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2015 · issue 4

9

WILLIAM PYE

Ethel when I was 10 years old. Aunt Ethel

studied sculpture at the Royal College,

but as far as I am aware only ever did one

commission and hardly sold anything,

although she exhibited with Henry Moore,

Epstein and others during the 1930s. On

this first visit I was impressed by all I saw.

She showed me how she fired her clay

models in the stove in the sitting room.

One chance remark when we were in

her studio made a profound and lasting

impact on me, “I wish I was a man, because

if I were, I would be able to work for 12

hours a day instead of the ten which is all

I can manage’. I found this simple remark

inspiring. It told me that life is precious

and not to be squandered, that to be

creative one must want to work at it more

than anything else in the world.

From that moment I wanted to be a

sculptor. I persuaded my mother to help

me look for a lump of chalk on the Hog’s

Back and having found a piece, I got to

work almost the next day, with what we

had in the way of hammers and chisels.

I subsequently christened my first attempt

‘Hare-lipped Madonna’, as the chisel

slipped when I was carving her mouth.

A monk was carved out of a piece of

wood about a week later. Around this

time I was given my first studio, in the

form of a potting shed, which is still in

existence today.

For me sculpture is about transfusing

with life inanimate material like clay, stone

and metal. Take, for example, the life

force and exuberance that shines out from

pre-Columbian terracottas, the maker’s

sensibility and vitality undiminished by

time, yet created out of mud, for clay is no

more than that.

I realise that it is necessary to bring

science, engineering and craft into

the arena in order to consider their

relationship with art and design. My

father was an engineer and his inaugural

address as president of the Institution of

Mechanical Engineers was entitled the

‘Art of the Engineer’. I confess that there is

much of this that is above my head but I

have gleaned enough to appreciate that in

large part it celebrates the aesthetic aspects

of engineering design.

In recent years I have become fascinated

and drawn towards the challenge of

integrating my work into surroundings

that are often of historic interest and

sensitivity, where there exists a given

style of architecture and landscaping. In

these situations the design responsibility

becomes that much more critical than

might otherwise be the case. I welcome

this, despite its being often somewhat

daunting. I can think of nothing more

rewarding than successfully to integrate

permanently the old with the new.

If we are to value and respect what we

have done we should be prepared to make

it last, so that it may embrace an audience

reaching beyond contemporaries out to the

generations to come, and act as a marker or

talisman bearing witness to culture at any

one time in history. Auden stated that art

should speak to us across the centuries; it

is the means by which we break bread with

the dead.

Permanent public sculpture is subject to

certain additional demands if it is to survive.

I suggest it is a pre-requisite of public art

that it should have what I call ‘the slow

burn’ ingredient. Sculpture is by its nature

slow burn when compared with music

which grips the emotions. I suggest that

jokey or witty sculptures that are essentially

fashionable are likely to burn out and tire.

It is that slow burn quality of sculpture that

I find so beguiling and wonderful, ‘speaking

to us across the centuries.’

Inherent in this world is risk, which is an

anathema to the world of design and is often

in conflict with the commissioning of works

of art. My own view is that commissioning

a work of art should be an adventure with

a significant element of risk. If an artist

can accurately predict the outcome of

what he is about, he has automatically

relinquished a degree of creativity. Artists

should therefore be given the opportunity

to fail. Preconceptions should be shelved,

expectations raised and with luck what is

ultimately revealed will surprise, for if there

is no surprise there is likely to be no art.

Vannpaviljong, Stromso Square, Dramme 2011

Vesqua, private commission, 2008