Lambourn Sculptor finds the positives in a pandemic year
Sioban Coppinger FRSS relects on A Year in the Life of… "A sculptor. That’s someone who is very happy in their own company, has an innate fear of boredom … and so … is usually able to fill every hour twice or three times … just in case!
In the light of this, I suppose that it’s not so surprising that I have come through this strange year fairly well. When so many have faced real hardship and suffering, it would be churlish for me to say anything else. Over this pandemic year, I have made a practice of counting positives … tiny enhancements to people’s lives … new ways of doing things devised because of Covid. Many can be found … in the strangest places. We are all beginning to see the world a little differently … to value things differently. For myself, I have probably grown more, as a human being, this year than in the past 20.
This unusual time has brought into sharp focus how very lucky I am. Maybe that seems obvious. But when I talk of luck, some of the things that come uppermost in my mind are: the immense good fortune not to lose any family to Covid, the lucky fluke to have met the right fella for me (a while back!) … and still live with him, the good luck to be able to follow a long profession as a sculptor, not to mention, the pleasure of ‘living above the shop’, so that I can carry on working throughout.
Don’t get me wrong, there have been times in the past that I would have swapped being a sculptor for … well almost anything. Which just shows what a bit of luck, and longevity can do … as I couldn’t enjoy my ‘job’ more now. We have all had time to consider what is important. And like so many, I have made an effort to put into practice … thoughtfulness, kindness, and above all tolerance. To actively check myself, when about to make those throw away critical thoughts or remarks … that seem nothing … but can leave a little hurt behind. I can’t say I have achieved these aims … but I can say I feel a lot more content for the trying. During 2020, this gentler mindset has flowed both into … and out of my daily work life.
This has been never more evident than during the progress of a long-term project. About two and a half years ago I was asked to make a life-size bronze for a private garden representing the figure of Peace … who will be dissolving into leaves (the antithesis to Blown Away, a piece featured here in the NWN a few years back). A bond was soon formed with the clients, and we began working together to develop an alliance. Three maquettes and 18 months later we had established a basis for exploring the complex subject of Peace in sculptural terms. 2019 found us immersed in all stages of investigating the concepts. Despite the distance, (they live in Buckinghamshire) these delightful clients have proved exceptionally engaged, imaginative and patient.
The joy of working so closely with people is limitless. As a commissioned artist, it is impossible to forget that whatever you make for them, may well be in their lives forever. This magnifies the desire for collaboration. Working together provides the opportunity to combine ideas and aspirations … and arrive at something greater than either party would have achieved without the other. It makes the whole process much more fluid … and more fun too! More and more this notion of cooperation seems a universal necessity.
2020 started with the exciting work of trying to realise Peace at full scale in clay. It is such a privilege to be allowed, even encouraged to explore the ideas whilst working on it. This has meant that the challenge has remained malleable, as we have all grown in understanding alongside the concept. To try to understand peace, I have found myself researching conflict resolution. There seem to be so many factors that can make or break peace.When you look back at figures who have represented peace … they are few and far between. It makes you realise how fragile it is … and how robust you must be to bring it about. Michael Howard, one of our foremost war historians told me “Peace must be a gardener”!
It takes constant vigilance, empathy and effort. At any time we may have curve balls thrown at us. Naturally, there have been a few for me this year … thankfully nothing life threatening … but they needed sorting. Since I have been working on Peace I have noticed that each time something has grown from an irritation into a ‘problem’ … it almost felt like I have been given a sharp whack in a soft place … as if to wake me up.… and found myself hearing two things … ‘this is a pandemic … everyone is compromised … Sioban - try to be compassionate!’ ‘how can you attempt to make a sculpture about Peace … if you’re not going to try to put it into practice?’
And … when I do my best to listen … things have worked out surprisingly well!
Is this Peace talking? Or is that what happens when you spend too much time in your own thoughts? But strangely … when I listen … the work on Peace seems to flourish.And even better, the commissioners tell me they are thoroughly enjoying seeing the Piece of Peace, quite literally grow into itself.
2020 also began by fulfilling another enchanting commission Venus Verdi … a bronze vessel of leaves, which was installed in a garden in Hungerford in early spring. Again, I was blessed with a very open-minded and imaginative patron. She gave me a fairly free hand to create a decorative vessel made of leaves for her garden. Although this started as a fairly straightforward and abstracted assignment, over time I found myself absorbing what I observed as the nature of the client, and transferring what I felt into the process of making. The piece grew into a much more organic and sensitive creation, and the commissioner tells me that she is thrilled with the final bronze.
There are always a good number of smaller projects ongoing at any one time. Halfway through this year, I found that I had to down tools in the studio, and rush up to Birmingham to become heavily involved in the restoration of one of my publicly sited sculptures The Birmingham Man. This turned out to be a very complex and demanding project … but that is a story for another day. Suffice it to say … all is well .. the restoration was completed to my satisfaction, that of the new residents of the site, and the owners Birmingham City Council.I have just heard that the exquisite and elegant refurbishment of Chamberlain Square (where the Birmingham Man sits) is now fully open to the public.