FOUR EVANGELISTS by Sophie Dickens
My work is about movement and structure. As a figurative sculptor with an art historical background, my approach has always been to seize on subjects and imagery that have inspired me, and to make them into something that is hopefully completely new.
I was really pleased to be approached by the church of St.Stephen’s in South Kensington to make an installation for a small arts festival. The organisers had discovered my work in my brother’s front room at his house in Petersfield. They had looked up my website and thought that I might fit the bill, and phoned me up. We had a meeting in the church, and I was immediately struck by the tall chancel with its incredible blue stained glass rose window and black and white chequered floor. I imagined tall sculptures, almost like chess pieces. The festival was only on for a week, but it was a great opportunity to make something really large. At the same time, my local church announced that they were also having an art festival too, this time just for three days.
I am not a conceptual artist, and feel that aesthetic, object based, figurative art has an important role to play as a benchmark to our society and culture.
When I was a first year student at the Courtauld Institute, we had survey lectures of the entire history of art, demonstrating again and again the way in which the human figure has been used by people to communicate with other people.
One of these lectures, given by Dr John Lowden on early Christian art, showed a page from the medieval book of Kells. It was communicating to the possibly illiterate viewer that the next pages contained the gospels of the four Evangelists - St Matthew as a winged man, St. Mark as a winged lion, St.. Luke as a winged bull and St. John as an eagle.
My sculptures are made of cut, curved pieces of wood that are glued together, almost like three dimensional drawings. Wings have featured prominently in my work -,lots of Icaruses, ravens, and a guardian angel inspired by the Wim Wenders film, ‘Wings of Desire’. I loved the idea of angels hanging about in libraries, listing sympathetically to the thoughts of the city’s inhabitants. The protective role.
I had already made small wax studies of the four Evangelists, for my next exhibition at Sladmore Contemporary in May 2012. It seemed the ideal excuse to make them on a larger scale, on tall pedestals so that their wings would form a kind of protective zone for the people underneath. The four columns, inspired by a public gateway on my walk into the studio in London Fields, came serendipitiously to represent the evangelists as the four pillars of the Christian Church.
The sculptures are made by welding steel rods together to form a supportive structure, or armature. I cut a huge pile of curved shapes of wood, and begin sticking them to the armature, drawing the shapes. Gradually, the gaps between each piece of wood get smaller and the forms take shape. I tend to not look at any reference material at this stage, as it would be easy to get caught up in extraneous detail. I try to look for form and structure, letting the concave and convex pieces give life to the form in quite a random way. Often I remove pieces that I have put on the previous day, cutting into the whole thing with a saw or angle grinder. Useful things come to mind as I am working - Rembrandt’s painting of a side of beef helps out the structure of the bull’s rib cage, altarpieces like Pontormo’s ‘Descent from the Cross’ in the Cappella Capponi, Santa Felicita in Florence, remind me that I can impose big shapes on my subject matter.
The whole history of art, in random, muddled bits, provide a great encycopedia for making new things.
A reasonably sound knowledge of anatomy also helps.. My sculpture tutor, Clive Duncan, at the Sir John Cass School of Art in Whitechapel, really instilled the importance of this, expecting an accurate rendition of the iliac crest, or the arm hanging from the scapula and clavicle, allowing an arc of movement from the chest that he described as the arm hole in a string vest. It is essential, when making a sculpture of a lion, to understand the huge shoulder blades, narrow hips etc, but without getting too bogged down in all the detail. The important thing is to try and convey the lion – ness of a lion. This was obviously not completely successful, as some people have confused this particular lion with a Pegasus! I think it may be something to do with the long nose, that I thought made it look rather medieval.
The colour is a natural primer – red oxide, that sits very well with interiors of the four churches that these sculptures have now been in. My studio is quite small, and I was very relieved to get them out. They have become a roaming exhibition, and are headed next for St Giles in Camberwell, and possibly cathedrals in Oxford, Wells and Gloucester. They might even be coming to a church near you, as they hopefully wend there way across the country, as Evangelists should.
I would just like to thank Southwark Cathedral for being such wonderful hosts for my sculptures. If any one wants to see more of my work, I am about to install a large horse and rider at a park in Westminster, and have made a large judo sculpture for the 2012 Olympics. I am represented by Sladmore Contemporary in Bruton Place, and can be contacted via them or my website.