In 2006, the first of the ENVIRONMENT SERIES portrait sittings began as a logical extension to the invitations to people whose work or stance I admired. The head of Lady Philippa Scott, with her husband Peter Scott a formidable partnership for wetland conservation from their Slimbridge home, had been one of the earliest heads in 2007.
The Environment Triptych emerged by 2008 – busts of three ruthlessly authentic, holistic thinkers – the writer Richard Mabey, moral philosopher Mary Midgley, and Gaia theory originator and independent scientist James Lovelock. The heads had a relevance individually but the interplay of the three heads plinthed together seemed to add something; perhaps emphasising the sitters’ diverse efforts in influencing human behaviour and our interaction with the planet and its other organisms.
The Temple of the British Worthies at Stowe is an exedra created as a monument to the ‘men of letters’ and ‘men of action’ – the thinkers and do-ers of the day in the 1730s. I started to think about extending invitations to some of the environmental do-ers of today. In 2009 heads came about from sittings with Tim Smit who masterminds the Eden Project, the sculptor Peter Randall-Page whose international reputation has been inspired by organic form and Chris Rapley, the climate scientist whose has given leadership to the British Antarctic Survey and The Science Museum. Gordon Murray is working on ground-breaking passenger transport with holistic thinking from his Formula 1 automotive design roots. After the birth of our second son, I started to plan again in 2011 and during May the al fresco sitting (picture) of Riverford Organic founder Guy Watson took place at Wash Farm in South Devon.
The terracotta heads which emerge seem to represent several things. Firstly, as individual works by a sculptor (although I personally see these intensive day-long sittings as ‘drawing in clay’ – they are lively portrait sketches, under life-size after firing, capturing that point in time). Secondly, as historical markers for the intense time spent with these people in the midst of their busy creative period. All have been persuaded to sacrifice valuable time to sit calmly for 6 or 8 hours in furthering this project. With a simple barter of time and the removal of the commissioning arrangement normally necessary to create portraiture, great things can happen. They are of their time rather than looking back on it. The latter is often seen through the marking of somebody’s contribution to life by a formal bronze bust, perhaps on their retirement – or passing.
The investment in time and travel is ample return for the privilege of interacting with these people for a short while. Sculptor Isamu Noguchi said in 1932:
It was a communion with people I was interested in. Portraits were a gregariousness.
…which sums up things for me – they provide energy to sustain my solitary periods of carving. And one day they will be exhibited together or acquired by somewhere that really cares about what the developing work represents.
In the meantime new clay heads come into existence and the series gradually grows; Green Party MP Caroline Lucas is the latest sitting to have taken place, in June 2012. You can see other portraits as they are archived here.