Hatfield House and its beautiful Park is one thing but its a little known fact that Hatfield Park not only paid host to trials in 1916 for the first truly operational Tank but, after WWI was all done and dusted, Churchill gave them a survivor to put on display. The prototype monster called Big Willie was built by William Foster & Company of Lincoln having been designed by the MD and a certain Lieutenant W G Wilson, bizarrely a naval officer, who was later transferred to the Army and given the rank of major. It was Lieutenant Wilson who had the idea of running the tracks round the body of the tank which became the First World War image of a tank that the Tank Corps themselves adopted as a cap badge. Field trials were held at Hatfield in and over a ‘specially prepared’ area of the grounds, goodness knows what carnage went on much to the derision of the gardeners and groundsmen, but it was carried out under strict secrecy on the Golf Course! The ‘Tanks’ as they became known, after apparently other names based on their shape like Cistern, Container and Reservoir were passed over, performed very well apart from the internal, or rather infernal, din and risk of fire from petrol fumes! The Hatfield Tank, a Mark I, remained on display until the sixties when finally rust and general corrosion got to it big time and one of the turrets complete with six pounder fell off. Fortunately it was rescued in 1970 by Bovingdon Tank Museum where it resides to this day, but the years move on and we ended up rather wondrously at Hatfield House the other week to look at sculptures, very nicely displayed around the House, including a modern, but somewhat originally misguided take on a Tank of another sort, a Rhinoceros. Not any old Rhino but a recreation of Durer’s engraving of 1515. ‘Cripes’, you may utter, ‘Vos is das?’, we’ll get onto that later but for now we had got an invitation for a private viewing of The Great British Sculpture Show and what a Show. I doubt if there has ever been such a variety of artists and sculptors that have been brought together in an outdoor setting. The scale of the exhibits is small on plinths, to huge. Almost all the pieces are for sale from a tad over two grand to telephone numbers or are tagged with the rather dark phrase ‘price on application’. It isn't often we have to highlight the point but please do click on the images to make them bigger, it will be worth it. Thanks to Bazzer for the pictures apart from the tank and original Rhino as he wasn't born then.
For those less familiar with our workshop and the things we do, one of our tasks is often heaving, pushing, shoving and assisting generally with resident neighbour and luvvie-artist-sculptor-type-person Andrew Sinclair. We also help him by modelling, providing models (some of our customers have featured in his work including John), being critics of his work and borrowing things, an arrangement that is occasionally reciprocated. Check out the article on King Kong. Anyway, somehow he got himself into the role of organising the first truly open outdoor sculpture exhibition for British artists for years. Months of busyness and heartache finally came to fruition and he, along with fellow luvvie Diane Coates, had somehow got a rake of fantastically truly acclaimed artists like David Goode, Geoffrey Dashwood, Hamish Mackie, Ian Rank-Broadly (apparently, as we didn’t find anything of his) and Etienne Millner, President of the Society of Portrait Sculptors, to come together and exhibit over 70 works, all outdoors, in a and truly sympathetic and ethereal setting. This then is almost a verse from Woodstock and our critical revue of the exhibition full of luvvie phrases and mis-interpretations and possibly not in the style of Tatler apart from, of course, the oft reported smugness.
Nipping back a paragraph or two, thus then we had been given a splendid invitation which promised drinks and canapés and our presence at the generous request of the Marquis and Marchioness of Salisbury. Well canapés are always disappointing at any ‘commercial’ event but free drink? Couldn’t refuse. We’d love to go, so, apologies to all of those that hoped to get their kit mended on that particular afternoon but we were on a mission, not least to find the Hatfield Tank’s old plinth if the Exhibition turned frightful. Hatfield House is a really understated stately pile and certainly the worst sign-posted. We did a thing there years ago with a balloon but I forget which and neither can I find the event recorded in a logbook, no surprise there then, but eventually, having driven all the way around the Estate, we found the Main Gate. Yippee. Now, say what you like about our Barry he is a true professional when it comes to cameras and photography, not to mention arranging for his kids to be at a rock concert in London who required picking up at eleven o’clock from Shepherds Bush (or was it Camberwick Green), whatever, it meant he couldn’t drink, so offered to drive and take the pictures. Bless him.
We’ve attended private viewings before and also unveilings and I have to say on a scale of one to ten this was possibly nudging eleven although the Stowmarket Horse was a pretty good affair involving copious amounts of champagne. The approach to Hatfield House, if you’ve never visited, is spectacular and somehow fairy tale, especially if you enter through the original Tudor Old Palace, like what we did. The House itself is a bit of an overstatement, Jacobean square bland bling, built from the Old Palace which was largely demolished in the early 1600s. It would do, but The Old Palace was the perfect entrance as we were immediately offered glasses of wine and handed guides. Better than that we seemed to know an awful lot of people there. That was nice. Best dressed up was Laura Canal Boat Girl who had slaved like a goodun’ to get a Rhino cast and John the Bronze who we hadn’t seen for years. Behind us Barry prepared to do battle at a different level with a rather enormous lens that had stabilising wheels on it whereupon a rather determined women in a floral number and swishy luvvie scarf thing asked which paper he was from. “The Times.” I offered, all confidence and clasping two glasses of delightful white. “Cripes” she replied, “You must meet Vladimir Genoskusi, (possibly something lost in translation) he is the art critic from The Sunday Times”. Whoops. Now considering Bazzer wasn’t drinking he handed me his glass to hold and disappeared into the throng and out into the garden. Three glasses are tricky so I responsibly emptied Barry’s, meanwhile behind the scenes the clan was gathering and Johnny Bronze offered us a guided tour. This was brilliant and we soon found ourselves (well me actually) negotiating the box maze which was off limits. Thing is that this John is actually John Joyce the Fine Arts Tutor at University for the Creative Arts where he runs the bronze foundry (which he once nearly burnt down) amongst other things and a renowned sculptor in his own right but, on a luvviness scale, he is pleasant seven even if he wears shades on his head. Actually what it did mean was we had a guide who not only had a sense of humour but probably knew how some of the stuff was actually made.
I have no idea how Andy and Diane managed to plan, let alone layout, the exhibition. You may think there are a few things a tad misplaced but in fairness they achieved it during the wettest period we have had and with no chance to crane or move the heavier exhibits about the woods and park. It is truly magical, and I say that after the effects of the delicious white wine have now worn off. The weather held and as a band of critics we wandered, all knowingly, with critique spouting forth, from secret lawn and garden to woodland, admiring all, or maybe not, before us. The Bronze explained the methods and materials used along with the odd fact about the artist we were annihilating. We ripped into stuff, praised others, discussed the lighting, backdrops and setting and mainly cowered and guffawed at the published prices for the stuff. We laughed a great deal. How odd it was to have those that clearly knew a lot more than us bending their ears to hear what we were saying! Fair made us chuckle. As usual we’d set off in the opposite direction to most and subsequently missed the hallmark piece by Geoffrey Dashwood of the ‘Peregrine Falcon’ set up in front of the House along with the ‘Stags’ by Rudy Weller and instead found ourselves knocking the seven bells out of various pieces before finally critically not acclaiming a red wriggly thing and moved on swiftly to a sea eagle carrying away a shopping bag which turned out to be called Corvus so wasn’t an eagle at all, but one from the family of my favourite birds. Truth be told it was absolutely brilliant and, cast in bronze, quite how it was created was explained in detail by John. Think about it. How exactly do you take a mould of a paper bag? We know….now. In the same secret garden was a weirdly strange homoerotic thing that was interesting but somewhat odd. Jane did it deserved injustice, we commented on its form! Now we all loved the eagle (which wasn’t) but there was this carp. It was very stunning and again in bronze, our John gave it top marks. Glass emptied we met a group going the other way who swapped my empty glass for a full one. “Is that the bloke from The Times?” one asked pointing at Barry, “Yes.” I replied, smilingly thanking them for the refill. “Has he met the bloke from the Sunday Times?” he went on, “He’s the small bloke down there.” We briefly discussed a couple of very large Polar Bears done by Tessa Campbell-Fraser, who ‘appens to be the wife of Rory Bremner. One was very in the style of the one what was outside the Oxford Natural History Museum and there was another with a priest that was quite clever but they were a bit too abstract in a sploshed on sort of way for our taste but as a horizon piece they would have been brilliant. At the end of an Avenue at Stowe for example. The wine was clearly taking effect. Off to our right we glimpsed a fibre-glass (whoops sorry purists that will be resin) galloping dinosaur with a top-hatted fat lady aboard. We’d loaded it into a lorry driven sportingly by Canal Boat Girl’s dad a few days before. This was by our beloved luvvie Andy Sinclair double-barrelled wotsits. It was the second he’d done, the first being for the Chelsea Flower Show and featured on Gardener’s World or some such. He’d coloured and painted it and, do you know what, we all agreed it would have been better bronzed and vertidegreed or whatever the term is, but nonetheless it did merrily make us chuckle and with St George’s Day coming up it did beggar the suggestion! We met the fat lady at Andy’s studio but didn’t see her wandering round. Had she been she’d have been on the red.
Then, there it was, caught my eye, spotted amongst the tree trunks and looking for all the world like something from The Hobbit and those that used to inhabit the Red Lion before Punch Taverns destroyed it (fortunately it has now been revived by Fullers) and smoking in pubs was banned, David Goode’s ‘The Gnome Hunter’. It wasn’t big, it wasn’t all that compelling, in fact it was quite diminutive in a strong-presence sort of way, but it was truly a work of art and quietly rather disturbing as in black comedy. Detail? I think it highly unlikely that any piece of sculpture I’ve ever come across had so much detail and, as for technical skill in casting it, for it was bronze, it was truly a masterpiece. I loved it in an uncomfortable but hilarious sort of way. This I would have at the end of the garden along with a live London Transport Electric Loco to frighten the grandchildren. This nudged the top ten order big time. This is a bloke with a sense of humour. Maybe we’d get to meet him. We ordered Barry to get low down and photograph it which he obligingly did until a bloke called Vladimir wandered towards us, hand starting to outstretch. Bazzer nodded familiarity-wise at him, Vlad got distracted by a frantically waving and pointing woman in a floral dress in the distance and Baz was no longer there. True professional that Baz.
You know sometimes you glance something through the trees or undergrowth and swear it was something but can’t put your finger on it or get the scale? Probably not if you live in Acton, but this was huge and was real. Eddie Powell and Wilfred Pritchard had produced a steel flat pack Giant Tarantula. It was epic as was either Eddie (or was it Wilfred) we unknowingly met whilst praising the thing. I had an overwhelming desire to climb it and if there is one criticism its that there were no pegs through a leg so you could in fact limber up it and ride on its form. We liked this a lot. Now while Johnny Bronze may have known about casting we were in our element on welding and cutting techniques. This was the ultimate wooden kit in sheet steel, very cleverly welded together. It looked cast from some angles and reminded me of the Sibelius Monument in Helsinki which is, along with his Karelia Suite as performed by The Nice, possibly one of my favourite double acts. 'Boris the Spider' by The Who sprung to mind. How many glasses was that? How did it get there we wanted to know but half the artist had already shunned the praise aimed at him and wandered off and we never found out or saw him again. It must have been assembled on site. Top ten material for sure.
Now is the time to come clean. Skeletons are the fundamental basis for teaching sculpture. Luvvie has one included in his Sculpture School for reference and many have pinned them together in various forms. Out in the woods, to me, although cleverly posed that is it, they are just carefully posed skellingtons. Why were they so many? The only one that should have made me grin (pulling a roller) didn’t. Why? It didn’t have any humour. A slight grin on the skull would have helped but it didn’t work. None of them did, they seemed to be anything but a cheat on the basic tool of the tradesman. Nope, didn’t get them at all and apologies to the artist(s). The only one that may have done it straddled the top bone of a giant vertebrae called an Atlas, as Jane pointed out. We checked our guide and the piece was called ‘Whale Bone Balance’. It was by our Tarantula blokes but, through a bit of bad naming, it was out. Shame that but then of course maybe everyone missed the point, apart from Jane. Bronze bloke was starting to despair but thankfully still smiling. In a clump of trees, playing host to a climbing Leopard, Bazzer was discussing light settings and backdrops with a couple of local hacks. We got a refill and sent empties back with another group going the other way blithering on about the way the light and angle of a group of dancing skeletons could have been better had it been placed a few inches to the left and rotated three degrees. We had to laugh. We were enjoying this big time and luckily for us on the horizon was a simply surreal seat. It was a sea of calm. Forget Marilyn and the norm. Forget the ‘ism’, this was a seat like no other. ‘Femme Assise’ by Paul Day was incredible. It stopped Johnney Needles and me in our tracks. It’s a seated women, probably inspired by a Picasso of a similar name, but truly beautiful (unlike Picasso’s). Her ‘seat’ is her dress but she is not seated on anything. That’s the point. We sat on her. It had to be done, it was begging to be sat on. We toasted her good health and perfect form and read the note ‘Do not sit’. Truly inspired it went to number very high straight away. Turns out this is by the same bloke that did 'The Meeting Place' at St Pancreas. Hats off, he likes trains. A chap from ‘Home and Gardens’ took our picture. Barry politely asked him to stand to one side. “You the bloke from The Times?” he asked, clearly in awe. A nod from Barry sent him on his way. In a years time we’ll be in every dentists' waiting room. Fame at last.
Time was pressing. Rory Bremner was going to do a speech in the style of someone arty but we failed to catch their name and even if we had of done wouldn’t have had a clue who they were but apparently they hadn’t turned up as promised. We missed it but it was hilarious we were reliably informed. We were still busy in the setting sun enjoying two pieces. Firstly a terracotta Gus the Lurcher actually entitled ‘Seated Greyhound’ by a Desmond Hesmondhalg who works in Holmfirth, appropriately the place with the most dog muck on the pavements anywhere I have ever been, apart from France. I gave it a pat and we rounded the corner to be entranced by what appeared to be a lit piece. The sun was low and we were very privileged to see David Harber’s ‘Mantle’ just as it is meant to be seen. No, its not internally lit. Basically it was a distressed Verdi bronze ball lined with gold. It was beautiful. Truly beautiful. It glowed and sizzled. John the Bronze and I got down low and pondered how it was formed and put together. Very cleverly we decided. In vain we tried to cast internal shadows but failed so profound was its internal reflective qualities. Checking the price it was a snip at £9,000. We all voted for it.
Our glasses were empty John Joyce’s trademark distinctive shades balanced on his head were now truly ineffective now the sun had set so we in turn set course to get back to the Old Palace as a refill was calling but, as we sauntered down towards the knot garden, there it was. Not the Tank’s plinth but Andrew Sinclair’s faithful reproduction of Durer’s Rhino. Make no mistake it is life size and it is impressive. It is also grand and timeless in a sort of ‘of the time’ way. He’d managed to sculpt it from a shoddy blurred image of what was, in its day, the first ever drawing of what must have appeared a living dinosaur, a relic from a by-gone world. It was a tank of a thing. I admit we had seen the creation of the original clay sculpture take shape in his studio. It had been a labour of love. Diane Coates herself had spend several days on the floor doing its feet and belly. It is something to spend time studying, if you have the time. I forget who it was did a bust of the Mona Lisa. Well obviously it isn’t the Mona Lisa but Andy in a similar way had brought to life an engraving made in the 16th century. I wonder if one was made then and displayed? The populous would have been in awe. Seeing it outside where it belonged I rather loved it. Tank? Yes it is and very appropriate too. John loved it but doubted if it would fit through his back gate.
The evening chill was getting established so we went back inside and talked bollix to the assembled luvvies and had a fine time. Rather surprisingly when we asked what others had enjoyed most we were relieved to find we all had similar tastes. Our top ten? Well I’m not sure we put them in order but this is what we came up with. We all agreed ‘Corvus’ was up there along with the wriggly fish thing but unfortunately it turned out to be by our own John Joyce. We felt better knowing we’d ripped his homo-erotic thing to bits though. Very close and, in my mind, equal was the Gnome Hunter. The Tarantula got praise only because it was big. If we could have climbed on it would have won. There was a Celtic Horse’s head which we think was by David Meredith but we could be wrong, it was a powerful thing, then there was Gus the Dog. ‘The Mantle’ was pretty impressive and we all could have lived with it and there was also a stone globe which was very clever and our John found a small piece called ‘The Three Graces’ by Carl Payne which we all agreed we’d take home but it has to be said the Rhino was special. Knowing the engraving, Andy’s take on it was as true as you are going to get. Number One then, grudgingly, as we know them, is a tie then between Corvus and Durer’s Rhino. Quietly I would have liked to have seen the old tank decaying quietly in the undergrowth cast in bronze. It wasn’t so, my favourites were, the ‘Gnome Hunter’, because it was very well executed much like the gnomes whose heads were grinning from his belt and its setting was perfect. Truly I would have to have taken home the minted girlie bench. Oh, and did we mention the strange creature consuming snails, that was good, or Jane’s favourite Dido Crosby’s ‘Iron Stag’ which wasn’t just clever but blew the mind but, if I had to part with cash, it would be for Gus the Dog. It was only £3900 in folding. Best you go and see for yourself. The Great British Sculpture Show runs until 30th September 2014.
http://www.hatfield-house.co.uk/content_wide.asp?id=11&p=111&Great%20British%20Sculpture%20Show takes you to the bit on the exhibition on the Hatfield House site.
www.ridgewaymouldingandcasting.co.uk/ Laura Canal Boat Girl Robain’s casting and moulding company with some great images of the stuff they have produced.
http://johndjoyce.com/ see some of his rather brilliant works
http://www.andrew-sinclair.com/ Andy’s site - check out John as the puppeteer in‘Marionettes Conundrum’
http://www.thesculptureschool.co.uk/ Andy’s very successful school for sculptors and luvvies generally.
www.hesmondhalghsculpture.co.uk/ The bloke that did ‘Gus the Dog’
http://www.david-goode.com/ Check out his piece ‘Aviator’ its inspired.
http://www.carlpaynesculptures.co.uk/ The creator of ‘The Three Graces’ much appreciated.
www.davidharber.co.uk/ Creator of ‘The Mantle’ some stunning stuff on his website.
www.didocrosby.com/ Interesting and clever stuff including the ‘Iron Stag’.
www.pauldaysculpture.com/ Did the ‘Femme Assise’, reading up on him turns out he did the ‘The Meeting Place’ the 30 foot statue at St Pancreas Station. Say no more.