Earlier this week, The Society of Portrait Sculptors unveiled their 51st Annual Exhibition.
|Photo by Bayasgalan Batmagnai.|
Held at the SladmoreContemporary, London’s leading contemporary sculpture gallery, speeches were delivered by society president Etienne Millner and Professor David Ekserdjian. Millner was quick to pinpoint FACE 2014’s purpose as: ‘to make portrait sculpture more accessible and to highlight its strengths as a means of conveying likeness’.
|Etienne Millner sculpting Vice Admiral Sir Donald Gosling KCVO. Bronze. Photo by Angelo Plantamura and provided by the artist.|
Millner is a sculptor of remarkable distinction. He championed figurativism even when it was ‘largely rejected in favour of abstraction’ and his works can be found in numerous public and private collections. These include: the National Portrait Gallery; Harris Manchester College, Oxford; Wellington College; Goodwood House; Weston Foundation; Longford Castle; Daily Mail; London Borough of Ealing and The Museum of The Negev, Israel.
|Louisa Forbes with her relief sculpture Mother and Child. Lead. Photo by James Larcombe.|
However, it was Domenica’s outstanding plaster portrait, Rob, which caused a stir on Monday. Her rhythmic handling of simplistic forms is truly remarkable. Interestingly, the project had an ominous start… Domenica’s sitter nearly left after she told him that what she ‘really liked was the “wonkiness” of his face’. Fortunately for us he stayed!
Like Domenica, Giles Lesterreceived a classical artistic training in Florence. Judged to be this year’s best newcomer, Giles was awarded the The Talos Award for Olwen. Sculpted with sensitivity far beyond his years, Giles describes this portrait as an ‘impression’ of his mother who remained ‘patient and generous with sittings’ over the busy Christmas period.
It was under the instruction of Robert Bodem, at The Florence Academy of Art (FAA), that Giles met his close friend and model for his second exhibited work, Valentina Zlatarova. Observant viewers at the exhibition will have noticed a quiet dialogue playing out between this sculpture and Valentina’s own portrait of Giles.
Incidentally, Valentina’s works have also been recognised. She received the Tiranti Prize in 2008 and 2011 as well as the Founders’ Prize in 2009. This year, the haunting, brooding melancholy of her portrait Giles stopped many viewers in their tracks.
Born and raised in Bulgaria, Valentina experienced a burst of patriotism during Professor David Ekserdjian’s speech. Reminding us that great art continues to speak to a viewer, he recounted an anecdote about the recently discovered bronze head of the Thracian King Seuthes III in Bulgaria. Ekserdjian had received a photograph on his phone from a fellow Professor, who in turn received it from his editor. The message accompanying the photograph was simple – ‘You need this.’
Ian is ideal for this commission; the male figure has been the dominant theme of his work for the entirety of his professional career. Early on, he realised that ‘the female nude had, to a large extent, been robbed of its power by the commercial world of advertising, whereas the male nude still retained a power that could excite, grab attention and shock.’
|Sakura by Tristan MacDougall. Fired earthenware. Photo provided by the artist.|
Sakura is based upon Tristan’s eight-year-old daughter. Although Tristan’s children are ‘competitive about being models’, neither enjoy the reality of sitting for a portrait. As such, Tristan found himself referring to photographs whilst committing Sakura’s face to memory whenever she was eating, sleeping, watching television and so on!
Robert Hunt also has a ‘special interest’ in relief sculpture. On display were portraits of his great-nieces Hope and Alma. Working from his studio in Winchester with photographs, Hunt strives to ‘trick the eye’.
FACE 2014 was a chance for me to see works by fellow FAA alumni. And, though I have striven not to be biased, I must tell you about my favourite work on display.
|Maddox and The Last Seeing by Bayasgalan Batmagnai. Bronze. Photo by the artist.|
When in contact with clay, Bayasa feels his hands become a living tool. For Baysa, the very act of sculpting can carry ‘an overwhelming feeling of elation and pure happiness ’ as well as the inevitable frustration when faced with ‘obstacles related to continuous learning’ and the need to understand his subject.
I am certain that these sentiments ring true for all artists. Recently, Giles sent me an extract from a letter written by the sculptor Umberto Boccioniin 1912. Reading Boccioni’s description of his own experience transported me to the memory of a figure that I had struggled with for weeks on end. Yet, I also found solace in Boccioni’s words. Recognising these sentiments again echoed by Bayasa has encouraged me to share them with you:
As an aspiring art historian, FACE 2014 reassured me that the future of portraiture is in safe hands. Together, the exhibitors are pushing boundaries yet maintaining traditional techniques.
And, as an aspiring sculptor, FACE 2014 provided me with endless inspiration. With the end of the academic year just weeks away, I am so looking forward to putting into practice the advice I have received when talking with artists. (Just two exams to go!)