David Begbie in Conversation...

Conversation with the Sculptor "In The Flesh"

Q: Have you always had a preoccupation with the human form?

A: Yes, despite the trends during my Art School years for non-figurative, abstract, minimal and multi-media activities. There are two main reasons for this preoccupation:

1. Because I can only work on things and subjects which I have a feeling and passion for.
2. I like to be involved in what interests me, not necessarily what is fashionable and popular - therefore, my commitment as such
enables me to explore the possibilities extensively.

Q: Would you say you are not interested in current trends?

A: I take notice. It is possible that my art influences trends in some respects - this should be true of any contemporary activity which integrates into the culture. Trends are often inventions based on a desire for society to categorize - or in some cases a way of justifying plagiarism. In general artists work with a very individual approach.

Q: When did you first start working in Steel mesh, what year?

A: I discovered the particular properties of steel mesh in 1977 at art school, at that time, I was working with more conventional solid materials - such as: plaster, wood, bronze, stone and fiberglass casting.

One of the reasons wire mesh is in art schools is because it is the traditional material for armature (the structure used for plaster sculpture where chicken-wire composes the basic skeletal form).

At any one time I would see many unsophisticated armatures for plaster sculptures - I thought these were completely unappreciated as a potential art form and decided to reinterpret the guts of the sculpture, as I saw it - a strong and important statement in its own right. At the time, I had no idea that this observation would eventually be the basic 'armature' of my future work and career.

In my own work I was composing figurative sculptures in space frame structures (still present today), and unlike conventional compositions, I was screening off the object with semi-opaque materials such as: frosted glass and plastics, cloth and fabrics and, of course, steelmesh. It was during this period I discovered that steelmesh could be modeled to a degree of sophistication - you can imagine the excitement, when I merged the object with its diaphanous screen so that they become one statement. This was important for its sheer sculptural economy and stunning visual succinctness and has continued to be an inspiration for me since. The ideas I was working with then and am working with today sprang from the initial discoveries about the material at that time.

All visual media is about the transformation of an ordinary material (industrial, domestic or otherwise) into a language expressing and communicating in a way that no other medium can.

Q: What are the unique/special properties of the Steelmesh?

A: Firstly, the mesh is manufactured flat off the roll and is a uniform grid structure machined with a relentless integrity. When the mesh with all its lines stretch into three dimensions, it has the psychological effect of creating a completely new type of space -that is space which it newly occupies when stretched.

Secondly, it is transparent - 90% thin air, yet it has as much and possibly more presence than a conventional solid form.

Because of this, I have been able to introduce the use of lighting as an integral part of a particular composition, combining two and three dimensions by using shadows - an optical fusion of image and object.

Q: Do you sculpt a series of bodies or are they one off creations?

A: I often work on more than one at a time that is variations of the same idea. Working with more than one sculpture enables me to achieve subtleties in each individual version which would otherwise be lost if each facet was contained in one piece.

Basically it stops me from overworking one piece, so that I can bring out particular characteristics separately over several subjects. Therefore, each sculpture is obviously unique.

Q: Where do you study Human Form?

A: Sometimes I use models. I am generally very aware of people - body movements and expression. Artists develop a way of seeing for their own purposes. Good sources of day to day study are: social contact, working out in the gym, the use of photos, TV and video plus an unknown degree of subliminal intake. I am also inspired by the work of artists such as: Rodin, Michelangelo, Medardo Rosso, Egon Schiele, many other painters and obviously my contemporaries. My sources perpetually evolve along with my experiences.

Q: Would you say you have a preoccupation with Health and Fitness?

A: Yes, well not a preoccupation, I am very interested in anatomy and it is a way of learning how my own body works - not just functionally, but also how we express ourselves on every level through body language.

We confront the world with our bodies on many levels, what we individually look and feel like, and how we see each other, is astonishingly important.

I am interested in how partial figures/fragments can become powerful forms of expression. I often deal with heads and torsos, hands and feet separately, because interestingly, they can say very different and surprising things; particularly if you understand that a torso alone has its individual character, moreover a 'personality'.

Q: In the past you have been compared to Rodin, Medardo Rosso and Michelangelo, how do you feel about these comparisons now?

A: Obviously there are similar concerns, particularly as Rodin was the first and most successful artist to consciously use a fragmented form as his subject, he also went on to deal with emotional, physical, passionate and violent expression.

Using wax as his medium, Medardo Rosso has been an intriguing influence. The majority of his mature works appear 'softly eroded' or transformed as if by the elements and evocative of the mysterious workings of the imagination - half formed personalities from the deep subconscious.

I look to Michelangelo who was the exponent of exaggerated physical form (mannerism). This is because I often have to exaggerate physical features due to the inherent properties and the nature of working with steelmesh. My concerns are precisely contemporary in that I am transposing a modern industrial material, in a much wider context in today's society. My sculpture is completely different because of the nature of the material although the results do sometimes strike the same chords.

Q: Is this the reason for your success?

A: My work is successful because it is a fascinating mix of classical qualities with a contemporary material. It is sculptural economy and succinctness with an ebullience of content and subtlety. It is also a marriage of figurative and minimal art.

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