Millicent Fawcett (2)

I have been asked by Martin Jennings, himself a sculptor, for my response to Emma Lavender’s long and thoughtful critique of what I had thought of the statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square. Two things had impressed me about the statue: the first was how much the mood of the square was changed by the presence of a single woman; the second was an element of surprise that a statue produced, as I guessed, by the latest 3D reproductive technologies based on original photographs was so convincing. I still feel, even now that I have read more about how it was produced, that it is better and much more convincing than some of the weaker recent public statues, because the traditions of carving and modelling are no longer much taught.

I am happy to receive more information on where they are still taught and the best examples of contemporary figurative sculpture, as the issue as to how new figurative sculpture is commissioned and who is commissioned will become issues of public concern, if they are not already.

Meanwhile, I am reproducing my photograph of the statue again only so that readers don’t have to scroll back:-


8 thoughts on “Millicent Fawcett (2)

  1. Lilly Koltun says:

    I hope my comment does not repeat anything Emma Lavender wrote, which I have unfortunately not read. However, just looking at your photo, Charles, the thing that strikes me about the statue is that the clothing and other objects seem extraordinarily realistic while the head seems unhappily modelled, without life. I take from this that 3D is well suited to the lifeless. I hope that future commemorative statues do not aim for the realistic, in the mistaken belief that the realistic expresses the real, but rather for the heart and soul. Is there a chance we have a Rodin among us?

  2. Piers Bedford says:

    Charles, when you were asked for your thoughts on this statue we looked forward to more clarity and depth in your conclusions..
    We were truly interested in your response, but you did not share your wisdom with us.
    We look to you for guidance at this important juncture when public works can be created “automatically” , with the help of a project manager, and not by the hand of an artist.
    Your only comment on the computer generated sculpture itself was that it was “convincing”.
    Have you not questioned that you have probably never used the word “convincing” about any of the masterpieces of portraiture that you have been guardian of in your long career?
    Should a true work of art not be more than just “convincing” ?.
    Have I misunderstood that what you are saying is that accuracy of depiction is paramount.
    i am hoping for a defence of the role of an artists involvement……!

    • Dear Piers, I was not pretending it was by Michelangelo, just intrigued that a work made by photomechanical means is maybe not a great work of art, but convincing is for me a way of establishing its legitimacy. But, as I said, I’m perfectly open to suggestions of better examples of contemporary commemorative sculpture. Charles

  3. Ian Rank-Broadley says:

    Dear Charles, As the designer of both your bookplate and your son Otto’s and the sculptor of the Armed Forces Memorial, I offer my contribution to the debate.
    Much of recent public sculpture is weak, a combination of little talent, poor training in the artist and ignorance among the commissionning committee. The modern technology of scanning and 3D printing appears to offer a solution to that problem, in that it guarantees the verisimilitude that is so desired in our photo obsessed world. And it is wonderfully democratic, anyone can make sculpture now without a shred of talent or understanding.
    Where does this lead us ? Sadly, to a culture that is bankrupt, devoid of any true artistic endeavour. As a professional sculptor of more than 40 years, I have the experience of working material with my hands which informs my making of sculpture. Also I have an emotional response to my subject. This makes my sculpture very different from that produced by scanning and printing. Take a look and compare. Hopefully you will see a difference.
    There is hope in the younger generation of sculptors beginning to acquire the technical facility, all be it in the academies in Florence rather than here, to raise artistic standards again.

    • Dear Ian, Thank you ! Yes, I can see that 3D technology is not real sculpture, but a purely reproductive medium. But for a century, people thought photography itself was a purely reproductive medium, whereas it clearly is not, so maybe one should look at it as a tool, rather than a convenient substitute. Charles

  4. Piers Bedford says:

    It is exciting to embrace new forms of “art” and we have had many appear in our lifetimes.
    Many have relied on new technologies.
    Some have been accepted as legitimate adjuncts.
    The great sensory test though surely remains the “frisson” test … that rare, wonderful moment when we stand gazing at something and feel an undefinable glow, we feel “moved”.
    If automated 3D scanned and printed sculpture can do that to us then it has succeeded .
    If civic monuments can be executed from idea to erection in 3 weeks at a cost of £500 by 3D printing then maybe we should embrace that !
    But that rare “frisson” moment is a high bar to achieve.

  5. Charles there are some adventurous new statues around but I’m afraid I don’t think Gillian Wearing’s of Millicent Fawcett succeeds. It’s too kitsch. To me it looks like a clunky combination of 3D-printed costume and a rather poor modelling of head and hands. And the big rectangular cloth held out in front of the figure demolishes the composition as a whole. Figurative sculptors are all experimenting with the possibilities of 3D modelling but we use it with circumspection and not for the wholesale replacement of sculpted form. It seems to me that if brave new work is to emerge it will come out of a merging of traditional modelling and new technologies and not by abandoning the former entirely.

    You’re right that there isn’t much unified teaching to be found in this country. Sculptors have tended to pick up their training piecemeal through life drawing and head and figure modelling and through getting to know all the great old public statues on our streets in detail. But there is a new enthusiasm for the art form among the young and courses at places like City and Guilds of London Art School are now increasingly geared to teaching the necessary skills. Every year there are some excellent new portrait sculptures to be seen at the exhibitions of the Society of Portrait Sculptors and there are classes offered by its members. Very sadly the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association which for many years has offered a guiding hand to artists and commissioning bodies alike, is now being disbanded.

    There is an ongoing demand for figurative statues in public places and this is rarely satisfied by conceptual artists who try their hand while privileging the idea over the execution. It really is extremely difficult to make a convincing statue and those who do it well dedicate their lives to learning the art. You’ll have seen Ian Rank-Broadley’s comment above. There are many examples of successful work – I love looking at Karen Newman’s bust of Violette Szabo by Lambeth Bridge and of Noor Inayat Khan in Gordon Square, at Antony Dufort’s miners in the Forest of Dean and in Nottinghamshire. Etienne Millner’s Flesher outside Leatherseller’s Hall is a very strong piece, as is Nigel Boonham’s Martin Luther King at Newcastle University. Marcus Cornish’s new statue of John Harrison in Barrow-upon-Humber is one to seek out and soon to be installed in Dun Laoghaire harbour, Mark Richards’ Roger Casement. Too few women have been commissioned for big public work over the years but the ability is certainly there. Personally I regret that an alternative female artist was not chosen for the Fawcett commission, even though I’m delighted that a woman is now on a plinth among so many men in Parliament Square. Half a dozen more statues of women there, modelled by proficient female sculptors, would begin to even the score.

    • Dear Martin, Thank you for these good suggestions of recent work which I’ll try and seek out. I’ve never forgotten Eduardo Paolozzi producing a beautiful clay model of Lloyd George and then saying he would have to cut it apart for it to be legitimate as a work of art. Charles

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