On the tradition of pre-conceiving sculpture

This short clip is part of a Documentary film by Anna Thornhill. It features archive footage of sculptor Alan Thornhill working on a sculpture in Putney in 1989 and the resulting work, Exodus,  some 20 years later at Kingscote Park in Gloucestershire.

Thornhill’s self-devised method of improvisation using clay allowed him to abandon the use of the sculpture armature and build freely creating a matrix with pre-prepared clay ‘elements’. His concern was to manipulate the material, to find ways of making it stand up or hold together, and through adding and taking away, to see what came. This allowed things to enter the work which were far from intentional, and were later seen to echo some of the sculptor’s preoccupations at the time of making the work. This way of working differs from sculpture commonly produced from the maquette, which is based on an idea and is essentially designed or pre-planned, often factored up to a chosen size in a chosen material, for public display. Thornhill sees pre-conceived ideas as essentially deadening to his creativity.

His teaching and trustee role at the Frink School of Sculpture and teaching at Morley College, London has been influential to several artists and several continue to introduce his methods to their own students. For me, translating the ethos behind Thornhill’s working method to the carved block (where one cannot add material) has been hard but eventful. The block is turned any number of times when imagery starts to occur, before something hopefully more enduring finally resolves itself… or the block ends up as wood chips or gravel! My sculpture Block (right) was initially worked in the horizontal with landscape-like references for several months before elements of one figure gradually emerged. This exerted a sufficiently strong force to re-orientate the stone vertically from that point. This work will be at the Leicester Botanic Garden International Centenary sculpture exhibition between 26th June and 30th October 2011.

The film Spirit in Mass is available from www.alanthornhill.co.uk where his archive of works is also accessible. The Putney Sculpture Trail is permanently accessible to the public, with 9 works by Thornhill on the south side of the river between the Exodus sculpture at Leaders Gardens, The Embankment and Prospect Quay adjoining Wandsworth Park. It is a considerable body of work on permanent public display in our capital city and deserves to be better known.

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