Allies, bronze resin
The Artist Masterclass with Carol Peace
Carol Peace - Posted on 12 Nov 2007
The Human Factor
Figurative sculptor Carol Peace reveals the ideas that inspire her work
Although fashion-conscious art buffs might regard figurative painting and sculpture as an outdated form of expression it nevertheless continues to attract a strong following. In part, its sustaining quality comes from the fact that it is an accessible form of art — something to which everyone can relate. Unlike so much abstract and conceptual work, figurative art is not aloof, perplexing, remote or quasi-intellectual. And it does not need to be explained by a label or catalogue.
Precious, bronze resin, 55in (140cm)
Instead, the best examples of figurative art can appeal to our feelings, to our empathy and our understanding of the human predicament. For Carol, figurative work offers greater scope for individual expression, leading to more rewarding results.
"I just feel I have more to say by using the figure," she explains, "and I enjoy the various aspects and challenges involved — particularly in creating the form of each sculpture, and in developing and using my drawing skills.
"My work has always been concerned with the human form and I have always used clay. I like the way that the mood of each sculpture is defined by the handling and texture of the clay. Rough textures and lines can suggest rhythms of movement, while detailed work creates a feeling of stillness and intimacy. I think in some ways using clay has similar qualities to the two-dimensional work that I do in charcoal and oils. For example, I might work quickly, as I would in charcoal, so that the forms are found, often changed over and over, and sometimes lost. And if I work the clay slowly, similar to the way I use oils, the work is less impulsive and more precise. I cast each piece in bronze or iron resin, and here again the patina, often dark in the low lights and light on the highlights, will help in determining the form and character of the sculpture."
Self-portrait, charcoal on paper, 48x60in (122x152cm)
The bronze resin and iron resin sculptures are formed of bronze or iron powder added to a fibreglass resin.
Carol's sculptures are available in limited editions in a choice of materials: the bronze resin and iron resin editions are more affordable versions of the bronzes.
Ideas and feelings
The themes and ideas that Carol explores in her sculptures are inspired principally by the way people behave and react towards one another, and additionally, of course, they are influenced by her own feelings and life experiences. In Allies, top far left, for example, the two standing figures convey the idea of companionship, friendship and support, and again in Precious, left, there is a feeling of closeness, of being totally at ease with
Carol has always made life drawings, believing this discipline important not just for its informative value but because it heightens your observation and ability to capture what is there without tricks and gimmicks. She also paints portraits in oils, worked both from the model and photographs. While the life drawings are not a direct preliminary to making sculpture (her sculptures are always imaginative rather than shaped from working drawings or models), they are vital to the creative process.
Dancer, bronze, 80in. (203cm)
"It's like practising your scales if you are a musician," she says. "If I ignore drawing for a while, then my sculpture really suffers; it becomes quite laboured and I struggle to find the form. But after a series of drawings I feel really empowered — I feel that potentially I could do anything.
"Although I always begin with a particular idea in mind, the concept and form for the sculpture can change dramatically during the working process. So, in fact, the final piece owes more to my response to what is happening as I handle the clay than it does to any preconceived idea.
Occasionally I start by making a maquette — usually when I am working on a commission — but I never work from drawings. I think this would inhibit the freedom and creativity necessary in making the sculpture.
"Instead I start straight away with clay, building an armature and quickly establishing the general pose of the figure and the basic shapes and forms. But even with the armature in place the attitude and scale of the work are not necessarily fixed. With a wire armature I can bend it into a different position, and if it is a steel one I might decide to remove some of the clay and grind or cut the armature to enable me to modify the pose. A standing figure can sometimes develop into a reclining one; a single figure might need a companion.
"At first I work quite frantically, running around and adding great lumps of clay to the figure, sawing parts off, and so on. But gradually the process slows down and towards the end I seem to be spending hours and hours on small areas and details. For a large sculpture the initial clay-modelling stage may take more than two weeks to complete. The clay figure will then stand in my studio for about three months, and I will occasionally assess it and do some further work on it, continuing in this way until I am completely satisfied with the result. I normally have three or four sculptures in progress at the same time. The clay form is kept moist by spraying it with water periodically and wrapping it in polythene sheeting.
"I leave the clay to dry to a leather-hard state and then the figure is ready for the casting process. The first step is to apply a coating of liquid silicon rubber, after which I add a thixothropic agent to the rubber solution and gradually build up the surface to a thickness of about an inch all over — perhaps more for the larger sculptures. Next I assess how best to divide the three-dimensional form into removable interlocking sections, and these divisions are marked out with clay strips.
"The whole form is now covered with a fibreglass jacket. When it is fully catalysed — hardened — the fibreglass is removed and the rubber sections pulled off, during which process the clay is usually destroyed; so this is always a very tense time, when you hope the moulds will be perfect. Then the moulds are reassembled to give an exact negative copy of the original form. I used to do all the casting myself but now I take the moulds to a foundry. The sculptures are cast in either bronze or iron resin, which is a fibreglass resin with iron powder added to it.
"Mould making is definitely a skill in its own right. It is a crucial part of the working process, although because it is essentially a technical process rather than a creative one, and also quite time consuming, there can be a temptation to rush it. However, if when you remove the mould it is damaged in some way, or is not true to the original clay sculpture, there is actually nothing you can do about it; the sculpture is lost and all the work has been in vain. Fortunately this has happened to me only once, when I was at art school and tried to cast something in cement and did not know enough about the process."
Carol's bronze sculptures are produced in limited editions, usually of nine pieces, and the iron resin figures are made in an edition of 25. Because she likes the idea of sculpture being accessible to a wide range of people, not just the wealthy, she also makes other, more affordable pieces in larger editions. And she also occasionally works on a commission.
"With these it totally depends on the client," she says. "I naturally prefer a brief that allows me plenty of freedom, rather than one that is very prescriptive.
"But what I enjoy most is working at my own ideas in my studio. It is the clay that I love, together with the process of changing something so fluid and fragile into something that will last forever. I am really happy with the notion of figurative work and where this stands in the art world. Commercial success and acclaim don't concern me unduly; I just want to be really good at what I do."
The full version of this article is published in the December 2007 issue of The Artist.