Friday, 13 December 2013

20:20 Richmond - The Roehampton Watchers

Richmond London Art Painting
Julian Bovis, The Roehampton Watchers, 2013

The Roehampton Watchers was the original piece I created for my 20:20 Richmond exhibition in London and the concept was a surprisingly random one. I went to Richmond Park with my camera in hand, intending it to be the subject of my first work. But the more photographs I took the less inspired I became; Richmond is a beautiful park but I was convinced there must be more to it than just trees, ponds and those famous antlers!

When I got home later that night I did a Google search for 'Richmond Park' and buried deep down on page 7 of the results was a small grainy image of some sculptures I'd never heard of. I clicked on the link and suddenly I knew what my first piece was going to be.

Standing lonely in the grounds of Roehampton University next to Richmond Park stood three bronze sculptures by the renowned British sculptor Lynn Chadwick. I'd never seen these sculptures before but I was immediately drawn to their simplicity and their bleakness. It seemed rather odd that there were so few photographs of the sculptures but after a little more research I found out why.

The sculptures had been stolen.

Lynn Chadwick Sculpture
Lynn Chadwick 'The Watchers'
In the summer of 2006, just a few months after the University "discovered" the works standing in the grounds of their Devonshire House campus, a team of thieves cut the sculptures off at the legs and stole the three bronze figures. It was just one of 20 thefts of major British artwork in the mid-noughties and it got very little press. Only the Guardian ran a small piece on the theft; a sad ending to one of Lynn Chadwick's finest works.

Lynn Chadwick Sculpture Stolen

Because I wasn't able to visit the works it gave me the opportunity to re-work the sculptures and place them somewhere else in my mind. This, in the end, became a significant theme for the 20:20 Richmond exhibition; the re-invention of well-known buildings and landscapes.

I remember watching a documentary many years ago about the ground-breaking modernist housing estate at Roehampton; a collection of Brutalist residential concrete towers, looming over Richmond Park and upsetting the traditionalists. The Alton Estate was ridiculed in the press and I'm sure Prince Charles would have choked on his Rice Krispies when reading about it in the The Daily Telegraph over breakfast!

The more I thought about the towers at Roehampton the more I thought about Lynn Chadwick's sculptures and how similar they both were; tall, lonely figures, foreign in their environment and years ahead of their time. Suddenly I saw the composition of my first piece; I'd relocate Lynn Chadwick's pieces in front of the tower blocks and combine the two. It seemed so simple.

Sharpie Pen Artwork
Constructing the composition by placing the sculptures in front of the tower blocks

Often, when an idea crystallises itself so rapidly, I have to start work immediately. And this was no exception. I drove down to my studio at 9pm in the evening and started to map out the basic bones of what was to become 'The Roehampton Watchers'.

By placing the sculptures in front of the tower blocks, they instantly formed a relationship together and the tower blocks took on a kind of human form. The water storage tanks atop each tower began to look like faces and there became a forlorn atmosphere to the piece.

London Tower Block Art Painting
The first few lines drawn and testing dark black shapes for windows

I drew all of the tower blocks by hand, using Rotring Pens for the fine lines and Sharpie markers for the windows. The dark black windows gave a lonely hollow feeling to the building, helping to give it more of a dark, human form.

When drawing the Lynn Chadwick sculptures I used a gold pen to fill in the spaces and create depth within the work. Suddenly the bronze figures jumped to the forefront of the painting and took on a three-dimensional life of their own.

It took me a week or so to finish the piece and when it was done, I rolled it up in one of the 30 cardboard tubes I'd bought from Eastman Staples in Huddersfield and took it down to London. It was important that we see how it looked in the gallery to make sure the new style of artwork would suit the space.

Volvo V70
Loading the art tubes from Eastman Staples, the friendliest people in Huddersfield!

Even though the original piece I'd created was too large for the gallery, it was a relief to see how well the black, white and gold colours and the stark architectural content fitted with the gallery space. The finished piece has an eerie quality about it, despite its architectural and sculptural heritage, and this helped to bring it to life in the white stark space.

London Art Gallery
Testing how the piece might hang in the gallery, Spring 2013

When I returned to my studio I finished the piece by adding extra detail to the reed mace that surrounded Lynn Chadwick's sculptures. Of course, the reed mace didn't actually exist, but I wanted some kind of natural plant that mirrored the sculptures and the tower blocks and reed mace seemed to fit the bill. It also added to that eerie quality. You can almost hear the quiet wind whistling around the sculptures and through the reeds.

London Art Painting Famous
Finishing off the final details

London Painting Drawing Famous
Finished and awaiting cutting down from the wall and framing


Julian Bovis Invitation

20:20 Richmond is a solo exhibition by urban landscape artist Julian Bovis. Located at the Architect's Gallery in London, the show launched on November 28th 2013 and runs until Spring 2014.

20:20 Richmond Click here
The Architect's Gallery Click here

20:20 Richmond, The Architect's Gallery, Broad Street, Teddington, TW11 8QZ.
Telephone: 020 8977 6999
Map: Click here

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