(handed in on 21 March
Drawing upon my experience and
interests as a professional sculptor with an already extensive international
practice (see footnote 1), my original project at the start of the MFA course
in October 2005 revolved around the broad concept of "portrayal(s) of
humankind" (see footnote 2).
In its current state, my project has since
narrowed to a slice of humankind, namely artists, and more specifically to
creating a contemporary, imaginary Silk Road "place" as a tribute to the mostly
unknown artists who created the artistic treasures of the Silk Road. At this
point, I envision this "place" as an installation containing / made up of
artwork in a number of media.
Following my initial line of enquiry, I
wanted to take forward previous explorations into the subject of portraying
humankind made in Changchun in 2001 with my monumental (4.50 m in diameter)
"East meets West" bronze sculpture, and my earlier, smaller (50cm in diameter)
"Artists of the Future" plaster relief created in 1997 (see footnote 3).
I envisaged that during this MFA I would create artworks (not only in
the 3D format I was already familiar with, but also in 2D formats and
installation) that would convey a sense of the great diversity of humankind,
going further than these two pieces.
Below left, "East Meets West"
featured 10 different Chinese faces, larger than lifesize, repeated an average
of four times each. Below right, "Artists of the Future" incorporated only 3
faces (European, American and African), each created lifesize, repeated an
average of twice each.
Investigating a number of strands including
portraiture and ethnology, I decided to gather field data (photography of a
variety of "faces", as well as measurements for busts) in several distant
sites, rather than one. However as I started to travel across different
geographical zones, namely the UK, the US, Central America and Asia (see
footnote 4), my interest broadened to encompass not only diverse ethnic groups,
but also their environment, religions, architecture and culture, more
specifically their art forms and techniques.
Distant Sites -
Journeys / International Practice and Research
In summary, since
starting the course in October of 2004, I undertook many short or long
investigation trips both at home and abroad, while conducting in-depth research
in several distant sites. During all of these, I combined research into my
subject matter (which was becoming broader and broader), with a study of
sculpture materials, as well as the concepts and techniques of other artists
past and present, especially of any which - whatever their media or artform - I
felt a resonance with or was inspired by. Meanwhile, pursuing my international
practice, I also continued to execute commissions both in the UK and abroad, to
sell new or existing works (see appended list), and to strengthen existing or
form new professional connections on an international level (see footnote 5).
Included in these trips was a short visit to mainland Europe (Normandy,
France) to investigate the armature construction technique of French sculptor
Jean-Marc de Pas. A few days in Dublin, used to visit museums and galleries,
connect with the Visual Arts Organization of Ireland and meet with the head of
a committee commissioning me for a public work in Drogheda (see footnote 6).
A number of research/inspiration trips took place in the UK itself,
specifically to two sculpture parks I'd already visited in the past but wanted
to see again, namely Sculpture at Goodwood in West Sussex and the Hannah
Peschar Gallery near Dorking in Surrey. I also made short forays to Wiltshire
(Stonehenge), Devon (Dartmoor area and Dartington Hall where Tolkien resided),
cities within Kent (Dover, Canterbury, Chatham, Rochester), several day long
trips to London (visiting and or revisiting many of the main museums - Tate,
Tate Modern, National Portrait Gallery, Whitechapel Gallery, Barbican, all of
the independent galleries in the Cork street area plus a number of avant-garde
galleries in the East End). I also made several trips to Yorkshire taking in
galleries in Harrowgate as well as the Henry Moore Institute, Leeds Art Gallery
and Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
In the earlier stages of my portrayal of
mankind project, I flew three times to the US. Trips included research about
North American Indians in the states of Illinois and Missouri in December 2004,
visits to museums in Washington D.C. as well as executing a sculpture
commission there in February 2005, and photographing African-Americans in
Florida in October 2005. By this time, I'd abandoned the measuring - feeling
confident this time-consuming step was no longer needed to create the multitude
of portraits I envisaged making.
I visited one country in Central
America in February 2005 (focusing on the ancient site of Copàn in
Honduras as a guest photographer for a UN project, as well as photographing for
my MFA project a number of Mayans and Amerindians in the Copàn area, the
capital city of Tegucigalpa and the mountain village area of Valle de Angeles).
Lastly I undertook three separate sojourns totalling a little over 4
months in 2005 in different parts of China - a country I had already travelled
to professionally five times over the previous 4 years. As it turns out - it is
the inspiration found in these Chinese distant sites that my project in its
present state focuses on.
During the first of these MFA related
sojourns, I spent two weeks in Taiwan in March, attending presentations of
Tsunami relief efforts, visiting fine art institutions and familiarizing myself
with the work of local artists, followed by a ten day trip to Sichuan gathering
material inspiration and discussing my project with several fellow artists; I
also took advantage of this trip to cast a number of sculptures in bronze,
including a commission I'd just executed in the Washington D.C. area.
During the second trip in April and May, I executed a monumental public
sculpture in the south western Yunnan province of mainland China. This was a
Tsunami Memorial which was very directly related to my MFA project at that
stage (then still "portrayal(s) of humankind"). The stay in Yunnan's capital of
Kunming was punctuated by a trip taking in portions of the southern Silk Road
from Kunming itself, to Dali and Lijiang in the West near the Tibetan border.
This was followed by four weeks in June along the northern Silk Road. I started
from the central western area province of Sichuan and special Chongqing
district, travelled up to Xi'an (formerly Changan) in the central area of
Shaanxi province, and out along the Hexi corridor through Gansu, following the
Yellow River, into the autonomous region of Qinghai's inner Tibetan plains,
through the entire lengths of the Gobi and Taklamakan deserts of Xinjiang to
the farthest reaches of north western China.
Finally I reached the
fabled ancient trading town of Kashgar at the border of Kazhakstan, Kyrgystan
and Pakistan, before turning back and going northwards to Urümqi and the
Lake of Heaven. (See maps below).
My northern Silk Road trip took me
from Xi'an (formerly Changan, right on map) to Kashgar (centre of map and
westernmost city in China). From Xi'an to Kashgar - across the Yellow River and
through two of the world's harshest deserts .
During the last sojourn, a
three week stay in November 2005 in Sichuan, I finished creating a series of 12
small sculpture portraits for my MFA project; I also executed a horse
commission for a French client, and cast another commission in a bronze foundry
in Chengdu (the "For Dementia" award which was presented to its recipient in
the House of Lords on December 8th).
Although it was not until the very
eve of finalizing my Critical Evaluation III report that the idea of the
"imaginary Silk Road Artists and imaginary Silk Road Place" began to
crystallize, it is the inspiration and information garnered during the second
of these Chinese trips, as well as the 12 small sculpture portraits made during
the third, which eventually narrowed my project from a portrayal of humankind
to the specific portrayal of artists of the Silk Road.
While I was
making them, I had not known whose heads they were - only that they were
imaginary, verging on fantastical! Now suddenly, the answer dawned. All along
the once glorious trading route are Buddhist caves, grottoes and temples in
remote areas once thriving with merchant centres. Now considered World Heritage
Sites by UNESCO, these famous religious sites harbour artistic treasures of
overwhelming emotional and aesthetic impact.
Because people originating
from so many cultures plied the route as traders, and because the Buddhist
monks and craftspeople (men and women) who designed and created the artwork
also hailed from a variety of places (from East to West), the sculptures,
paintings, frescoes and architectural details reflect a unique diversity of
styles. The works, spanning a thousand years of creation, are also distinctly
representative of the many successive dynasties that ruled parts or all of
China. From boldly primitive to exquisitely refined, the art in sites dotting
the Silk Roads (both south and north) was created by countless mostly nameless
artists, artisans and workers under the guidance of a few visionaries.
It is relevant here to explain that in China (as indeed in many other
parts of the world), the visionary is the master thinker, master planner.
Sometimes he is an artist himself who ropes in one or several figures of
authority to sponsor the realization of the dream or vision - and when he dies,
other artists inspired by his work continue or expand the vision; sometimes he
is an enlightened figure of authority who ropes in artists to fulfil his
(INSERT PIC OF MAJISHAN)
Majishan - with its wonders
modelled and carved onto and into the sheer face of a cliff, is just one of
many ancient sites on the northern Silk Road where I wondered about the nature,
temperament, sex, persistence and creative spirit of the artists and
craftspeople who made the works.
A spiritually aware and religiously
committed artist myself (brought up between my father's family Catholicism and
my mother's ad-hoc Buddhism, later choosing to study the applied religious
philosophy principles of Scientology from the age of 25 onwards), although I
wasn't necessarily aware of it at the time of each journey to an ancient site
during the MFA course period (Copán, Boyne Valley and Tara, southern and
northern Silk Road, Stonehenge), a certain degree of interest was building up
for me throughout in the type of art practitioner who, inspired by his or her
religion (Mayan, Celtic, Buddhism, Islam, etc.), gave "all" in often harsh
living conditions, thereby contributing to the world's legacy of artistic
My response to the awe I felt at seeing the Silk Road sites
in particular was to give imaginary faces and guises in 3-dimensional work to
the artists who contributed to their creation; to attempt to capture or
interpret in a contemporary mood some of the magic places, textures, symbols
and feelings of Silk Road locations in various 2-dimensional works (digital
photography, mixed media pieces); and to start work on a documentary video
about the Silk Road. All of this I hope to take further (the sculpture and
2-dimensional works in scale or number), or complete (the video) in the post PG
Dips phase leading up to the MFA degree show. For me, the work is not only a
tribute to past artists, but very much also a reflection into the role of
artists in shaping world culture, from the early days of pre-history to our
modern day: artists as visionaries, as communicators - exchangers of ideas,
agents and promoters of understanding between cultures, as individual
interpreters and shapers of the spiritual, emotional, ethical and social values
of our world. Perhaps most relevant of all to my journeys both physical and
emotional in this pre-PG Dips phase, has been the exploration of my own
artistic spirit, facets of which are embodied in the figures.
having experienced the Silk Road before, I also wished to share some of its
wonders with others. Other artists have equally been inspired by this famous
route. I found for example this interesting quote about cellist Yo-Yo Ma,
founder of the Silk Road project and Silk Road Ensemble musical group
(http://www.silkroadproject.org/index.html) "Yo-Yo Ma likes to call the Silk
Road the 'Internet of antiquity.' Like the World Wide Web, the ancient Silk
Road was a vast conduit for trade of goods and ideas connecting diverse groups
of people across long distances."
Unless one has traveled there or
studied the subject intensively - it can be difficult to grasp how very
important the Silk Road was in disseminating world religions, shaping
communities and promoting cultural exchanges. "
caravans resulted not only in trade, of which silk was an important commodity,
but also in tremendous cross-cultural interaction among the diverse peoples of
the regions, fostering the exchange of ideas and the fusion of art and
aesthetics. It is a legacy associated with rich traditions of oral narrative,
epic poetry, and storytelling. Thus, the 'Silk Road' acts as a geographic and
cultural guide as well as a metaphor." (Jamil Khoury, 2004 - sourced at
One of my self-imposed challenges
for this MFA course was to depart from my normal habits and routines as an
already professional, working artist. I had previously never explored
2-dimensional artwork: painting, photography, digital media - I would do so
now. Heretofore comfortable with figurative, realistic work (I had quite a
specialization in executing bust commissions) - I would now attempt to stylize
the figure. I had only three experiences with installation - this would become
an object of intensive further study. I had never privileged the use of colour
in my sculpture work - I would investigate this, trying out different colour
palettes and a variety of painting/colouring materials and techniques. Examples
of some of the resulting works are shown in my Critical Evaluation reports I to
To make the cloaked forms for my most recent works, a series of 12
Silk Road artists, I experimented for the first time with shredded paper soaked
in plaster, rapidly and roughly building them up to a certain height, then
topping them off with casts of my previously modeled small heads. I feel that
the roughly textured, stylized body forms offer an interesting contrast with
the realistic, figurative heads.
On a deeper level, the roughness I've
chosen to use is evocative of the mainly challenging landscapes of the Silk
Road (haunting desert spaces, surprising geological formations), while the
smoothness evokes the perfection which characterizes so many of the religious
artworks (flawless execution, attention to detail, masterly compositions).
Concurrently with the sculptures, I made three trial 2-dimensional relief
plasterworks on canvas. These were directly inspired by the land formations in
and around the Gobi and Taklamakan deserts of China's wild western regions,
layered with various symbolic marks either pertinent to the region (yin-yang)
or close to my own heart (the infinity symbol, etc.).
The perception of
colours formed such an integral part of my Silk Road impressions that I felt
impelled to colour what I heretofore, lacking training as a painter, would have
Certainly the message inherent in the sculptures ended
up by benefiting from this decision as colour further reinforced the artistic,
colourful identity of my imaginary artists; the plaster works on canvas,
painted at the same time, also gained from the addition of a colour palette of
mostly yellows and purples.
Earlier in my progress with colour, I
thought I'd like to restrict myself to only two tones, and hadn't decided
whether to use lime green and purple, or red and turquoise. In the end, whilst
colouring, I found my range expanding, and actually enjoy the wider
I deliberately attempted in my colouring experiments to
stay away from using only colours that are typical of the Silk Road itself, to
create a definite colour palette of my own. I feel I've begun to do so. There
is still room for experimentation in months to come. My strict preference for
colourless sculpture warred for a short time against my new found desires to
explore painting materials and techniques, and to transfer into my work the
almost overwhelming appreciation I developed for colour in Asia. Then I broke
out ink and acrylic washes - first timidly, later with greater
Despite an initial unfamiliarity with blending, juxtaposing,
contrasting colours, in the end I found the process of colouring the plaster to
be quite similar to the patination of real bronzes or the production of fake
bronze patinas on resin.
An interesting passage in a text co-published
by the Van Gogh Museum and the Henry Moore Institute ('The Colour of Sculpture
1840-1910' by Andreas Blühm, p.11) chanced across in the Henry Moore
Institute's library shop offered me all the critical theory backup I needed to
support the particular stance of colouring rather than leaving the sculptures
plain. In fact, it is obvious from observation that the Western world
(Greco-Roman and now European/North American) has gone round the bend several
times with regards preference for colourless sculpture versus its acceptance in
fine art circles. Here the author refers to a period of fine art history
between the mid 1700s and mid 1800s when the pendulum in Europe had swung in
favour of classical (white marble, bronze, etc.), essentially colourless
Experiments with colour had only been conducted
occasionally before 1859, and were almost always subjected to severe criticism
or even open hostility. European sculpture had been 'colourless' for decades so
that to most viewers anything else seemed improper. When seen within a broader
geographical and temporal context, however, this voluntary restriction is
exceptional: Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Aztecs and Incas, Africans, Indians,
Chinese, Japanese and Oceanians - as a rule the majority of cultures produced
coloured sculpture. From this perspective, the renunciation of colour no longer
However, the best reason for colouring my artists is
that I feel an artist is by nature colourful - even when he or she privileges a
mono-chromatic scheme in work or dress.
Thanks to this "Artists of the
Silk Road" series, I have begun to explore theatricality and role playing in
trial installations: by varying the positions of the figures in relationship to
one another, a great many interpretations can be offered. Beyond being men and
women (secular or religious, monks and nuns, highly skilled artists or simply
craftsmen and women artists) working in groups rather than singly for the most
part, these artists were possibly friends, enemies, lovers, sisters and
brothers, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters.
uncoloured plaster artists shown in different trial installations: semi-circle,
face to face rows, and in forward facing rows)
The possibilities of
staging these figures fascinate me: in rows facing each other, in circles or
semi-circles, in conversations with one another or grouped as an audience to an
invisible speaker, as questing people absorbed in the physical, creative
illustration and rendition of their religious symbols or deities, as
individuals looking inward to their creative souls and outward to interpret
Sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz says "Every exhibition I have
is like a theatre. I use everything I need and put my whole being into creating
a statement." (As quoted by Jutta Feddersen in 'Soft Sculpture and Beyond',
In the same way, I am looking at my degree show as an
opportunity to create work that illustrates the degree of knowledge in
sculpture I've achieved so far and the new slant I've taken during the MFA
course; to show a true sense of aesthetics and theatricality in the overall
installation; to incorporate within my "offer" some of the media and techniques
I have experimented with in the last 18 months (namely, photography,
2-dimensional works on canvas and video), as well as some I still want to
investigate further (prayer flags, fabric/hangings, presentation, sound,
lighting, etc.); finally, I hope that viewers will experience some of the magic
I did on the Silk Road when they view my final installations, gaining some
awareness of the importance of the sites that dot its Chinese section, and more
importantly a deeper understanding of the role of artists in society - as
Two quotes ultimately define my position in this
regard: "A culture is only as great as its dreams and its dreams are dreamed
by artists" (L. Ron Hubbard, Science of Survival, 1952). and
"Earlier in China, a millennium ago, these two -- the humanist and the
artist -- were merged in one, the "wenren," or "the person with ultimate
knowledge of the arts." The wenren was simultaneously a scholar or
scientist, a statesman, as well as an artist accomplished in a variety of
artistic media usually including calligraphy and poetry, and often music and
painting. But the ultimate qualification for the artist, wenren, goes beyond
achievement in these disciplines. A great artist or scholar used to be
recognized as a sage. One early source states that such an artist-sage "is
deeply concerned about the society," while another defines the role as "the
first to be aware of what has to happen." In short, artists and scholars in
China were regarded as the conscience of society and conveyor of its legacy."
(From an article written in 2001 by musician and scholar Chou Wen-Chung
reproduced on http://www.zsearch.org/text/chou2.html).
timetable of work between PG Dips (if successful) and MFA International
Practice Degree Show
Looking ahead, all installation avenues which
I'd like to investigate will contain multi-media, multi-disciplinary elements
(3D/sculpture involving several materials, 2D/paintings + sound and lighting).
For one of my major 3D elements, I wish to produce final versions of
the pre-PG dips figure experiments at the same size, possibly in different
materials than plaster, creating anywhere between 5 and 10 sets of these 12
artists, each set staged in a different conformation, presenting a "tableau
vivant" of distinctly changing scenarios or inter-relationships between my
figures. I have identified some issues of presentation for the 3D element of
small figures which I will need to resolve: height of presentation (same or
varied), type of base for each small figure or base for whole set, etc. I may
also use these small figures as maquettes to create some of them larger than
lifesize (3 figures?). These would then form the basis for an additional,
Post-PG Dips to 17 April
Initial promotion of final exhibition promotion. (Send out advance notice of
date and time to family members, personal friends, people who have purchased my
work in the past or commissioned me. Also start making contact with French
cultural attaché, Chinese Embassy to explore potential interest in my
" Finish editing slides/video - then store properly until sound
and final photos are completed and ready to use in August.
with small scale circular Yin-Yang relief and other possible symbol shapes
using same texture / colour approach as for trail plasterworks on canvas.
18 April to beginning of May
- I have booked a
further trip to Sichuan for 3 weeks from 18 April to 9 May because my large
moulds are in my studio in China, and because production costs of casts is
significantly cheaper in China than in the West. I will cast several large
heads, also more of the small ones, as well as hope to obtain prayer flags and
other typically Silk Road material for possible use in my final
- Also, while in China, I will do sound/music research for
both video and installation.
10 May to mid-June
Experiment with prayer flag installation on a small scale.
- Work on other
fabric / hanging ideas.
- Try out different presentation methods for
smaller figures and choose final form of base.
-Record sound for
installation, record sound for video.
Mid-June, plus all of July
- Create/Produce final figure artwork and bases/presentation
- Create/Produce final 2D (relief) works.
- Create/Produce final
hangings if trials were successful. First week of August
- Upon allocation
of exhibition space by Course Leader, draw schematic plans and write battle
plans / detailed programmes as required for final installation(s).
Last 3 weeks of August
- Intensify exhibition
promotion (send out invites, contact local, regional and other relevant press,
- Final work out with other students of exact requirements for
exhibition opening night to be a total success
- Exhibition space
preparations (taping, filling holes and cracks, painting, etc. as required)
" Final installation of figures, 2D works, hangings, prayer flags + any
other elements. Handle installation lighting and sound.
- Finish editing of
video (incorporating sound, plus final photos of artwork and installation).
- Final installation of video work in separate space.
- Write final
artist statement and hang this up.
- Update my MFA website
1. My practice had hitherto encompassed
public outdoor sculpture in France, monumental sculptures and sculpture
installations permanently located in China, Vietnam and Honduras, plus dozens
of commissions executed for clients in countries around the world from the four
corners of the globe (from Malaysia to Germany, as well as UK, US, etc.)
See Essay One, Essay Two, Critical Evaluations I and II
3. The first
limited edition glass version of Artists of the Future was purchased into the
HSBC's permanent collection last April during my first MFA
The Colour of Sculpture 1840-1910, Van Gogh
Museum, Amsterdam and Henry Moore Institute, Leeds (1996)
Soft Sculpture and Beyond, Craftsman House, G+B Arts International
Limited, Australia (1993).
HUBBARD, L. Ron
Survival, Bridge Publications, Los Angeles, California (1952)
Quote by Yo-Yo Ma
Quote by Jamil Khoury http://www.srtp.org/silkroad_2.html
Article by Chou Wen Chung http://www.zsearch.org/text/chou2.html
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- Original Description of MFA
- Research Methodology Chart for MFA
- Action Plan 1 -
- Action Plan 2 -
- Final Description of MFA Project
- Essay One 10 January
- Essay Two 7 March
Evaluation 1 8 April 2005
- PG Dips
- Research Paper for Viva
- Artist Statement for MFA Final Show Sept.
- Personal bibliography
- Travel links
- Artist and art websites
- Curriculum Vitae
- List of professional commissions executed,
works purchased and works exhibited during course period Sept. 2004 to Sept.
- List of professional engagements (symposia,
lectures, etc.) during course period Sept. 2004 to Sept. 2006
- List of Museums / Galleries / Artist Studios
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