connection with the material, a real hands on rawness that I find immensely satisfying – there’s something primeval and powerful about welding steel, cutting raw metal with sparks flying and chiseling solid plaster into shape. In answer to the question it’s this part that is costly, financially – the casting alone is often thousands of pounds for a large piece, and the materials and time often match this. The Garden Centre piece is likely to be a crudely moulded piece made in an unlimited run of cast, likely to be manufactured in China where cheap labour and material costs make mass production the norm.
The value of a unique piece, for me, is in the process that preceeds any physical construction. It’s the is interesting part – a melding of different experiences, a melting pot of ideas, of ways of living, moments in time, images, tactile visions, chance encounters. A brief look in an animals eye, a subtle twist of a neck and delicate poise of a hoof. These are the background to the finnished piece that swirl and twine in my head, sometimes for years before the idea begins to solidify, to become a concrete plan. It’s in this hidden process as much as in the actual hands on making, that a small part of me is woven into each piece made and which I hope allows each one to tell it’s unique story. So whilst the time from the laying of the first piece of metal to the final finishes may be relatively short, each sculpture is connected to the world, through my experience and the imprints left upon me by a teeming mass of interactions. I think of it as a joining of the dots – a connection of thousands of points, mostly unseen which are expressed as a finished whole and humbly shared.
It takes time – and for me it takes kind of clarity of mind that is only sometimes acheivable. In the melee of life with children, veterinary work, life, the space to create is hard fought. I often wonder whether the historical dearth of female artists, is simply as a result of the womens’ traditional role as carer, manager of the house, guardian of domesticity. Escaping this role and finding time for oneself must have been nigh on impossible. Sometimes, I feel, it still is.
I feel very lucky. Creation is at the heart of so much that is life enhancing – the act itself connects the creator to the world in a way that’s uniquely satisfying, whether it’s in the humble act of baking, of tilling the land, tinkering with engines or in the (arguably) more lofty creation of art or music, the productive process makes us feel good and when the result is recognition, perhaps in the form of finnancial reward, admiration from others, or even (and perhaps most importantly) self fulfilment, it feels even better. I suppose that this is at the heart of my making – it simply feels good – the feeling good doesn’t equate with being easy, very often it’s difficult to start a project, there’s an underlying fear of being not good enough, a kind of paralysis that makes it very difficult to actually commit to welding the first joint, or measuring the first piece of metal. It’s a leap of faith and I suspect it may be the reason that many people shy away from creating “art” – it exposes the artist and all his or her nakedly vulnerable self – the very act of exhibiting can feel like opening ones soul to the world and allowing or even inviting others to pass judgement – intensely unnerving.
So – my short answer to the doubting buyer, is that in each unique work, you’re paying for a small piece of me. For days of stolen time, for experience, touch and emotion caressed form. For sleepless nights on the eve of an exhibition, fingers rubbed raw and hair stiff with plaster dust. Complaining is a dead and boring topic and therefore I will stop here – of course it’s difficult to create, sometimes it’s terrifying but it’s terrifying in a wonderful, challenging and life enhancing way. I hardly dare to add – since it seems the artist requires a certain martyrdom, an air of anguish, struggle, misery in order to be deemed truly creative, that I create because I enjoy it with all my heart. I approach the task with as much open hearted curiosity as I can muster and trust that the process will take it from there and usually, it does.