Gill Parker is one of the UK’s leading bronze sculpture artists, and her captivating bronze horse sculptures are widely recognised as some of the finest available today. Here she tells us her thoughts, inspirations and how it all started.
It always amuses me how often writers of film and TV choose to make their’ flawed hero’, ‘deranged serial killer’ or ‘next victim’, a sculptor. I’m not sure why a person, who creates three dimensional art, provokes so much mystery and wonder. I suppose I’m biased, but personally I see it as the most natural thing in the world to try and re-create a thing of beauty and I’m not sure what being mentally unstable has to do with it! Stereotypes aside, I don’t think many sculptors have the time to be overly dramatic or temperamental and personally I never fail to feel flattered, even humbled, that people want to own something I made. Some might disagree but I think I’m still relatively sane.
I’m still not sure how it came about that I became a professional sculptor some thirty years ago. Circumstances conspired and chance played a hand, and my life has been interesting and fulfilled, because of it. I could certainly have never imagined some of the amazing experiences and opportunities that have arisen.
I never set out to become an artist. Art, at school, was a chance to do something practical rather than cerebral. Like most people I wanted to be good at art but didn’t show any real talent and accepted the fact, in the same way that I knew I would never be an Olympic sprinter. When it came to choosing my A ‘level subjects, I choose Art as my third subject mainly as a easy option , but because of poor O’level results I was only allowed to take it as the subject was under subscribed.
However, art in the sixth form meant a change of teacher and an opportunity to try sculpture. The first thing I tried, as I remember, was carving a figure out of soap. Everybody has moments in their life that were momentous in some way and this was the moment that I found the thing I loved to do. It was a form of art which made sense to me and I revelled in it. The rest of my A ‘level years were spent in the art room; lunch hour, free periods and after school, it was here I could be found. My new, no nonsense and rather blunt teacher, never pulled her punches and was almost brutal in her criticism, but I think she recognised my desire and was just what I needed. I got in touch with her again a few years ago and we became good friends. I want to say’ Thank you Betty Tyler’.
Despite my new found love of sculpture, I never saw art as a career. I went to a Grammar school and my friends were all planning University or college. Only because of pressure to make some sort of decision and because of a romantic notion to be a PA to a Vet! , I signed up to a college course. I remember meeting one of my teachers in a corridor and told me she was disappointed I wasn’t going to pursue art. She told me she could imagine me going to Stately Homes making sculptures of their horses. What a strange thing to say: here I was the daughter of ordinary, hard working and not very well off parents, I lived on a Council estate until I was five, we were certainly not a family to have original art on the walls. I had been on the ‘please stay behind the ropes’ tours of Grand Houses, but it was a world away from my life. I saw it as a passing remark. No one I knew made art for a living, and this extremely shy and uncertain young girl found the prospect of the local art college totally intimidating. Not for me I thought and that was the end of my art adventure for the next seven years.
I attended college for a day and realised I had made a dreadful mistake. I got a job with a photographer, worked as an auctioneer’s clerk and measured windows for a fitting firm. 1983 saw a bit of a recession and the government contract I was working on was squeezed. I found myself jobless and time on my hands meant that I made a few sculptures in plasticine.
A chance meeting with a local artist resulted in him being quite impressed and he picked out two which he suggested “I should cast in bronze”. I had no idea what that meant or the cost involved, but sometimes ignorance is a wonderful thing. I found a small foundry, took a temporary job to pay for it, and I had my bronzes. Having no idea what to do next, the foundry owner suggested Garrards and Aspreys and not knowing enough about them to be intimidated I set about calling for appointments. I got an appointment to see the Garrards buyer, but was told by Aspreys, that they were not interested in seeing any more artists.
As my ancient car was not up to the trip, I took the train and tube and struggled around London with two very heavy bronzes in holdalls and an A-Z. I had not been to London before and in trying to find Garrards I found myself walking past Aspreys. In a move totally out of character, I walked in off the street and was surprisingly, allowed to see the buyer. I showed him my two bronzes and also a photo of a new sculpture still in plasticine. He asked if he could have number one of the new piece, a polo player (I make bronzes in editions of nine), and five minutes later I was again stood on the street, with an order in my pocket for my first sale. At Garrards they bought number two of the new edition and the two I had taken with me! This was the start of my sculpting career; it was Friday 31st May 1983.
On Monday morning, my first day as a’ proper’ sculptor, my first appointment was with a rather amused Bank manager. With my newly acquired orders as collateral I had to ask for an overdraft of £250.00 to buy another old car to replace the one joy-riders had taken from the Railway Station car park, whilst I was in London!
Within 6 months I was being sponsored by the Horswell family and their major London Gallery, the Sladmore. One day I was asked to meet at the gallery to discuss a commission for one of their clients. Edward drove me out of London but wouldn’t tell me where we were going. He told me later that recognising how shy I was, he thought I would get too nervous. After about an hour he turned up the long drive towards Woburn Abbey. This was to be my first major commission and it was of course, as predicted, a horse. Not just any horse, but a famous brood mare called Mrs Moss!
People are always surprised when I say that I can’t paint or sketch. The fact is, colour doesn’t really interest me, so I have never spent the time to learn to paint. I love form, obviously- I’m a sculptor! so I love detailed pencil drawing and I have done some and want to do more. However I find sketching really difficult and when I make a new sculpture, I never sketch it first. Sometimes a client will ask to see sketches and when this happens my heart sinks!
The truth is it’s a good thing I can show an extensive back catalogue of work that I’m proud of, because no one would ever employ me on the strength of my sketches! I have thought endlessly about this and the conclusion I have come to is that I think three dimensionally. It’s obvious really; in my mind I can see what I want to make and I retain that, while I’m working. Why would I turn it into a 2D drawing so I can turn it back into a 3D sculpture? Now I understand this, my struggle with art, until I discovered sculpture, all makes sense.
I am often asked where I get my inspiration from and I can honestly say, it is just all things natural. I have had a love, a passion really, for being outside, around animals and nature, for as long as I can remember. As a five year old I can remember peering through an old wooden gate into a paddock surrounded by hedges and trees and wanting one day to be able to have on a place like this. Later on as a teenager trying to makes sense of life, I would walk for hours with my dog, and sights and sounds of nature would move me to such an extent that, as I couldn’t express it in paint, I thought I would have to be a poet!
Now I can express the beauty I see and it never fails to inspire me. I was never formally trained other than my school days and learnt my practical skills the hard way and in my opinion the best way, by trial and error. I consciously don’t look at other sculptor’s work as I have my own style and I have all the reference I need from my subject. I see my lack of formal training as a complete positive and my knowledge of the animal kingdom comes from a misspent youth, gazing longingly at various beasts, as a horse and animal mad child.
Over the years I have made a lot more sculpture. Probably best known for my mammals, I actually enjoy making many subjects, even humans! I have made huge monumental sculpture such as Motivator at Ascot Racecourse, Champion Race horses and Olympic Champions, people’s loved pets and everything in between. Through Sculpture, I have been lucky enough to meet many lovely and interesting people even some of my heroes. My sculpture is owned by Royalty, film and music stars and has gone all over the world. Strange to think all this came about because I lacked direction and there was s a free space on a course that I thought would be a soft option!
I am extremely lucky to have been able to indulge in my passion for so long. Each new sculpture represents a voyage of discovery both in the real animal and the style of its portrayal. It’s a fascinating journey of which I never tire. My aim is always to create a piece of art that needs no explanation, just seeks to capture the spirit and feel of that endless and arguably, perfect subject, nature.