Other Dimensions, Free Writing and Monumental Bronze Sculpture with David Breuer-Weil

Lucy: David Breuer-Weil is a painter and sculptor. His works have been installed in major public spaces in London, including Hampstead Heath, Hanover Square, Grosvenor Gardens, and Marble Arch, among many others. And his work can’t help but stop you in your tracks. It’s not of this world, it’s fragmented parts of things. It’s out of another dimension. I began our conversation about monumental contemporary sculpture today by asking when sculpture first came into his life.

David: Well, it was pretty early on, actually. I remember, as a kid, I went to the Camden Art Centre. They had a class of clay, doing clay work. And I remember making a bird’s nest out of clay with little eggs and feeling that magic of turning clay into something almost like living or into forms, you know, little eggs and birds and little creatures. So that was quite a strong memory. And there was a second memory associated with that. In school, they gave us a brown paper bag and told us to make something out of it. And I remember very clearly making a cat’s head out of them and thinking, “Wow, that’s so nice to transform something kind of throwaway into an object.” No, but also I had it in the family because my father is a sculptor and a jeweller. So I grew up with it in the family as well.

Lucy: And did he encourage you?

David: Yes, I would say so. I mean, he told me it was a difficult life, for sure, but he did encourage me.

Lucy: Yeah, I think often, actually, when there’s somebody around you that is kind of creative as well — I’ve never heard anyone say it’s an easy life…

David: Yeah. That’s right. Yeah.

Lucy: …but nearly always wants to share it with somebody else. I know my own son is thinking of going to art as well although everybody else advises him to go into engineering, which I think would be very dull.

David: Right. Absolutely. Well, maybe a bit of both.

Lucy: Yes. Yes, that’s true. There certainly is that in bronze anyway.

David: Yeah, absolutely.

Lucy: And so was there a sort of development that happened through school for you or did it come later?

David: Well, it kind of came later. So I was doing a lot of drawing and some painting as well. And then I went to the Central Saint Martins School of Art. And when I was there quite quickly…I’ve always painted as well as sculpted, but we’re very close to the British Museum there. And I used to go to the British Museum a lot, look at the Egyptian and Greek and Roman Cypriot sculpture. And that was a big inspiration. And I kind of started making sculptures even then that are quite similar to what I’m doing now. And I had a great teacher, his name was Shelley Faucett. He was actually one of Henry Moore’s assistants. So there was that connection to sort of older, British sculptors.

Lucy: Yeah. And so you regularly went to the British Museum and enjoyed all those freedoms that I think there aren’t anymore. You can’t just potter off the street now and visit anything. You’ve got to book.

David: Absolutely. Yeah, no. So the British Museum has always been a kind of mainstay because you see that something like sculpture really is a kind of timeless pursuit. And, you know, art changes with time but I have a sense that probably that’s quite an eternal art form.

Lucy: And how did you find Saint Martins?

David: Well, I liked it. A lot of people kind of dropped out after a while. But at that time, it was in Holborn in Southampton Row, the large building so it had all these big empty studios. A lot of the students didn’t even show up so I had these big studios to myself half the time. So that was really good. And I started working with plaster then which is a great medium.

Lucy: Yeah, definitely. I could see it with your style because your work is quite textured very often.

David: That’s right.

Lucy: So actually plaster would be wonderful for sort of shaping that kind of surface.

David: Absolutely. What I used to do is pour these pails of plaster on the floor, make these big sheets of plaster and then smash them up into little broken bits and then assemble the figures out of that. And that started even then. I still do that and that started even then.

Lucy: Wow. So almost like mosaic kind of sculpture.

David: It’s a bit more like broken glass I would say. It’s not glass, it’s plaster but it’s that sort of shattered kind of almost aggressive look, but then you kind of lovingly put it back together again. And that can give a piece a lot of texture and detail.

Lucy: It sounds to me like you’re a frustrated restorer, actually.

David: In some ways. Yes, in some ways. Yeah, yeah, there’s definitely that element.

Brothers and Alien at St Pancras New Church by David Breuer-Weil ©

Lucy: So was it straight out of college that you managed to make a career of it or were there a few twists and turns along the way?

David: Definitely twists and turns. I mean, in terms of sculpture, obviously, it’s very expensive to make sculpture in bronze. So, early on, I was making it out…actually, I was using raw stone that I put together with resin and assembled that way. But in the early stages of my career, I was also working part-time at Sotheby’s in various departments. So that was helpful. And actually, in terms of large scale sculptures, it’s really only in the last twelve years that I’ve gone really public with that. It was mainly painting and drawing before it.

Lucy: But was that always there? Were you always in the back of your mind thinking, “I’d like to produce something large?”

David: Yes. So the early influence for sure is I used to go with my mother to visit Stonehenge and the Avebury Stone Circles.

Lucy: Magnificent.

David: Yeah, those sort of prehistoric monuments. And it was always like, in my gut, I’d like to do something kind of monumental based on that kind of look, you know, kind of monolithic images. And that’s kind of what I started doing around 2010. Before that, I had been doing these large kind of installations of interrelated paintings called “The Projects”. That was a series of exhibitions held at various venues like The Roundhouse and Oxo Tower, and those were kind of subterranean, almost like cave paintings.

Lucy: Brilliant spaces there, though.

David: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Yeah.

Lucy: It kind of amazes me that Sotheby’s didn’t get their hooks into you and keep you rather than…you know, because when you’re getting your bills paid by that kind of work, which is wonderful as well, it’s slightly safer than being a professional artist, isn’t it?

David: Well, I think, like in art college in Saint Martins, pretty much all the artists that were teaching us had teaching work as well. And generally, a lot of younger artists come to me and ask me about, you know, what they’re going to do and what they want to do. And I always say, if you don’t want to ruin your work, it’s not such a bad thing to have something else to maintain you in the early years. I mean, later on, it might take off a bit. You know, you earn some money out of it. But it’s fairly rare, I think, for an artist to be completely self-sufficient from the very word dot. And almost perhaps irresponsible of the colleges not to teach them that.

Lucy: Yeah. And actually, you do learn lots of skills from other types of work, don’t you? Which becomes useful if you’re going to run your own show later on.

David: Well, yes. I mean, I often compare it to writers. You know, some of the greatest writers in history had other work as well. And that actually enriched their work because it gave them subject matter often. You know, sitting in a studio all day long doesn’t necessarily give you subject matter to get your teeth into. Now I understand making art can take…well, actually writing a book is pretty time-consuming, too. So it is a good comparison.

Visitor II by David Breuer-Weil ©

Lucy: And so do you remember that first piece of work that you sold? Do you remember that first job?  Or has it paled into insignificance now?

David: Well, actually, I sold from quite early on. When I was very, very young, even in my teens, I was painting a lot. And they actually sold fairly well. I think the thing to know…what most artists need to know is that it’s not consistent. You know, you can have a really great period of either producing or selling and then that changes and can go away and then come back. It’s not necessarily a consistent thing. So I’ve had, kind of, many of those moments where suddenly, “Wow, look at that. Look what I’ve sold,” or, “Look what’s gone out there.” And that’s great. But it’s a question of keeping it going in the long term.

Lucy: Yeah. Momentum is, yeah, quite a hard thing to sustain. So what do you think it was that gave you traction then?

David: I had the sort of, like, very strong vision about what I wanted to do. And I think probably the first really…I mean, I did a lot of shows and galleries like the Boundary Gallery and different…I was always showing in these galleries, commercial galleries. But what I think really gave the punch was in 2000 I did this big show at The Roundhouse called “The Project”, which was of seventy really vast canvases interrelated, which was a vision I’d had that I really wanted to do this very, very ambitious installation of paintings that really made a point about history and identity. And I think that kind of…I suppose it created a kind of “wow factor” that then carried me through after that.

Lucy: It’s a big space there, isn’t it? You would have to have a really big vision to fill it actually. I mean, from what I’ve read about your work, I understand that there’s lots of stages to it. It’s a sort of journey before you get to the sculptural part, maybe. Would you agree with that?

David: Oh, yes. I mean, because a lot of my work is pretty…it’s very physical, but it’s also very conceptual. So for example, there’s a piece called “Brothers” where two figures share one mind. And that ended up being a really large sculpture that was shown in Marble Arch for quite a long time. But that started its life as a tiny little drawing when I was a teenager based on the fact that my brother and I used to share the same dream quite continuously. So that starts as a very small little sketch, a little drawing, and then I may have painted it or made small sculptures. And then finally, it ends up as this, you know, large bronze piece. So a lot of my work has those phases because they have a kind of conceptual or idea-based origin.

Lucy: I love the idea that it sort of drifts through different mediums. And then, you know, maybe bronze is the most permanent material, perhaps, that there is, and so then that’s it. It’s the full stop.

David: Well, absolutely. And also the thing about large outdoor sculptures is, in some way, they’re quite different to painting or drawing where you may have quite complicated composition. But I think for an outdoor sculpture to really work, it’s very immediate. You know, you see it from a distance. It has got to click. So you really got to condense all those elements into one kind of monumental…thinking back again to like Stonehenge, one very, very kind of iconic image into which you’ve condensed all those thoughts from previous things. A painting can be, you know, kind of more meandering, if you like, more complex. A sculpture has to be very, very immediate.

Lucy: Yeah. And I actually think that there’s something about paintings — they’re in a space that you have to choose to walk into, you have to be the sort of person that wants to engage with paintings to be there. With public sculpture, if you do it right, I think it can just capture such a different audience and make people cross that boundary towards art, which they just possibly wouldn’t do if they had to walk through into an institution or even a private gallery or something.

David: That’s very, very true. And that’s partly why I moved from these big installations of paintings because people had to come to them. And I found, actually, you may have, I don’t know, 10,000 people coming to a show like that. But if you have a public sculpture in the middle of London, you may have 10,000 people seeing it every two, three days, most of them without even realizing it, or a lot of people will know the sculpture and not know the artist. But I kind of like that because you’re communicating with people who didn’t necessarily expect to see it, like you say. And in a way, it’s the ultimate street art, it’s the ultimate democratic art. And especially if the sculpture is not just decorative, if it has some kind of thought or idea behind it.

Lucy: I see a lot of humour in your work. I wondered if that was your intention or whether that’s just my own projection.

David: I studied a lot of Shakespeare. This is going to sound funny. And the thing we find with Shakespeare is that often tragedy and comedy are kind of different sides of the same coin. What’s that about is humanity, you know, kind of almost like the absurd nature of the human condition, which is both tragic and comic. So, for example, some of my pieces like you’ve got these giant feet sticking out the ground. It certainly has humour. But there’s also I think a kind of more intense side to it, you know, the idea of the outsider or the alien. That kind of thing. So there tends to be a double element of both humour and the other side in my work. That’s quite characteristic of it, I would say.

Lucy: And so, what’s it mostly about for you? Is it each project has a different theme or do you have something overarching that’s always in your work?

David: Well, I mean, I’ve got this private kingdom, a sort of imaginative world called Nerac, which I sort of started when I was about fifteen. And it’s a world of the imagination, which has different artists that I make up, and even different characters and different countries and identities. So there’s a very, very big iconography in my body of work in the drawings and the paintings, which is, it’s really like a whole kind of alternative universe. So different bodies of works tap into that in different ways.

I mean, often my work expresses something of the moment we’re in. So, for example, during Covid, I did a work called “The Coviad”, which is a very…it’s a vast drawing in pencil and gold leaf based on the Bayeux Tapestry, and it tells the story of, you know, the last eighteen months of Covid as a kind of panorama. So that’s an example of something very specific. And I do sometimes engage with current affairs in that way.

Lucy: So I’ve really never heard of that on an artistic level. I’ve heard many writers have whole worlds and even other people might take characters from their worlds and sort of spin off things. But I haven’t heard about that from a sculptor’s point of view. And it makes complete sense, actually.

David: Well, yes. I mean, a lot of the sculptures are actually characters who’ve sort of drifted off from my internal world and sort of landed in the real world. Maybe that’s partly, you know… a lot of them are called “Alien”. Maybe that’s really what the aliens are to some degree. They’re coming out of the imaginative world into the real world. So a lot of the sculptures are actually characters from my imaginative world.

Lucy: Do you have to keep track of them? I find that writing that I do, I have to make sure that I don’t forget details about certain characters, otherwise, somebody can end up with blue eyes who previously had brown eyes or something like that.

David: For sure, yeah, yeah. I mean, I think in a way fiction writing is more difficult in that particular way, because you need to be consistent. With art, those sort of transformations or inconsistencies can be quite okay and quite creative, even. So, I think it’s slightly different in that respect. But, yeah, I do have to keep tabs to some degree.

Visitor by David Breuer-Weil ©

Lucy: And do you have any kind of creative routine or practice that helps you access where you want to be when you’re creating a monumental contemporary sculpture?

David: Well, I would say I have ways of sort of entering into the unconscious. And that’s when I’m sketching or designing new works. I kind of go into a state where I’ll try and access the unconscious. But actually, at other times – and this is going to sound completely crazy – it’s almost a visionary thing. So, as an example, this “Coviad” work that I did based on Covid was inspired by…I’ve got a little book about the Bayeux Tapestry. And just picking it up, I suddenly got…I can only describe it as a sort of vision of what this thing would look like and then I’ll work towards it. So I think the mind plays interesting tricks but can also do wonderful things by giving you a kind of inspirational vision of what you want to do.

Lucy: So you actually give yourself time and space to sort of dream or envisage something that you’re not sure about what it is yet.

David: Yeah. And that comes down in… I was just watching a program about American inventors like Edison who invented the light bulb. And I think anywhere you’re exploring new territory, you have to sort of open up, be open to things that are not there yet. And that’s kind of a state of mind, you know, just to open yourself up to those ideas or thoughts that are not quite there yet.

Lucy: A sort of discovery path.

David: Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. Absolutely right. Yeah. And one of the ways of doing that, if you have a little sketchbook, what I do is I jot down ideas with no censorship at all. You know, normally when we draw something, we kind of stop ourselves from, you know, or kind of self-censor, and I don’t. I just absolutely first thing that comes into my mind, just scribble it out.

Lucy: Right. And then it’s there and it may fade into the background or it might become something.

David: Well, yeah, the vast majority of these scribbles become nothing. You know, for every sculpture or painting or even drawing that is finished and complete, there’s a lot more behind it. Things that never make it past that stage.

Lucy: Yeah, I find with a lot of my plotlines that it has to be something that keeps coming back to me, a bit boomerang-like. If it keeps reappearing in maybe slightly different forms, then I think, “Oh, I’m supposed to take notice of that.” Because…

David: And that’s really interesting what you’re saying, because I find that, you know, I keep little albums of early drawings, some of them are tiny, like postage stamps. And I often find that things have come back again and again and again over many years, you know, the same image. So that has to have some kind of meaning.

Lucy: Yeah, it’s knocking on the door. It wants to come in.

David: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.

Lucy: So has it been a good career for you? Has it been fulfilling or has it been at times very frustrating?

David: Look, I think there are very few things as fulfilling as that. And all the ups and downs, you know, I have friends who, let’s say, went into law or other things. And once they leave the company, often you feel it may have been, you know, a satisfying career in certain ways, but often people don’t have that much to show for it. And I think with something like this, for all the struggles involved, you actually feel you’ve really got something to show for it at the end or something…maybe not even that, but just that you’ve been able to express a small part of yourself. Somebody once said to me when thinking about these things, you can say to yourself, “It’s a small thing, but it’s my own.”

Lucy: Good saying,

David: Yeah, it is a good saying, no?

Lucy: Yeah, very good. It’s taken a while to get to where you’re at now. But is there further that you’re hoping to go to? Have you got your eye on some spaces that you’d like your monumental contemporary sculptures to be in that they haven’t already adorned?

David: I mean, I’m quite satisfied with the spaces I’ve had in England, let’s say, and in a few other countries, too. I’m probably looking…I’ve got some pieces in America as well but I’m always… Actually, funnily enough, what I’ve been doing very recently is taking photographs. I’ve been able to travel again in France and in America and a couple of other places. And what I do is I take photos of spaces and actually paint in on the photo an image of a sculpture that I would dream of having there. And I may even issue those as NFTs. Talking NFTs. No, because they’re sort of virtual sculptures.

Lucy: Yeah, very nice idea. I love that.

David: Yeah, yeah.

Lucy: But also -I mean, I suppose it depends whether you believe in these kinds of things, and I don’t know if it works or not – but you know that thing of envisaging something so clearly that you kind of manifest it, that it might bring it forward if you’ve got it that clearly in your mind?

David: Yeah. What’s that film? If you build it they will come or something?

Lucy: Yeah. Something of dreams. “Field of Dreams.”

David: “Field of Dreams.” Yes, exactly.

Lucy: But I think there’s probably more to it than that. But all the work that goes on behind the scenes to bring things about.

David: Oh, yes, yes. I mean, the only thing I would say, in some ways – having been a painter and a sculptor – in some ways, being a sculptor is more straightforward, because there’s a lot less competition, I would say. I talk about it very practically. Because there’s not that many people doing, I would say, strong public sculptures, even globally. There’s an awful lot of very good painters out there.

Lucy: And I think there’s a real appetite for it. I know that some types of sculptures have had quite bad press. But there is a love of sculpture, a deep love of sculpture in the public’s hearts. The amount of people we have who return over and over again to see certain sculptures, you know, we get to be very aware of that because they come to talk to us, because they want to know what we’re up to. So I think that, yeah, that’s only going to get stronger, I think.

David: Well, I think you’re right. And I think it’s partly to do what we were saying about British Museum. You know, this art form goes back thousands of years to the very dawn of history and there’s no reason to think that that will change just because there have been changes in art history in the last 150 years. I think that’s kind of a short-term view because this is an eternal art form, or seems to be an eternal art form.

Flight at St Pancras New Church by David Breuer-Weil ©

Lucy: Yeah, very much so. Is there anything you’ve got going on in terms of monumental contemporary sculpture at the moment? Any interesting projects?

David: No, we just installed a new sculpture just opposite Euston station at St Pancras. Actually, it’s my largest sculpture. It’s called “Flight”. And it shows a flying person kind of taking off, which may be coincidental, but it’s kind of symbolic. It was at least until this week of, you know, somewhat a return to normal in terms of travel.

Lucy: I’ll be trotting over there tomorrow then. I’m at UCL tomorrow. So, that’s just at Bloomsbury so I’ll pop over and have a look.

David: Oh, brilliant. Okay. Yes. And part of it is to do with light. So it’s getting dark earlier now. And a major part of it in my mind anyway is the lighting. So you see the shadow of the sculpture with the real sculpture. I like that interplay between the very physical sculpture and then the sort of shadow, the light interaction at night. Because it’s against this very, very large wall. It’s a neoclassical wall. The building was built in the 1820s. It’s got this beautiful stone wall. So you see the shadows against that wall, which I quite like.

Lucy: Magnificent. And is it going to stay there or is it just on loan?

David: It’s there for eighteen months.

Lucy: Okay. David, would you like to tell everyone where they can find out a little bit more about you and your monumental contemporary sculptures?

David: Yeah, sure. The website, my website, which has ongoing information is Davidbreuerweil.com. Should I spell that out?

Lucy: Yes, if you don’t mind.

David: Yeah. D-A-V-I-D-B-R-E-U-E-R-W-E-I-L.com.

Lucy: And that’s your preferred place if people wanted to contact you, or do you have a social media platform you like?

David: Well, they could also type my name into Instagram. So that’s also possible.

Lucy: And that’s just your name as well.

David: Yes, it is. But there’s a hyphen between the Breuer and Weil on Instagram, I think.

Lucy: Perfect. Well, David, thank you so much for taking the time today. I really appreciate it.

David: Well, thank you. It’s a great pleasure to talk to you.

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