MAKING AN IMPRESSION, Maschera Nobile AND PUBLIC MONUMENTS WITH PHILIP JACKSON

Philip Jackson is an award winning, prolific sculptor who has created some of our most well-known and well-loved public sculptures particularly in the UK but also elsewhere in the world including The Bomber Command in Green Park, Bobby Moore at Wembley Stadium, The Manchester United ‘Trinity’ sculpture, The Jersey Liberation Sculpture to name only a few and there are so many I could name all equally amazing. His creativity seems to know no bounds as he does an extraordinary amount of private work and exhibitions and in that work shows an entirely different side to his creativity. His distinctive Venice-inspired sculptures are brooding and ominous and for me, who loves the dark side of art, endlessly fascinating.

I began our discussion today by asking have you always been creative?

Philip: I think I probably have, yes. I mean, I sort of just decided to be a sculptor at the age of eleven. So I suppose you could say that’s for a very long time.

Lucy: And so was it someone at home that encouraged that, or school?

Lucy: Have you always been creative?

Philip: I think I probably have, yes. I mean, I sort of just decided to be a sculptor at the age of eleven. So I suppose you could say that’s for a very long time.

Lucy: And so was it someone at home that encouraged that, or school?

Philip: No, I went to boarding school very early. My parents were in West Africa. My father was in the colonial service. And so I used to go out to Africa every summer, but in the Christmas and Easter holidays, I would be farmed out to my grandmother or my great aunt. They were quite elderly so I had to, as it were, find my own amusement. But they did have very good libraries of books. And so I spent quite a lot of time reading. And I discovered Graeco-Roman sculpture and I thought it was the most extraordinary thing that these wonderful things could be made by the hand of man. And then, I think at the age of 11, I bought what I think was probably my first book, which was a secondhand book on sculpture that was being done by people that were actually still alive.

So I suppose the penny dropped that, you know, this wonderful thing called sculpture had been done since Graeco-Roman times and before, right up to the present time. And I thought, well, you know, that’s what I want to do.

So I suppose that’s really how it came about.

Lucy: Right. Did you then start to pursue it more?

Philip: Yes. I mean, my school really didn’t teach art in the way that schools teach art these days. And so I, sort of, ploughed a fairly lonely furrow to try and find out how you carve things, how you model things, and all that sort of thing. And then at the appropriate age, I was staying with my great aunt and I said to her, “Look, you know, I think I want to go to art school.” And so I went for an interview and everything and got in. And, you know, so it’s gone from there.

Lucy: Were they pleased at home to hear that you want to go to art school or would they have much rather you had a different profession?

Philip: Well, I doubt this is the one they would have chosen for me, but I think that at that stage I was showing some sort of ability in drawing and doing things like that. So I think they probably felt that it was something that I had a natural leaning towards. And my parents were in West Africa and in a way were, sort of, out of the decision-making process. So that’s how it came about. My great aunt, I have to say, was a very formidable woman and I’m not sure that the principal of the art school that I went to was particularly keen on having me, but my great aunt made Lady Wellington in “The Importance of Being Earnest” look quite tame. “No” was not a word that featured in her vocabulary. So I found myself in art school, I have to say, probably much to her credit.

Lucy: Right. Well, you always do need a cheerleader behind you, I think.

Philip: Yeah, you do.

Lucy: I think sometimes we’re a little bit slow to come forward. So especially when you’re quite nervous about your abilities at the beginning of life. And which art school was it?

Philip: I went to Farnham many years ago. It’s changed into something rather grand. I think it’s the West Surrey College of Art and Design or something, but in those days it was just Farnham Art School.

Lucy: And it was a general course or sculpture specifically?

Philip: Well, it was general, to begin with, and then you specialised in your chosen subjects and mine was always sculpture. I mean, I really didn’t feel particularly simpatico with painting or any of the other things. I just wanted to do sculpture. So I was fairly single-minded about it.

Lucy: And so when did it become a job? When was that first commission or payday for your work?

Philip: It’s interesting you should ask that, because one of the things I realised at art school is that most of the people that I was there with went into teaching, and the last thing I wanted to do was to go into teaching. I really wanted to do the thing. And so I wondered, you know, what sculptor students actually became. Because if you were a doctor, you were a medical student, and then you became a junior houseman or that sort of thing; if you were in the legal business, there was the same ladder up which you climb. But with sculptors, you seemed to climb a ladder and then fall off the top.

And so I made a decision that actually, if you were going around to see people about doing a commission or doing a job or whatever it was, you couldn’t actually lug a large piece of stone or a bronze around with you, so you had to take photographs. And so I learned how to take photographs, and I learned how to take photographs well. So there’s no point in doing a good sculpture and taking a bad photograph of it. So I learned how to do photography. And so when I left art school, I, funnily enough, got a job as a photographer and went round and did stories about various people and various things in the, I think it was, the Surrey area. And one of the people I did a story about was actually a commercial art studio. And I did the story and then I said to them, “Look, do you happen to need a sculptor?” And they said, yes, they did. And so I gave up photography and took up a job as a sculptor. So that’s how it started really. So I worked with the company for about fourteen years and became the managing director eventually.

Philip: No, I went to boarding school very early. My parents were in West Africa. My father was in the colonial service. And so I used to go out to Africa every summer, but in the Christmas and Easter holidays, I would be farmed out to my grandmother or my great aunt. They were quite elderly so I had to, as it were, find my own amusement. But they did have very good libraries of books.

And so I spent quite a lot of time reading.And I discovered Graeco-Roman sculpture and I thought it was the most extraordinary thing that these wonderful things could be made by the hand of man.

And then, I think at the age of 11, I bought what I think was probably my first book, which was a secondhand book on sculpture that was being done by people that were actually still alive. So I suppose the penny dropped that, you know, this wonderful thing called sculpture had been done since Graeco-Roman times and before, right up to the present time. And I thought, well, you know, that’s what I want to do. So I suppose that’s really how it came about.

Lucy: Right. Did you then start to pursue it more?

Philip: Yes. I mean, my school really didn’t teach art in the way that schools teach art these days. And so I, sort of, ploughed a fairly lonely furrow to try and find out how you carve things, how you model things, and all that sort of thing. And then at the appropriate age, I was staying with my great aunt and I said to her, “Look, you know, I think I want to go to art school.” And so I went for an interview and everything and got in. And, you know, so it’s gone from there.

Lucy: Were they pleased at home to hear that you want to go to art school or would they have much rather you had a different profession?

Philip: Well, I doubt this is the one they would have chosen for me, but I think that at that stage I was showing some sort of ability in drawing and doing things like that. So I think they probably felt that it was something that I had a natural leaning towards. And my parents were in West Africa and in a way were, sort of, out of the decision-making process. So that’s how it came about. My great aunt, I have to say, was a very formidable woman and I’m not sure that the principal of the art school that I went to was particularly keen on having me, but my great aunt made Lady Wellington in “The Importance of Being Earnest” look quite tame. “No” was not a word that featured in her vocabulary. So I found myself in art school, I have to say, probably much to her credit.

Lucy: Right. Well, you always do need a cheerleader behind you, I think.

Philip: Yeah, you do.

Lucy: I think sometimes we’re a little bit slow to come forward. So especially when you’re quite nervous about your abilities at the beginning of life. And which art school was it?

Philip: I went to Farnham many years ago. It’s changed into something rather grand. I think it’s the West Surrey College of Art and Design or something, but in those days it was just Farnham Art School.

Lucy: And it was a general course or sculpture specifically?

Philip: Well, it was general, to begin with, and then you specialised in your chosen subjects and mine was always sculpture. I mean, I really didn’t feel particularly simpatico with painting or any of the other things. I just wanted to do sculpture. So I was fairly single-minded about it.

Lucy: And so when did it become a job? When was that first commission or payday for your work?

Philip: It’s interesting you should ask that, because one of the things I realised at art school is that most of the people that I was there with went into teaching, and the last thing I wanted to do was to go into teaching. I really wanted to do the thing.

And so I wondered, you know, what sculptor students actually became. Because if you were a doctor, you were a medical student, and then you became a junior houseman or that sort of thing; if you were in the legal business, there was the same ladder up which you climb. But with sculptors, you seemed to climb a ladder and then fall off the top.

And so I made a decision that actually, if you were going around to see people about doing a commission or doing a job or whatever it was, you couldn’t actually lug a large piece of stone or a bronze around with you, so you had to take photographs. And so I learned how to take photographs, and I learned how to take photographs well. So there’s no point in doing a good sculpture and taking a bad photograph of it. So I learned how to do photography. And so when I left art school, I, funnily enough, got a job as a photographer and went round and did stories about various people and various things in the, I think it was, the Surrey area. And one of the people I did a story about was actually a commercial art studio. And I did the story and then I said to them, “Look, do you happen to need a sculptor?” And they said, yes, they did. And so I gave up photography and took up a job as a sculptor. So that’s how it started really. So I worked with the company for about fourteen years and became the managing director eventually.

Gale Force Nun, a sculpture by Philip Jackson, pictured during his one man exhibition Sacred and Profane, at the Bishop’s Palace in Wells, Somerset. Image author, Steve Lee from England.  Commons

Lucy: Okay. So it was actually a proper job with employment…?

Philip: Oh, yeah.

Lucy: Because that’s not always common with the creative industry.

Philip: I mean, we did a lot of work overseas in places like Africa and Saudi Arabia and the Far East and everything, so I got quite a bit of experience in that sort of thing. And that’s when I eventually left and set up my own studio. That’s where we looked for work, in those parts of the world. And of course, because there’s oil money and everything, they had the money to pay for quite large pieces of sculpture and, you know, decorative works.

Lucy: Yeah. You were talking about the photography of sculpture, actually particularly photographing bronze, that’s a real art…

Philip: It is, yes.

Lucy: …and people don’t always understand that, particularly if you have a large piece and it’s outdoors, you know, it just can look black, whatever you do. You have to be very good with controlling the light and managing to get the angle, to actually say what is it.

Philip: I agree with you. I mean, a lot of the work that I show, I show it while it’s in its clay state because I think the clay reads better in a photograph than the bronze does.

Lucy: Yes. I think you’re right, actually. It’s a little bit more forgiving as a material. And so do you have a creative practice? Do you have a routine to your day?

Philip: Well, I mean, as you know, sculpture gets done because you put the hours in. And so I try to start at 9:00 and I finish at about 6:00 or 7:00 in the evening with an hour off for lunch. And so, you know, you do have to put those hours in and I work a normal week. If the job requires it, then obviously I’ll work later or over the weekend, but I try to plan things that that doesn’t happen too often these days.

Lucy: That’s quite a long day to create. It would drain, I think, most people.

Philip: Well…

Lucy: No, because it’s not the same as emails and things like that. And not saying that administration isn’t hard work because it certainly is, but you’re giving a lot of yourself into something that’s creative. So that’s quite a long period. So it’s no wonder you have such a huge amount of work. I mean, you really are prolific.

Philip: I suppose compared to some people I am, yes. I work fairly consistently and fast, I suppose. And yes, you’re probably right.

Lucy: Yeah. And so do you have time in your day at all to feed the ideas that you have to come up with? Because I know that you have more than one aspect to your work, some of it is public commission, which obviously must have more of a remit, but there’s an awful lot of imagination that has to come into that.

Philip: I mean, with sculpture, and I suppose it’s true of other arts as well, there’s a lot of work which is not exactly hackwork, but you go on to automatic pilot. If you’re doing a 9-foot figure, you’re not thinking intimately about every square inch of it. A lot of it is just building up the bulk of it. I mean, obviously, you are thinking about what you’re doing, but your mind can also wander onto other things. And so while I’m working on, say, a public monument where there’s a lot of building up and that sort of thing, I’m probably thinking about some piece of gallery sculpture that’s developing in my mind.

And those gallery sculptures are probably inspired by things that I’ve seen, music, theatre, opera, great buildings, you know, a wonderful landscape, a lovely location, all those sort of things, or a story, or something that I’m reading. So ideas come and, sort of, I think about them. If I think the idea’s worth pursuing, then I will probably start doing little wax maquettes, probably no more than about 10-15 minutes spent on each one and I’ll see whether it’s an idea that’s going to work or not. And then if it is, I’ll take it to the next stage, which is to do a, sort of, all-singing, all-dancing maquette. And then if that works, then I’ll take it up bigger. So that’s the process that I would generally go through.

Lucy: I love this. I love the idea of the multitasking because there are phases. And one of the things that I find is that it’s quite therapeutic to be moving your hands in some way. And your mind…I’m not someone who listens to anything when I’m working so it’s very silent, and the ideas do trickle better when I seem to be doing something else. So even though it isn’t necessarily for that direct thing that I’m doing at that moment. So… meditative.

Philip: I do listen to quite a lot of music when I’m working. I work in my studio on my own and we’ve got other people in the building doing various things to do with the sculpture, but my studio is pretty much me only so I play music. And I find that the music will often alter the sculpture that I’m doing. And if you get some great operatic aria going, somehow the magic of it, the rhythm, the beauty of it, gets instilled into the sculpture. Or it should do, anyway.

Lucy: Yeah. I have to ask you about your beautiful Venetian-inspired figures. I’ve never worked on one of them, but I’m hugely admiring because I lived in Venice for a little while and I don’t think anyone who has ever had contact with Venice is ever the same again. But they are particularly fascinating to me, I think.

The Bomber Command by Philip Jackson © Antique Bro

Philip: Well, they came about, I didn’t know how long ago since I’m not very good on timing, but 30-35 years ago. So I was doing a commission for a ship that was being built and it was being fitted out in a place called Mestre, which is on the Venice Lagoon, sort of the Birkenhead of Italy. And I went out there to show the shipwrights how the sculpture should be fitted to the ship. And while I was there, the ship was towed backwards out of Mestre and into the arsenal on Venice itself. And so I saw Venice for the first time from the sea. And because I was out there on the ship working, I was able to visit the museums, the art galleries. And I came across the paintings of people like Canaletto and Guardi and Longhi and people like that, who were painting the Venetian Sea of the 17th and 18th century. And their paintings were inhabited by these cloaked and masked figures.

And I was intrigued why a hedonistic city like Venice should actually go in for this particular convention. And of course, it was because these rich patrician families who were known to everyone could do anything because they had the money, but they couldn’t offend against the social mores of the day.

But they could if they put cloaks and hats and masks on, because no one knew who they were. So they were then free to have affairs with their footmen, you know, carry out vendettas and all that sort of thing. And that intrigued me.

So when I got back from Venice, I started to do a series of figures that were masked. You couldn’t see the face. I allowed myself hands, and I used my contemporary interpretation of the Venetian costume, although in no way does it actually resemble it, the way I do it. And I produced a series of sculptures that later became known as the “Mask Series”. And that’s, in fact, culminated in a big exhibition in Venice in the Casanova Gardens behind the Cipriani Hotel, which was a great success. So that’s how those particular figures came about.

Lucy: Yeah. I mean, they really are quite special, I think. They needed to be in the world, large scale. And so could there have been another life? Could you have been something other than a sculptor? Or was that it?

Philip: No, I’ve never really thought about it. I mean, I’ve always felt that I’m very fortunate in life that I’m doing what I enjoy doing, and have had a modicum of success doing it. So I’m very happy. And I don’t lust after being a train driver or anything like that. I suppose if it wasn’t open to me, I would find something else that I would enjoy doing, but I’ve not really given it a great deal of thought.

Lucy: And have there been days where you’ve thought, “This is too hard, it’s not working”? Have there been any moments where you felt like giving up?

Philip: Yeah. I mean, I suppose…no, not giving up, but I think that some days I go into the studio and everything goes absolutely swimmingly. It goes quickly and swimmingly, and everything I do seems to be right and I wish the day could have 48 hours in it. And there are other days where perhaps you’ve got something on your mind, you go in and you work on something for 3 or 4 hours and you realise actually you haven’t progressed it one iota. And so, but most days are productive, but you do have the odd day where, you know, either it goes absolutely swimmingly well or where it really doesn’t.

Lucy: Yeah. And do you go for a walk, or is there something that helps you come out of that if you’re maybe a bit troubled about something or…?

Philip: Well, I mean, we’ve got two working cockers who need to be walked every day, so they get a walk every day, and that tends to clear the mind. I don’t know, I mean, I’m not sure that I suffer greatly from…

Lucy: Well, they call it writer’s block, I suppose, with writing, but there isn’t an equivalent, I suppose, for artists.

Philip: I think there probably is, actually, but some days, I have a flood of ideas, and other days I have to think quite hard about what I should be doing next.

Lucy: And obviously, you’ve come a very long way with your career, you’ve done some incredible public monuments, is there anything left to conquer now? Is there a spot you’ve got your eye on which you’d think, that needs one of my works there?

Philip: Well, no particular geographic spot, no. I mean, I’ve got this monument of the emergency services coming up. The clients are negotiating the site at the moment, so I hope that they’ll get something. One or two sites that we’re looking at would be rather good, so I hope they’ll get to one of those. So I’m very happy to do that. I mean, that will be about two years’ work as far as I am concerned. So…

Lucy: And it’s a big bronze. I saw the maquettes.

Philip: Yes, it’s a big bronze with six 8-foot figures on it.

Lucy: Brilliant. I do love the Bomber Command, which is obviously a very large group.

Philip: Yes. That’s been very popular, actually.

Lucy: Yeah. It’s just magic. We had to do the conservation work when it was vandalised. And having spent so long with each of those figures, it’s very special. So I think that would be fabulous to have another group like that. I think the public love it. I mean, they came from all over the world and had hugely gushing…many of them had come several times from far-flung places just to see it again.

Philip: Yes. It’s well visited. The other thing that’s quite good about it, which we thought would happen when we started, was that it would change people’s attitude towards Bomber Command. Because I think that before the sculpture was done if you said “Bomber Command” to anyone, they would say, “Oh, yes, but what about Dresden?”

Lucy: Yes.

Philip: And now, people don’t say that anymore. They say, you know, “Oh, 55,500 young men who gave their lives for the country,” which, of course, is exactly what they should say because the sacrifice was enormous.

Queen Mother Copyright Image details © Copyright pam fray and licensed for reuse under creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0

Lucy: Yeah, it really was. And I think that that’s right actually, I didn’t hear anyone with a negative response to the monuments. Obviously, there wouldn’t have been vandalism there if there wasn’t people…but I’m not quite so sure it was so specific to the Bomber Command, that hit.

Philip: Well, I don’t think that a lot of vandalism is specific to what the sculpture is about, because I think at the same time they had a go at Annals at War and something else.

Lucy: And it was on Bond Street, the Roosevelt and the statues there. So yes, I think it may have just been a…

Philip: I think you just have to look at it as just sheer vandalism.

Lucy: Yeah, for sure. And so any advice for other creatives on that journey? What does it take to be a professional sculptor? Is it all art or is there more to it than that?

Philip: No, I think there’s more to it than that. I think that you need to be able to work hard and consistently, and you need to persevere. If you think you’ve got the ability, you have to just keep going long enough so that other people will see it as well. Don’t get despondent if things don’t go well immediately. And you need to have a reasonably good sense of business and how things are done. You can’t be arty-farty and think that your talent will see you through.

Lucy: Carry you to great glory.

Philip: You do need to be business-like about it. Because remember that, on the public monument front, the people that you’re dealing with are generally…I mean, with the Bomber Command you’re dealing with the air force, with the gurkhas, you’re dealing with the army. They, on the whole, don’t deal with far-out artists. They want to know that they’re going get the job on time, it’s going be to the quality that they want. So you have to project that ability to do something efficiently on time and to a quality that will, you know, knock the spots off, as it were.

Lucy: Yeah. Did you get that, do you think, from that early experience in working for the commercial design firm, an art firm?

Philip: I suppose, in my early days, I did quite a bit of work for Henry Moore and I’ve found him to be one of the most business-like people I’ve ever known. He knew all about his own sculpture, all very well catalogued, he knew how to present himself, he knew how to get his name around, all that sort of thing, which actually people don’t realise. But, you know, you’re selling things for a great deal of money and therefore you have to project yourself in the right way.

Lucy: Yeah. So, would you say an equal amount of effort to be put into the business and the promotional side as there is to the creation, or is there a different split?

Philip:

I think you’ve got to be 100% sculptor, but you’ve also got to be reasonably savvy business-wise. But it can’t take it away from the amount of effort you put into the sculpture. So I suppose you have to be 150%.

Lucy: It’s not asking a lot, I mean, really!

Philip: Well, people aren’t going to beat a path to your door, that’s the point, so you have to make up for that. But, the thing is that if you’re in love with doing sculpture, it’s not a problem. You really have to be enthusiastic about it. And if anyone comes to me and says, “I’m thinking of doing sculpture but if I can’t get into so-and-so art school, I’m going to do, you know, weaving or something like that,” I’ll say, “Well, you know, don’t go in for sculpture because unless you’re so passionate about it, unless you can’t think of doing anything else, it’s not for you. Because it’ll be hard work and your path will not be easy to begin with.”

Lucy: But how can they possibly not want to just do sculpture? That’s what I’m always amazed at. I get quite a lot of work experience kids, and I’m always astonished that some are quite disengaged. Some are not enthusiastic about what we’re doing.

Philip: Yeah. Well, I mean, the truth is that they probably won’t make it, because I think enthusiasm is everything. Enthusiasm gives you the ability to work hard and consistently.

Lucy: Yeah. To be fair to them, some of them do come from backgrounds that probably have never had a door opened into the art world, and so maybe that’s why their schools have asked us to take them. But I always think that as soon as they lay eyes on something fantastic we’re working on, I always expect them to fall madly in love with it, and not all of them do. I suppose that’s the world.

And I know that you’ve got a smashing new book, which is on my Christmas list. I’ve asked my husband to email the studio for a copy, but I’m not sure he’s done it yet. But I saw that was on your website. And where else can people find out more about you?

Philip: Well, I mean, if you put “Philip Jackson sculpture” in the webs, it comes up with pages of stuff. There’s this new book, which you can get from Amazon or, I suppose, a lot of bookshops in this locality.

Lucy: Are you on Instagram, or have you got a preferred social media?

Philip: Yes, I am on Instagram. I don’t actually do it myself, someone is doing it.

Lucy: Okay. So they can just look you up and enjoy all your lovely public monuments?

Philip: Yes.

Lucy: Well, thank you very much for talking to us today.

Philip: Not at all. It’s a pleasure.

Lucy: I’m really thrilled to have had the chance. So keep working, please, very hard. We’re all waiting for the next sculpture. Thank you.

Philip: Good luck with your project, anyway.

Lucy: Thank you.

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