Stone Sculptor Andrew Smith Talks Figurative Art and Working on Tomb Raider

27 April 16 words: Olivia Scott

"I got a piece of marble, knocked some lumps off it, and it just worked"

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photo: Raphael Achache

You’ve been a stone sculptor for over 25 years. What was it that initially influenced you to adopt sculpture as your preferred art form?
I had a few different jobs after school but then got into the masonry trade through a three-year apprenticeship. I was a monumental stonemason for eight years – I used to carve a lot of angels and roses. From that I got into the carving part of things and that’s how I found out that I had a bit of a talent for it.

Tell us about your time at Pinewood studios…
I worked in the film industry for three years, on and off. It was very hard work and it was disappointing because, generally, weeks of your hard work passed before your eyes in seconds. But I worked on some nice projects, like The Mummy and Tomb Raider. I carved and painted a lot of polystyrene into different set props. Just so they could blow them up. But it was a fabulous place to work; it had a brilliant vibe and it was great to see how they make films with incredible budgets. I mainly got out because most of my work ended up in the skip, which was a bit soul destroying. Although it was good money and interesting, I wanted to develop my career as a sculptor rather than as a technician.

There are quite a few of your sculptures on display in public throughout the East Midlands, do you think that being based in Nottingham has opened up these opportunities for you?
I got the milestone commission for Market Harborough when I was still living in London, but I think creating those networks before moving here definitely helped me to establish a new customer base – more people noticed me and my skills. Which may have been part of the reason I was commissioned for the Bramcote Sunken Tower park sculptures. I find it quite nice that the commissions are in the same areas, though.

Is local culture a significant influence on your public pieces?
I made three benches for the Bramcote commission and because it was Lottery funded, it was very focused on history, nature and community. As part of the project, I did a few talks about the work I was doing, and working with schools and getting some ideas while working with local children and groups. Another reason I might have got the commission was because I photographed local buildings, built in the Victorian-era by the architects Watson Fothergill and TC Hine – that helped a lot with the designs and concepts I was trying to create.

Do you feel it’s important that there should be artwork in public spaces?
It’s really important, especially for people to have the opportunity to see how they are created. A lot of the time, people see stuff arrive and be put in place but don’t actually see it being made. I like to involve people in the process and invite them to see what I’m doing and how I’m doing it – it helps people appreciate things a lot more. Like, with the job I did for Barrow upon Soar, Leicestershire, I invited a few groups down to my workshop and tried to help them get a deeper understanding of how big, how heavy and how much work it was.

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You do a lot of private commission work. You work free hand, do you ever find it hard to satisfy your customers’ expectations?
Generally I’ll make a clay model so that I can give the customer some idea of where I’m going with it. There have been times where I have been commissioned on the basis that I can go where I want with it, which is always fun. Usually though, if someone gives me a commission it’s because they’re looking for my ‘fingerprint’ style, so in general it works well.

From memorials to figurative work, your artwork has a variety of focuses. Which are your favourite creations?
My favourite is definitely figurative; heads and nudes are the main thing. And I tend to do parts of the body rather than a full figure. Eric Gill has influenced me a lot, his sculpting has a tendency to work to the block, rather than completing something in the round [standing free with all sides shown, rather than carved in relief against a ground], which can sometimes make it look like it has been crafted from a mould. If you leave part of the material where the figure has developed from, it leaves a natural and hand-crafted feel to the sculpture.

What would you consider to be your most successful piece?
It was a lovely, marble, twisted nude that I sold almost immediately, unfortunately. It was about two-foot tall, a lovely size and pure white, with crystals in it, so the rough edges of it shimmered beautifully. It went into the gallery on Kings Road, London and sold within days. Part of me wishes I’d kept it. It was a spontaneous piece; I got a piece of marble, knocked some lumps off it, and it just worked.

Tell us about the left lion from a sculptural and architectural point of view…
It’s made of Portland stone, one of my favourite stones. Most of London is built with it, including St Paul’s Cathedral. It’s a great stone, carves really nicely, and it hardens so it survives well. The left lion is twenties art deco and you can see the blocks that it’s made of – it’s not one piece and it’s highly likely it would’ve been created by a team of technicians, masons and sculptors. I doubt it was a commission done by one sculptor, it would’ve been as part of the design for the building. It’s very classy though, and I think that the frieze along the top [of the Council House] is gorgeous.

Have you got any exciting events or new work coming up?
I’ve just started being represented by the George Thornton Gallery which is based in Nottingham. In May, I’ll be at the Lady Bay festival, which has been very successful for the past three years that I’ve been a part of it. It’s an open garden thing and it’s quite an artist-based community, so generally the people who go there are interested in what you’re doing and they’ll buy pieces. I’ve just bought a studio in Italy too and am planning to go and work there in the summer and bring some stuff back home. I’ve sold stuff in Italy previously and the people there really appreciate the direct carving approach I have, so it has the potential to be very successful.

Do you have anything else to say to LeftLion readers?
As a sculptor, I know that it can be quite difficult for people who are interested in carving to explore it further because it’s not a very mainstream profession and it’s hard to know of places to learn about it. So if any of you have an interest in carving stone or just want to learn what it’s all about, just contact me and come and see me at my studio. Also, pop into the George Thornton Gallery or go and see the public sculptures to see a little more of what my artwork is all about.

Andrew Smith website

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