After 2 weeks of very hard work I have finished the clay sculpture part of my Barton’s Chair Commission for Tonbridge School’s new science building – the Barton Centre. In the final sculpture, six copies of the man and 12 of the baby come together into the hexagonal ring structure of cyclohexane.
The work celebrates the achievement of Derek Barton an alumni of Tonbridge who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his work on the chair and boat isomers of Cyclohexane. The work combines the scientific accuracy of a molecular structure with a human call for connection and cooperation. In the world of the great novelist and Old Tonbridgian, E. M. Forster: ‘Only Connect’.
First the creation of the armatures
The photos show the creation of a tetrahedral armature. This three-sided pyramid allowed me to turn my sculpture in different orientations. This allowed me to see if it was working well from all viewpoints. It also ensured that the precise geometry of the molecule was maintained at all times. I then had to play with the human anatomy to create a pair of believable dynamic figures in clay that highlight the movement and energy of the connections. The man represents the carbon atoms, the baby is the much smaller hydrogen atoms.
Preparing the armatures for the clay
Starting work on the clay
It is interesting to note that there will have 2 babies per man in the final sculpture. However I have only sculpted one baby holding the man’s left hand. This baby will then be repeated holding the man’s other hand. To make this work seamlessly, I also sculpted a second version of the baby’s right hand and arm holding the man’s right hand.
Photographs of the finished clay
So after 13 days hard work in the studio, the finished clay sculpture is handed over to the fabricators. They now commence the next stage of its creation: moulding and casting.
I have just completed my entry for the First@108 Public Art Award and the exhibition of the 5 shortlisted artists will open on Wednesday.
I have both loved and hated the process.
It is a fascinating commission for two different spaces in Chelsea & Westminster Hospital in Fulham. This is a relatively new hospital (opened in 1993) and local to wehre I grew up and live now. It has been location for both happy and worrying experiences, from taking my younger sister in to A&E when she was going down with Dengue fever, to the births of both my sons, to sleepless night dozing in an armchair beside a sick child. I’ve always loved the architecture and the great selection of art on show there. It would be really special to be able to give back to the hospital and feel part of it in a different way if I were to win the commission. So I felt a lot of personal pressure in this project, which is a double edged sword. Great in some ways, limiting in others.
I found out I had been shortlisted at the beginning of the summer. I had not at all expected it and for the first time in a few years had planned a 3 week family holiday in France. Added to this, my parents who are my normal childcare support went away for a 2 week holiday the weekend we got back. This made working on the project over the summer quite difficult, but I managed to get some research done and spent time thinking about my approach.
However I really struggled at first to get back into the project, and I don’t know how much this is a factor of my childcare issues and not having real dedicated studio time to focus, or the nature of a commissions. But I am wondering how I can make the commissioning process work for me. My initial feelings are that you have to work in a very strange way.
For the proposal, you often have to rush through your normal studio practice process to come up with an idea to present. Then if you are lucky to be shortlisted, you have to go back the beginning and unpick how you got to your idea and work back to that rigorously, but still have to then crystalise the work into a proposal and maquettes in time for another deadline. And presumably, if you then get the commission, depending on the nature of your practice and where you got to with the proposal, there might be another process of getting back into the project to push it to its final conclusion. But the payoffs are bigger budgets, more ambitious works and a wider audience.
I called this blog post being bulled in different directions. Throughout it I have been torn between:
Being true to my practice VS answering the needs of the audience
Working on the indoor garden space VS thinking about works for the ward
Presenting the work to maximise my chances of winning the commission VS making the most of a chance to exhibit my work to a wider audience
Doing thorough research of the science behind memory VS developing the work
Answering the brief VS letting my working process take me somewhere interesting
Presenting an fully formed proposal VS leaving room for the users of the space to feed into it
Thinking about the interior design and landscape architecture of the spaces VS focusing on my interventions
Pulling out all the stops to do my best VS looking after and enjoying time with my family
It has been fascinating, and the research I’ve done on neuroscience is likely to be feeding my practice for a while whatever the outcome of the commission. I would love to work on a solo or group show on the topic of memory. I have become very aware of the workings of my own brain, which is something I had already been interested in, but it has been great to spend time understanding all the latest research and models. This self awareness is quite strange at times, but a fertile ground.
The last two weeks though have been literally stomach churning. I had sudden waves of a sinking feeling as I felt I was running out of time to do myself justice. The amount of adrenaline and stress hormones pumping round my body have made me almost constantly queasy, something I have never experienced before!
So I hope it is all worth it. I feel very ambivalent at the moment about what I submitted, I know there is more I would have done if I’d had more time and I don’t have the distance to really assess the quality of it. I really finished it and delivered it, so I haven’t had time to reflect on it. But I don’t think I could have done any more given the circumstances… It will be interesting seeing my 2 maquettes again on Wednesday evening, and I’m very curious to see how the other commissions have responded.
So if you are curious to see what all my stressing was about, come along to the opening or catch the exhibition before it ends in december. There will also be talks by the five finalists on the 18th October.
A few more images of the process:
I would be fascinated to hear of your experiences with commissions, how have you overcome the stop-start nature of the process and do you think the commissioners can do anything to help? Please comment below.