Sculptor Simon Gudgeon: Nature Trails

At Sculpture by the Lakes Simon Gudgeon’s works are displayed among trees, alongside lakes, against the open sky, settings on a scale that no gallery could ever match.

Simon Gudgeon’s international success is all the more remarkable given a late start in his chosen art. His nature-inspired themes have captured the imagination of a large audience, including Prince Charles and the Duke of Edinburgh.

There’s an old saying that goes ‘everything comes to he who waits’. Simon Gudgeon might well agree. He enjoyed art at school, but didn’t pick up a paintbrush again until he was in his 30s. It then took him a while longer to discover his exceptional talent for sculpture ­and to enjoy a degree of success that must surely have been worth waiting for.

If you’ve walked through Hyde Park in London, you might have seen one of Gudgeon’s best-known pieces: the elegant, serene Isis, a monumental, beautiful bird that reflects the nature-inspired themes often seen in his work. Isis was the first commissioned public work to be placed in the park for more than 50 years when it was installed in 2009. There is also an edition of Isis at Prince Charles’s residence in Gloucestershire ­and another at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in the US. Gudgeon has shown his work in London, New York, Chicago, San Diego, Paris and the Netherlands. And Prince Charles is not the only British royal to favour his work; the Duke of Edinburgh’s collection includes a smaller version of the magnificent Search for Enlightenment, two abstracted human profiles gazing to the skies that can be seen full size at Riverside Walk Garden, Millbank, by the River Thames.

Gudgeon’s proudest creation, though, is his own sculpture park, Sculpture by the Lakes, 26 acres of countryside in Dorset, one of the loveliest counties in the rural south west of England. Here his works are displayed among trees, alongside lakes, against the open sky, settings on a scale that no gallery could ever match. Sculpture by the Lakes is a work of art in its own right.

Gudgeon’s international success is all the more remarkable given his late start. He qualified in law, then decided on a change of path and ran several successful businesses before falling victim to the recession. He was given some paints and decided he would become an artist ­and the hard work began. Gudgeon spent four years mastering painting.

“There’s no quick way or lazy way of getting good at anything,” he says. At the age of 40, he picked up some sculpting materials ­and was hooked. Gudgeon now works in clay, epoxies, CAD, CGI, kinetics and casting, and is developing his technique even further. He recently created his first full figurative piece, Sylph, a graceful form based on a ballet dancer, from 1,000 bronze leaves welded together.

“Living among trees and seeing their movement, I suddenly realised how I wanted to do it,” explains Gudgeon. “As an artist, you’re constantly thinking about what you’re doing, finding solutions ­— how do I do this, how do I overcome that? The harder you work, the better you get. You’re not going to come up with great ideas by waiting for the muse to call you. You create by going out and creating: creativity is continual development, continual challenge.”

He is currently working on an entirely new way of working with patination, the chemical reactions that cause bronze to change colour.

“I’m working on a technique to apply patination almost in a stencil pattern so I can put dramatic forms onto my sculptures with some degree of control,” explains Gudgeon. “I would hate to end up in a rut. I love the challenge of something new.”

He is also planning a series of selling exhibitions at Sculpture by the Lakes that will showcase fellow artists. The first, ‘Drawn’, runs from this 8 November to 16 December 2014.

“For the inaugural gallery exhibition, drawing had to be the place to start. It is the solid skill that underpins all other arts,” says Gudgeon. “Drawing is a huge skill a lot of contemporary artists don’t have. I want to promote contemporary art, but with a great level of skill involved. We need to get back to the basics of what art should be: a level of skill, a level of emotion, a level of beauty.”

And, perhaps, a level of commitment to the bigger picture? The installation of Isis was part of a project that enabled Gudgeon, the Halcyon Gallery (which donated the sculpture) and the Royal Parks Foundation to raise £2.2 million to fund the Isis Education Centre, an environmentally friendly resource in the heart of Hyde Park.

One of Gudgeon’s current projects, a series of animal and bird skulls cast in bronze, was inspired by a tiger skull he created in aid of the Born Free Foundation. He is also working with the One Drop Foundation, a project that aims to provide fresh water for everyone in the world.

“You get so depressed by what is happening in the world and when you do something, it lifts your emotions more than simply reading the newspapers and getting cross,” says Gudgeon. “If there’s one thing art can do, it’s to raise awareness.”

Sculpture by the Lakes, Pallington Lakes, Pallington, near Tincleton, Dorchester DT2 8QU. For more details, click here.

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