Three Times at the Manchester Open

Three Times (1987 - 2021. plaster, acrylics, varnish)

Three Times (1987 - 2021. plaster, acrylics, varnish)

Three Times is a small piece of sculpture made up of three parts. Two of the parts were initially made as separate pieces. All three were made at different times, spanning a period of around thirty-five years in all. It will be exhibited as part of the Manchester Open, at the art venue Home, in central Manchester early in 2022.

Three Times is made from blocks of plaster, which were carved and then coated, coloured or varnished. In the case of the centre and right-hand pieces, they were then left outdoors for years, and now carry the signs of weather-damage and erosion. The current piece is intended to be viewed from above, with the three pieces arranged in a row, laid out in a glass-topped case or on a shelf.

The carving on the left-hand side is the most recent, begun and completed in 2021 when I decided to make the piece into a triptych. By then, I'd decided the piece would include notions of time and memory in its subject matter. As with many – perhaps all - of the things I make, there's a strong narrative element at work here. Although the carving technique and the soft, crumbly nature of the plaster informed the content to some extent during the carving phase, it wasn't long before some more-or-less recognisable forms began to emerge. Here is a forest, something out of folklore and stories first heard in childhood. An owl and a small, monkey-like boy gaze dolefully out at the viewer. A strange mother and son pairing, they cling to the left side of the composition. An arrangement of organic shapes form a claustrophobic landscape around them.

The carving in the centre is the oldest. It's probably among the first plaster carvings I ever attempted, made from a hardened block of undercoat plaster, or browning, which had been left behind after some building work at our flat in Leyton. It was begun shortly after I'd graduated from a fine art degree course at North East London Poly, then based in Greengate Street, Plaistow, The profile in the foreground was intended as a portrait of my partner, Elaine, with the short hair cut she wore in the mid 1980s, when the piece was carved. The other figures are generic, and the rest of the composition, with its lunging, horizontal movement and its playful attitude to the rules of perspective, is in marked contrast to the serene foreground portrait. The dreamlike narrative, such as it is, emerged from the plaster itself. The top edge, and the form in the lower right corner (what this was originally intended to represent – if anything - I cannot now remember) suffered extensive damage over time. The piece was hung outdoors, subject to all weathers, and was later thrown into a cardboard box in the garden shed where it lay for years. The damage was an important element of my recent reworking of the piece in 2021, when I decided to make it part of a triptych.

The right-hand carving was begun a year or so after the piece in the centre, around 1988. Unsatisfied with initial results, I later tried painting and varnishing. After leaving it for a few more years, I tried spraying part of it gold. I left it hanging on a brick wall in the back garden for yet more years, until it ended up lost among the tendrils of a spreading honeysuckle, where the weather eventually penetrated its outer coating and erosion began to eat away at the upper edge. The result is a piece clearly marked by the passage of time, which first gave me the idea for the current triptych.

The title, Three Times, refers to the three pieces, which each represent a different moment or period of time, both in and of themselves, and as an illustration of particular times in my life. Referencing found objects and museum artefacts, evoking dream-like imagery and notions of time and place, the piece is intended to intrigue both the eye and the imagination. The experience of relocating to Greater Manchester in 2019, having previously lived all my life in London, probably triggered some of the thinking behind this piece. It will be shown in the Manchester Open art exhibition at the Home gallery space, 2 Tony Wilson Place, Manchester M15 4FN. from Monday 24th January to Sunday 27th March 2022.

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