The 2018 PMSA Education team, Joanna Barnes, Leonie Summers and Tony Mott are delighted to introduce PMSA Mentoring, which we set up to support PMSA student members, who are emerging sculptors, by pairing them with established mid-career sculptors. The mentoring scheme consists of invaluable hands on practical experience – studio visits, shadowing business meetings and crit sessions. In this article, Lea Rose Kara, who was the first mentee on the PMSA’s pilot programme, gives the following account of her exciting year being mentored by Julian Wild, Vice President of Royal Society of Sculptors. Lea Rose Kara is studying for a BA (Hons) in Fine Art at Bath Spa University, while Julian Wild is currently holding a solo exhibition, ‘Janus’ (until 30 April) at the Edward Saïd Business School in Oxford.
Having always been quite table-bound in school, I was keen to experiment with making sculptures, both large and small. In 2017, Leonie Summers discovered me during my Foundation show at City and Guilds of London Art School and, as a result, soon after the PMSA offered me the amazing funded opportunity to be on their 2018 pilot mentoring programme, where I would be mentored by none other than the Vice President of Royal Society of Sculptors: Julian Wild – you can imagine my excitement!
I was keen to learn about the alien world of public sculpture and really wanted to take the opportunity to gain as much experience and knowledge from Julian as I could. My mentorship consisted of several visits to his studio near London and accompanying him to meetings, as well as having informal catch-ups to discuss our own projects.
Some of my favourite and most insightful mentorship moments were when I accompanied Julian to a business meeting or helped him construct a commissioned artwork in his studio. Shadowing Julian in the meeting between him, a landscape designer and a floral designer about an exhibit at a famous Flower Show gave me an understanding of what to expect and how to approach a collaborative project with other professionals. It was interesting to see the different aspects that had to be considered in order for the collaboration to be successful, such as resolving the finances, managing time for the collaboration to occur, applying within set deadlines and organising the paper work. As a sculptor, Julian’s contribution was his knowledge of the materials and the possible sculpture he could create to highlight the garden’s design. One of the main points I took away from the meeting was the importance of clarifying your ideas and being confident about your practice. It is, however, also important to be open to manipulating your concepts to fit the wider theme and being aware of others’ practices and their needs, as well as dedicating time to perfect the project and execute it to the highest level possible.
Equally, I really enjoyed helping Julian create his commissioned sculpture in his studio. Having never worked on such a complicated large sculpture before, it was interesting to see Julian’s approach to welding the three different sections together to create the illusion of bends and twists in the centre of the form. Capturing the making process through the documentative form of photography and video is quite pertinent within my own practice and I am pleased that Julian and I had recorded the way we interacted with the piece, and its presence within his studio, in a short time-lapse film.
Part of my mentoring was watching Julian use different machines to smooth and polish the sculpture’s surface, which was required before the piece could be painted. All the joints had to be perfected to give the illusion that the geometric form consisted of a continuous piece of metal, rather than individual sections. Julian taught me how to use a sand-disk with a grinder to smooth out the welded seams in each joint. By using the machine, I was able to understand the process Julian went through and the type of smooth finish he was looking for. It is interesting because, by working with Julian and learning all the techniques of how to create an immaculate surface, I had realised precisely the importance of texture within my own work and the significance of celebrating the processes I put the material through.
Being mentored by someone is not about coming out the other end as a mini-version of them, but about learning and understanding what works for your own practice and what is the next best step in your artistic journey. One approach, however, which Julian and I share, is that of being a perfectionist and never taking ‘that’s not possible’ for an answer!
I am incredibly grateful to the PMSA Education team for giving me this opportunity and to Julian Wild for taking the role of my 2018 mentor – it has truly been an invaluable experience. I have gained a great deal of confidence thanks to the mentoring scheme and have already started working and being mentored by artists abroad. Last summer I was fully funded to live in Venice for a month and a half, where I organised working with three amazing artists: the glass artist, Moulaye Niang,the sculptor, Matteo Lo Greco and Roberto Mazzetto, a printmaker!
Main image: Kara working on Origin. ‘I held each piece at a precise angle in order to allow Julian to create the perfect welded joint. Due to the sculpture’s complicated shape, three different pieces had to be constructed and welded together like a jigsaw puzzle.’
(photo: © Julian Wild & Lea Rose Kara)
Lea Rose Kara in conversation with Julian Wild VPRSS
Kara’s first mentoring session took place when she was invited to spend a few days with Julian at his studio in the countryside near London. Here she helped him weld a commissioned piece of work and prepare his sculpture Origin for restoration. During this session, from her perspective as an aspiring artist, she asked him a few questions about his work, his choice of materials and his practice.
LRK: What has been the greatest influence on you?
JW: The teachers on my Foundation course were really influential and got me into sculpture.
Why do you choose to use colour in your work?
I am interested in the relationship between colour and form. I usually think of the colour first, before creating the shape and sometimes contrast colours or create an ombre effect. I have always been fascinated by intense bright colours – particularly warm colours such as yellow, red, purple and orange. My work plays with different colour connotations (fig.4), as well as the associations we have with colour being vital and representative of life and being alive.
Do you keep any of your own work?
I don’t keep any sculpture for reference. I am able to go and visit most of my work, if I ever need or want to look at it again. Once the piece is gone, I am able to move to the next, and start the process over again.
Many of your works are constructed out of metal and wood, why do you choose to use these materials?
A lot of the time the material I use is determined by where the piece is going. I try to keep my options open and make things that look good both indoors and outdoors. But I’ve worked with metal since college, and I like the way it can be manipulated. You can make metal work like clay. You can make something in clay and then cast it or you can forge it and manipulate the metal in that way. I look at gravity and I like how metal can be welded and frozen into an immediate position.
Have you ever physically carved into wood?
Yes, but I tend to use machines when working with wood. The wooden piece I showed you in my studio was done as part of a residency, where a robot carved it.
Why do you choose to collaborate?
Collaborating with other specialists is a good way to get a better understanding of your practice and it teaches you to make quick judgements about your work, as every little decision influences the aesthetics of the piece. However, I don’t make any work that’s larger than five metres. Once it gets bigger than that, I get a manufacturer to make the form for me.
How did you make your work viable for commercial galleries and exhibitions?
It is difficult when you start out as an artist because it’s hard to make a living. Especially with sculpture, which can be expensive to make. I made my work viable by making it on a large scale so that it could be placed outside. I am fortunate because I also make objects, which are rather easier to sell than installation pieces. Bigger pieces are harder to sell than smaller ones, but not impossible.
In your opinion what’s the best or most interesting commission you have undertaken?
Origin (fig.5), for the University of Oxford. It was exciting, because I could work on a really big scale. It was one of the rare times where I was doing a commission that advanced my practice. It changed what I was doing and the work that I was creating. It was hard work, but an amazing opportunity.
How do you approach residencies and what do they require you to do?
I had a residency in Ireland which was quite relaxed, where I sent images of my work and explained what I wanted to do, which is the best type of residency. But equally, I did another residency at Winchester School, where I was invited rather than had to apply and for that one I was expected to do extra work such as teaching. I have recently applied for a residency in America, which I heard about through the grapevine.
How important are the titles of your works? Do you give them titles in order to provide the viewer with clues as to what the piece is?
The title gives the viewer clues, yes, and can complement the work. I think titles are really interesting. I used to number the works, but now I give then suggestive names.
The full title of the piece that you were working on is Origin Vertical, which is to do with Genesis – the start of an idea.
Why do you choose to live and work in the countryside as opposed to the city?
The Internet means that you could be anywhere in the world and people are still be able to see your work. I like being in the country because it allows me to have a large studio. I also think that people enjoy travelling down from London to see sculptures.
Have any of your public sculptures ever been purposefully damaged or stolen, and how did you react in that situation?
Some works have a guarantee. The Oxford piece has a guarantee of 15 years. But most of the time, once the work has been bought, it is up to the owner to look after it. The Oxford one was graffitied, but we were able to remove the spray paint without damaging the surface underneath. One of my public sculptures – a small bronze piece, was stolen. But because it was insured I was able to get back the money. There is always the chance of someone defacing your work, but you can’t allow that to stop you from producing it.
What advice can you give me as an aspiring artist?
Picture yourself as a container ship, a tanker that can turn but takes a long time. Stick to your guns and keep moving ahead with what you’re interested in. There is nothing wrong with being practical and there is nothing wrong with trying to make a living from what you do. You need to find a balance. There is always a way of making a living doing what you do, because there will be someone out there who wants it. Make your own luck! What’s important is that you position yourself so that people see your work, but you’re not pushing it on them. It’s a slow game.