The Pulborough stone which has been carved through 2013/4 at Wiggonholt approaches completion. It will be called Trisantonis, the Roman name meaning ‘the trespasser’, given to the middle Arun waters which regularly flooded and created the inland sea overlooked by Pulborough. Its improvised imagery has reverted to human form through both river goddess and ambiguous sword-claDSC_0064wd Roman with a supporting coterie of wetland birds. It is far from the designed works that are decreed for most public sculpture. That it exists and has taken this form is still another minor miracle to me.

Some have suggested that the sculpture should stay permanently in public view in the local area. There is already over a thousand pounds pledged towards something as yet unplanned.

Returning yesterday from Norfolk’s Hickling Broad, I realised we have stayed, intermittently, in the same waterside location for 35 years. I pondered the thatched ’Studio’ across the water from the houseboat and discovered it had been home to Roland Green, an artist who had painted wildfowl from the top of a converted windpump looking out over the reedbeds. He was commissioned in 1929 to provide murals for a lodge further up the broad.

In 1908, three politicians (and later, members of the same Cabinet) Edward Grey, 1st Viscount Grey of Fallodon, Auberon (Bron) Herbert, 9th Baron Lucas and Edwin Montagu bought a section of Norfolk Broadland intending it to be a bird sanctuary. Grey and Lucas both attended Balliol and Grey had shot duck in the area in his youth. Bron Lucas latterly bought Heigham Sound, Horsey Mere and Hickling Broad, the latter coming with the small Whiteslea Lodge.

In 1916, Bron Lucas went missing over enemy lines. Whiteslea and the rest of his Norfolk Estate was inherited by Ivo Grenfell, the youngest son of Baron Desborough, another Balliol man. The family grew to love the place, but after Ivo was killed as a result of a car accident in 1926 (sad indeed after both his brothers died in the First World War), his father took on the Estate and with it responsibility for 3,000 acres of the Broads. Whiteslea Lodge was a modest single storey wooden building that provided a base for winter shooting parties that had involved both George V and George VI, visiting from Sandringham. In 1959, The Duke of Edinburgh stayed at Hickling’s Pleasure Boat Inn after flooding diverted their sojourn at Whiteslea; Prince Charles was allegedly reprimanded by the landlady Gwen Amis for having a pillow fight in his room.

The wildfowl at Hickling made these social occasions possible – a massive coot shoot continued until the 1950s.

Our waterfowl species were rich. Recent isotope composition analysis of Richard III’s gut remains showed his 15th century diet included regular Heron, Egret, Swan and Crane. But changing land-use and the growth in popularity of collecting and shooting led to gradual decline. Records at Birmingham Museums and Galleries Ornithological Collections show the Victorian Lysaght Collection having 1860 birds of 325 species, and Norfolk accounted for 73% of the total. Of the half with detailed records, Hickling provided about 10% of the specimens. Another facet to the collectors’ mentality is the story of Edward Thomas Booth (his huge collection now bequeathed to Brighton and Hove) who had raised fledgling gannets in pens behind his house to enable him to kill them when they reached the level of plumage required for his display.

Hickling 1816 Budgen

A manuscript written by Lord Desborough (on Sandringham paper) entitled “The King/The Last 2 Shoots when I was there” gave the numbers of birds shot at Hickling on 16th August (408) and 19th September 1939 (307). It also noted “The shooting does not interfere with the bird sanctuary”. Desborough was Vice-President of the RSPB.

It is ironic that now-public Collections remind us of what we have lost, whilst famed former hunting haunts have helped conservation through the mobilisation of huge tracts of land through bequests and inheritance taxation mitigation. They now have a greater degree of protection through enhanced conservation status nationally and internationally. Re-populations occur, both assisted and naturally, where the gene pool was not obliterated.

All this wealth of bird life had just been ‘there’ whilst learning to sail on family holidays; I now realise the environment’s capacity to penetrate within, whilst watching my own son experiencing it. The emergent forms of the Pulborough sculpture must also link to Hickling and my formative years of becoming an observer.

My observations… have been intermittent. With watchers… some are attracted by one aspect and some by another. Thus, even those of us who have nothing new to tell, may have something that is fresh to say.
The Charm of Birds; Grey of Fallodon (1927) Hodder and Stoughton

A new sculpture will begin in late November 2014 at Slindon in Sussex, funded by the National Trust through a new bequest. The site of Northwood is the Trust’s largest woodland re-creation to date and the stone will hopefully be an observer of past, present – and future.


An article in The Times

This summer, Dame Fiona Reynolds agreed to sit for the Environment Series Heads and there are two new sittings planned with the founders of Common Ground, starting in November. I am now trying to identify a good location for the exhibition of these heads.

I have several works at a joint show at Newport House, Herefordshire October 12-26th.

My winter carving project proceeds – RSPB Pulborough Brooks plays host to the 3 tonne block of limestone which I am carving once a week, most often on Saturday mornings should you ever find yourself passing through West Sussex. The move of the Lewes Group carving to Lewes’s Southover Grange Gardens also proceeds, with the council making final arrangements for its safe installation in October sometime.

The Sculpture Series Heads exhibition is now at Yorkshire Sculpture Park until 3rd November, after being well received at Woking’s Lightbox. The Times’ Arts Commissioning Editor recently wrote an article on her experience of sitting which you can see online here.




If you have an iPad, I can recommend The Times ‘app’ which gives free coverage of their papers for a month before a moderate subscription.


http://www.outofnature.org.uk 12-26th October, Herefordshire

next intensive 3 day portraiture course at West Dean: 30 Nov – 2 Dec; a few spaces left!

Can YOU name a new landmark?

A new sculpture sits on the course of the former A3 separating the National Trust’s Hindhead Common and Devil’s Punch Bowl, GU26 6AB, following a snowy launch on 23rd March.

During the course of the final 10 days working, lots of words started to come to me but none quite seemed to fit a final name. A sculpture may speak to you as viewer in an entirely different way to me as creator – and so it seems a fun idea to see how others will view the piece, be they the children associated with the project, locals, or those who may want to engage without even establishing physical contact or knowing any of the background of the area.

A name for the sculpture will be decided in October 2013. Ultimately it will need to completely satisfy me as the sculptor; but as an improviser, I will continue to be open to suggestion as it may yield something that I will know that fits.

Leave your thoughts here, or tweet @massform or comment at http://www.a3dhindhead.tumblr.com where more images and film of the project can be seen.

Why not send someone the e-card below, or a link to this post so they can join in with naming a new landmark?

naming A3D sculpture postcard (Two sided postcard artwork as emailable/printable PDF, 1.2mb, will open – slowly – in your browser)

I hope it will encourage people to divert for a few minutes from some future trip along the A3… to see it properly in the round. It’s two minutes from the junction immediately south of the new road tunnel. My intention is that the thoughts on (and interpretation of) the piece – and suggestions of names – will be collated and published along with my own thoughts – because everyone’s view, if heartfelt, is equally valid.

Please spread the word, or visit Hindhead! A cafe sits just beyond the National Trust car park visible in the picture, and excellent walks beckon.

A good resource of 3D stereo pair images of the stone developing is on Charles Warner’s http://www.cloudstereo.org.uk resource here.

A newly discovered Roman Sculpture – the Fittleworth Iphigenia

This newly published paper tells the intriguing story of an important, newly discovered Roman sculpture. Click here to open (it is a 1mb file so may take a few seconds to access the archive); scroll down past the frontispiece page 1 to access the text and images on pages 2-8.

A New Sculpture of Iphigenia in Tauris

E. Black, J. Edgar, K.M.J. Hayward and M. Henig (2012). Britannia, Volume 43, November 2012 pp 243-249

A contemporary search for Petworth Marble (or Winklestone)

In the early 1800s, Petworth Marble rivalled many of the stones which were routinely imported from the continent, in both beauty and quality. A kind of shell marble occurring in the Wealden clay at Petworth, its quarrying was concentrated on the Egremont estate at Kirdford and there are accounts of industry at Plaistow.

Also called Sussex marble, it was used in several chimney pieces at Petworth House and further afield at Westminster Abbey in Edward the Confessor’s Chapel, the tomb of Edward III and of Richard II and his Queen are both in “grey Petworth Marble” (The Saturday Magazine Supplement, May 1834 p.212); and Canterbury Cathedral, where the archbishops chair is an entire piece of the stone. (Useful Knowledge: Or A Familiar Account of the Various Productions of Nature: Animal, Vegetable and Mineral which are chiefly employed for the use of Man (1821) Volume I, William Bingley)

Winkles’s Architectural and Picturesque Illustrations of the Cathedral Churches of England and Wales Volume II (1851) documents embellishment of the Nave of Chichester Cathedral in both Purbeck and Petworth marbles, the latter making up pillars of the upper triforium which then showed some decomposition of the shelly particles.

These facts are now little known, but they are interesting to me as a sculptor having returned to my native West Sussex. I was intent on sourcing interesting local stones to carve; Fittleworth ironstone is harder than granite whilst Horsham stone looked promising but isn’t pleasant to work.

Back in 2008, I asked around as to anyone who might know of any source of the stone. New work produced after some 200 year gap would be a fine outcome! Courtesy of information from the Parish Council in Plaistow, I was alerted to a seam of the rock that had been uncovered as part of new foundations at Sparrwood Farm. Some test blocks were transported and a number of sculptures have since developed. Noticing the difficulty with which it is worked, I was intrigued by the amount of Petworth Marble in Chichester Cathedral – in many of the pillars. In further conversation, it appears that much restoration of the Petworth Marble is now performed with Purbeck Marble, which has visibly smaller Winkle shells and a stronger more stable structure – very important in times when budgets must be agreed and met.

So how does it carve? Well, it doesn’t really carve easily. The white shells are calcified remains within the brown/black matrix which derive from primeval muds. Where the stone has laid down well – appropriately trampled by igunadons and such – it is a fine stone – but more often than not there is a distinct strata of good flattened material, with other layers being very soft and brittle. Some are glutinous and almost like Christmas pudding – complete with the mincemeat feel. So you can imagine the horror of working with a large block only to be confronted with an area that is patently not stone in the midst of your carving. Fine for a sculptor who works with the material  – not so good for the stonemason who works up designs to order. But where it is good, it is remarkable – a depth of colour from white to browns and blacks with as much tonal range as a good photograph. It provides such a colourful surface that the forms need to be simple to ‘read’ well in sculpture.

Sadly, a large work is too impractical to start until a commission for a permanent indoor work presents itself. Like alabaster, its gleaming qualities are ruined by being outside, despite the stone being very hardy in the well calcified sections. Many vintage paving and tomb stones around the quarrying sites are found to be Petworth Marble on closer inspection – their shallow gleam lost over the centuries, but the winkles are still visible to the curious.  Take a look at some of the old paving around your houses if you live in the area.

A 2011 Petworth House exhibition featured four works in Petworth Marble (including the 2008 work pictured above) and portraits in terracotta, supported by oil paintings by painter Martin Paterson. He studied under Joan Souter-Robertson who was a pupil of André Lhote, associated with the Cubist Movement in Paris. She has maintained a strong influence on his work, which aims to recreate the random shapes and colours of nature in compositions of formal beauty.

You can read more about Petworth Marble in Roger Birch’s book: Sussex Stones – The Story of Horsham Stone and Sussex Marble, Roger Birch (2005) ISBN 978-0955125904

Exhibition: 17-21st September 2011
Petworth Marble, Portraits and Paintings
Petworth House, West Sussex

Leonora Carrington on intellectualising art

It is sad to hear Leonora Carrington has died aged 94. Her recent sculpture (in the link, seen here in the exhibition which she lived long enough to see open), is seemingly interpreted from the imagery of her earlier paintings. For me, it does not have the power of her two-dimensional work or earliest sculpture. Nevertheless, for the British artist who lived in Mexico City for sixty years and was adopted as one of their own, there appears to have been a growing demand for it.

The Guardian journalist Joanna Moorhead is a relative of Carrington. She produced a touching film which was shown at the travelling exhibition at Pallant House Gallery and Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in 2010. Here is an excerpt from Carrington’s discussions with Moorhead:

Her admonishment of her great-niece about the intellectualisation of art is refreshing, and when I first saw this it made me question the similarities between true improvisational working and surrealism.

Surrealists set out to liberate the workings of the subconscious and disrupt conscious thought processes, by the use of irrationality and mystery. Paradoxically, perhaps that last ‘by the use of’ bring things back into the conscious, intellectual mind?

In a dialogue between Andre Breton and Andre Masson, the former referred to one of the precursors to the Surrealists:

A good question for an advanced examination for art critics would be ‘Does the painting of (Henri) Rousseau prove he knew the Tropics, or that he did not?’

Did the exotic paintings spring from the imagination, or from memory? It’s a nice quote, but actually irrelevant here as the imagery is still cerebral. It seems to have narrative rather than just feeling.

Sculptor Alan Thornhill has remarked that true improvisational working comes from instinct rather than intellect; form emerges ambiguously from an interplay with clay or paint, rather than being imagined and created as an entity. For the artist, keeping free from pre-planned ideas is difficult. Responding to form, mass or colour for its own sake must have an input from somewhere – but perhaps from another part of the brain that is free of ego and somehow more ‘honest’. Conceptual work survives on its idea, and for me often dies through its inability to survive on its visual appeal alone.

Intellectualisation springs up on the other side of the fence too. For the viewer and the art historian, there is a continual need to ‘get’ visual art, with the former often spotted – pursed lips; hand on chin – analysing the imagery in front of them.

Carrington standing up for purely visual values might suggest that the only two outcomes for the viewer of “art” could be summed up as: being moved by it… or not being moved by it.

The Guardian’s obituary on Leonora Carrington.

Smooth, yet not complete

One perennial issue with clay sculpture seems to be the pre-occupation with the smooth – perhaps aimed at some form of ‘finish’ – with less attention to the completeness of the sculptural form or plane, by which I mean where the surface should attempt to be visually consistent – read as one – in whatever texture or idiom is used.

A shiny rubber ball is a smooth, complete sphere. A single  compound curved plane exists – a simple and yet complex sculpture.

An orange’s form is relatively complete whilst not being overly smooth. Its surface has a regularity in its irregularities that lends it visual strength; the surface asymmetries are consistent and cancel themselves out.

Imagine a clay lump rolled in the hands and padded with the fingertips to force it towards the spherical. Our fingers are naturally bad sculptural tools for this exercise as they deform with an indent, whereas a flat-edged boxwood tool used with rigour can at least attempt to flat the surface.

If there is absolute regularity in the fingered facets over the entire surface, the clay exercise can read well (in much the same way as a golf ball or a Peter Randall-Page sculpture) but most often, unconscious incompetence will give rise to a visually weak single sculptural form, broken into many small diverse planes and with varied surface ‘colour’.

You can observe such deficiencies through scrutinising your created forms at eye level, in the round, in the  point source of candlelight – like Rodin did.

If you would like to try the practical exercise 1 linking to smoothness and completeness – introduced to me at the Frink School of Sculpture by Ken Ford (who was taught by Frank Dobson at the Royal College of Art) please subscribe (by adding your email at the top right of the page – it is safe and free) and then use the contact form to request the password which will allow you to access all future exercises posted on this site.