Thom Puckey is a sculptor. You might have seen his work. Or you might have not been so lucky. Which is incredibly unlucky. If you are the latter I suggest you don’t go near any intersections today because you’re likely to get hit by a bus with the kind of luck you have. But you can be lucky now! Read his interview!
Can you explain the use of luxury pillows, women and weapons? Is there a particular message you intend the viewer to walk away with?
Interesting you notice the pillows. The pillows, cushions and mattresses are sometimes ways I choose to avoid using little pedestals and bases under the feet or bodies of the figures. It’s nice that their softness rhymes with the softness of the figures. In addition they form a strong contrast with the hardness and angularity present in the weapons. A cushion is also a thing to present something else on, a place of honour in a way. Thus my figures are presented to the world. There’s a lot to say about the nude female figures and the weapons. Lots to say and nothing to explain. The contrast between them is obvious: woman as giver of life (potentially) and weapon as taker-away of life (potentially). The visual appearance of both items has held me and fascinated me since I can remember. it’s akin sometimes to an adolescent’s fascination, irresponsible, I have to admit it. It’s strange: the nude has been a subject for sculpture, through the centuries. Weapons and violence have also figured in art & sculpture, for centuries. The nude with gun, this image, has evolved more recently, in sub cultures, seedy or whatever. I combine and mix all these things, different traditions, antique and less antique. The Freudian connotations of guns/bodies are exquisitely obvious, pure kitsch, I love them.
The sculptures aren’t saying anything in any direct fashion. They are composed of contradictions, yet they are beautiful. The viewer walks away with complex, unresolved feelings. That’s the ideal outcome, nothing’s finalised, the matter remains in the mind, like I said – unresolved. It stays with you.
How long does it take you to complete the average piece?
I can spend between 2 months and a year only working on the sculpture in clay. The molding and casting process, in plaster, takes about a month. To carve and finish the works in marble takes between 3 and 4 months.
Figure Falling Backwards with 2 Carbines, 2010, Marble, Life Size.
How do you start? Where do you get inspiration?
I start each time with a live model, a girl, always someone I know, always an art student or young artist. I’m usually on a roll, the ideas form themselves in my mind, there’s a need to begin a new work, I make an appointment with my model, try some poses out, test the ideas against the live image appearing before my eyes. Sometimes the model recognises something in the idea or pose that she can identify herself with; some connection with her own life or experience. That provides a foundation for me, strengthens the thing developing. I borrow or steal poses and attitudes from other art works, at the moment I have an obsession for the the 19th century. Ingres, Canova, Lorenzo Bartolini. Is it about inspiration? I don’t know. I don’t like the word. Photo-blogs and new young art-photography give me great pleasure to look at, and awaken new ideas.
Take us through your process. How do you know when you’re finished?
When I’m sure of the pose, I construct an iron armature, welded together. This is the skeleton I build my clay figure over. I spend long hours with the model. I photograph her extensively, and use the photos to continue working when she’s not there. My process is full of mistakes, and much of ny time is spend correcting these mistakes. I know next to nothing about classical anatomy. I’m dependent on the visual phenomenon in front of me, like a complex landscape, with its own hills, valleys. It must ‘look right’, and it’s a long process of trial and error before it gets there. I’m usually finished because I have to be finished. There’s a deadline, set by a gallerist usually. That’s good for me. But finished in clay is not the end of the process. Then it has to be cast in plaster, then transported to Italy (near Carrara), then carved in marble. More chance to achieve a refined ending.
Isabelle Schlitz as Crawling Figure, 2010, Marble
Did you go to school for art?
Yes I spend 8 years at art schools, bachelor and master. I got my Master of Fine Art degree at the Royal College of Art in London, 1975.
How have you benefited from what you studied?
Many ways. Most of all in meeting other students/young artists. But also understanding that art is a subject, like philosophy, a subject to love and study.
How do you think being self-taught effects the end product of an artist’s work?
Francis Bacon was self-taught.
Mitrailleuse, 2008, Black Marble
Who are your favorite artists?
20th/21st century: Pierre Klossowski, John Currin, Michael Kirkham, Kiki Smith, Francis Bacon, Pierre Bonnard, Marcel Duchamp, Stanley Spencer…..
earlier: Canova, Bartolini, Ingres, Dupré, Bernini, Bellini, Millais, many many more…
Photography: Araki, William Klein, Diana Arbus, Larry Clark, etc.
But the films of Tarkowski, Sokurov, Scorcese, Godard, Kiarostami, Werner Herzog, Wong Kar-Wei and others have affected me and influenced me as much as work by fine-artists.
The writings of Maurice Blanchot are of incredible and I believe of ever-lasting importance to me.
How have they inspired you? What have you learned from their work and how do you apply those ideas to your own work?
I don’t learn really in any direct sense, but by example. I learn too because I’m jealous of their achievements and want to be better than them, but I know I won’t be…. From film: I learn about composition, structure, image, scene and narrative.
How have you seen your own work change from when you first began?
Yes greatly. You only need to go through my website to see this.
Have you experimented with other media besides sculpture?
My course in art began with painting, then to installation, then music-theatre, then performance art, then installation again, then sculpture. I’m not an experimenter however.
Kim de Weijer as Amputee with 3 Pistols, Marble
Where are you from? What was it like growing up? What kind of kid were you in school?
I’m from Croydon, England. Just south of London. I grew up in a dirty postwar urban environment, we lived between the airport and the gasworks. My childhood was coloured by tragedies. I was useless at school, with a speech impediment. I hated most lessons and all sport. I was saved by English literature and fine art. A new kid told me about Hemingway and about the surrealists: it set me free.
Where do you see yourself in three years? How do you intend to challenge yourself between now and then?
Challenge is exactly the right word! I want to improve in a technical sense, I want to get my work better and better. The big questions for me are ‘will the weapons become redundant’, ‘if so what will replace them, what will give the works the edge they need?’ The figures will remain, I’m sure of that. I’m exploring ways of making them even more explicit without them becoming pornographic.
I moved from London to Amsterdam in the late 1970s. Maybe I’ll be living permanently in Italy in 3 years time. We bought a house there a few years ago.
What’s next for you, whether series, shows or swashbuckling?
I’m thinking of a set of marble sculptures directly and obviously portraying self-mutilation, with blade or knife. but beautiful and without great drama. Some young people cut themselves only to see themselves bleeding, to see the blood, almost for aesthetic reasons. I have gallery shows lined up in Berlin, Amsterdam, Pietrasanta (Italy), maybe Antwerp….. America awaits me, sometime. A big solo show in the autumn in an converted old 1st and 2nd World War fort just outside of Amsterdam will place my little scenes in a very acute and rough context. Exciting!
A.V. with Knife and RPG-7, 2009, Marble
Photos by Thomas Lenden.