Over the course of his 30-year career, Tim Pomeroy has established a reputation as Britain’s foremost stone carver. Working at his studio on the Isle of Arran in Ayrshire, Pomeroy sources the highest-quality materials for his pieces in Carrara marble, slate, granite, sandstone and traditional woods such as yew, oak and pine. His work is held in several public collections, including the National Trust and the National Museum of Scotland. Here, he discusses his inspiration.
What inspired you to follow this
I trained in and taught painting at art school but had always had the curiosity of ‘what’s round the corner?’ And I love the feel of traditional/natural materials, stone, wood, metal. Consequently, I always sculpted alongside painting and drawing. But it was only around 1994–97 that I made the full transition to being more a sculptor than a painter. The more I worked at it the more it fed that — indefinable — inner hunger of representing what my feelings were telling me to make. Successful ideas breed successful ideas and, before long, my sculpture career had gained its own momentum.
Why do you base your work on plants and nature?
I am attracted by symmetry and geometry wherever I see it, whether in nature or the man-made environment. It is very present in nature. Plants and flowers demonstrate dynamic geometric patterns and I am by no means alone, as an artist, to be drawn to these shapes. Also, living next to the sea, the shoreline constantly offers up examples of symmetry and pattern. The most obvious being the starfish and the sea urchin. But looking beneath the obvious throws up a world of pattern and shape... all inspiring.
What is your favourite material/s to
work in and why?
Marble and slate at the moment — although that changes depending on the ideas that evolve in my sketchbooks. I like marble and slate because their properties are conducive to very fine detail and very sensitive finished surfaces. Both of these properties are important to me. They help convey some of the preciousness that I am trying to evoke.
How do you think contemporary sculpture is perceived today compared to, say,
contemporary painting? Is the genre becoming more or less popular?
I think contemporary sculpture is in good health. There are many branches of sculpture, and painters frequently make sculptures as an adjunct to their daily practice. The land art movement — a branch of sculpture — has opened up the possibility of the actual landscape participating in the work of art, in the same way that Capability Brown might have understood. So people such as Richard Long, Andy Goldsworthy and Charles Jencks have blurred the edge of ‘sculpture as hewn or built form’ with ‘sculpture being a three-dimensional intervention/dialogue within a landscape’. I think assemblage sculpture rarely works as a serious endeavour. And ready-made sculptures that ‘don’t work’ confuse the spectator, muddying the waters between what is genuine and what is authentic as a work of art and what is frivolous, temporary and superficial. I think confusion in the art-aware public leads to suspicion; suspicion leads to scepticism and a lack of popularity. The best of contemporary sculpture remains thought-provoking and meaningful.
What does this show and exhibition mean to you?
This show is very important to me. It’s a step on a journey, which I suppose is a cliché, but it is genuinely meant. When I set out years ago, I always hoped that my artworks would go from strength to strength and consequently be represented by more and more prestigious galleries. The Fine Art Society is one of the most respected galleries in London, and even the world, today. To have the endorsement of such a major gallery is both humbling and exciting. It recognises the seriousness with which I face my art practice.
What is the process you use and how long can it take to make one of these works?
This, of course, depends on the size and material of the work. I’m a reducer rather than a builder; ask any sculptor and they’ll be able to tell you if intuitively they build or reduce. Preparation is (as with most things) terribly important. Drawings are essential and they always accompany my practice. The reducing happens with angle-grinders, saws, pneumatic hammers, right down to the finest of chisels and diamond pads.
The rough shape of the sculpture is usually achieved relatively quickly, while the finishing takes a long time. Polishing stone is an exacting and unforgiving activity. Consequently it takes a lot of time but also much concentration. For a piece such as the Butterfly Egg, it took about a week and a half to form the sphere from the rough block, another week to carve the fluting, and the polishing took around 200–300 hours. It’s a major piece. Conversely, a work such as Grip, which involved turning Douglas Fir on a lathe, then turning brass and masoning stone, took nothing like this length of time — perhaps 50 hours.
Whom do you think is the most impressive stone sculptor of all time and why?
The most impressive stone sculptor of all time, for me, would be Michelangelo. Why? Because of the energy of his carving. The most impressive stone sculpture is almost impossible to say, but one of my many favourites would be Epstein’s Jacob and the angel. The narrative portrayed and the sculpture’s compressed masculinity are impressive.
A new exhibition of Tim Pomeroy’s sculpture will be on show at The Fine Art Society in London, from 9 January to 30 January 2017.