Where do your ideas come from?
I try and feed my imagination daily; I read a lot of books, watch lots of movies, I love plays, particularly anything Shakespearean, and I listen to a diverse range of music. I try new activities and visit new places whenever I can. I am open to ideas coming from anywhere; the idea for the ‘Monkey King’ came from a painting of the same title by an artist called Guo Hao Tao which I saw at an Arts Show back in 2007. The inspiration for ‘Pox, ship’s cook’ goes even further back to my childhood as I grew up on the South Coast of England where there were lots of historical stories of pirates and smuggling based on the history of that coastline.
Describe the steps involved in creating your works.
I’ll usually start by sketching and notating my ideas in a sketchbook and creating maquettes or little mock-ups of the sculpture using a cheap but heavyweight printer paper. I’ll choose the full range of papers for each sculpture and list them so I know before I start which paper will be used for each part of the sculpture. This can change as the work progresses but I like to be organised before I start. I create the naked figure of the sculpture first and then clothe them. There are no wires or wooden support structures inside my sculptures, they are just made entirely from paper, but they are incredibly strong because I choose carefully the right weight and thickness of papers and cut each paper so that it retains its strength and rigidity as I sculpt it. I fix the paper into place with a tiny amount of superglue. I use a gel superglue so that it doesn’t soak through the papers. I don’t paint the surface or varnish it, I let the paper remain as I found it, I’ve never seen any reason to alter the paper as they come in such an amazing variety of colours, textures and patterns. As I sculpt I’ll constantly photograph and rotate the sculpture, unless I’m sculpting a relief, so that I can see any flaws or design problems that need altering or fixing.
Often when a sculpture is complete I’ll fix it into a custom made display case and this too is part of the design process. For instance the ‘Monkey King’ in the photo is simply on a white background. However when I fixed him into his case the base of the case was black and so I hand-cut lots and lots of tiny black leaves and he looks as though he has just landed and the leaves are swirling around his feet. It’s so subtle that you almost don’t see them until you get close to the sculpture, but it works beautifully. I’m a perfectionist but I think the attention to detail throughout the sculpting process defines my work.
Are there any other materials you use beside paper?
I decided very early on in my career to be a purist; to use only paper. There’s such a wealth of diversity in paper that at the moment I don’t want to use any other materials. Right now I use superglue to hold the paper permanently in place but I think at some point in the future I would like to create a sculpture without the superglue. I am always open to new challenges and, who knows, this may mean a change in the materials I use, but I believe I will always be working primarily with paper.
How long do your sculptures last?
My sculptures are engineered and built to be permanent works of art.
What famous artists have influenced you, and how?
Caravaggio, for his use of chiaroscuro, strong light and dark shadow, and the drama his paintings have. His work captivates me and I am in awe of his talent and skill, particularly in the way he creates solid-looking, beautiful forms. Monet, for his sheer brilliance with colour and texture, his paintings give me an ethereal sense of calm, quite the opposite of Caravaggio. I also love the completely opposite styles of two illustrators, Arthur Rackham and Maxfield Parrish, both so expertly technical in their work and beautiful in their individual styles and equally gifted at storytelling. I love drama, technical achievement, colour and texture, so it’s only natural that these artists would captivate and inspire me.