An Interview with Sculptor Russell Jakubowski

23 November 2016

Our upcoming Young Curators workshops (for 13-19 year olds) are Henry Moore-themed, so who better to lead the sessions than local sculptor Russell Jakubowski? Participants will explore the work of Henry Moore and learn how to create sculptures inspired by his love of natural forms, using clay, plaster, and wire. The sculptures created will then be displayed alongside the ‘Henry Moore: Sculpting from Nature exhibition. 

Ahead of the workshops and exhibition, we get to know a bit more about Russell and his love for sculpture.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself, and why you decided to become a sculptor?

My art teacher at school exposed me to the idea of sculpture. One day he talked to my class about the carvings of Donatello. “Imagine a huge block of stone...” he said, “...and inside that stone is this figure.” To make something so beautiful by removing everything it is not from around it. It’s a powerful thought.

I wondered... how do you do that? How do you know where the surface of the figure is? How do you know where to stop removing the stone? How is it possible to make stone look like wet cloth? And technical things such as how do you carve a finger in marble without knocking it off the rest of the hand while you are shaping it with a mallet and chisel? These thoughts coupled with making things in three dimensions during the lessons proved to be a bewitching experience.

You recently were part of a beautiful project placing sculptures around the Surrey Hills (pictured above with Russell). What was the concept and inspiration for your piece? And where can people find it?

I have made an eight foot long seat - Contour - which sits on top of Reynards Hill in the Hurtwood just outside Cranleigh. The form of the seat was inspired by the landscape of the Greensands Way, which was initially built up by a process of sedimentation some 65 million years ago when the land lay under a shallow sea.

The hills are comprised of layers of sand which has been eroded to shape the landscape we see today. I thought about the ebb and flow of the tides and the cyclical nature of the seasons and the rolling Surrey Hills landscape. I have locked graded, contoured profile shapes together to make the eye travel in a circuitous way around the underside of a sitting platform.

Importantly the 48 layers which make up the body of the seat are cut from sheets of recycled plastic, which is ecologically sound, non toxic and very durable. Held together with marine grade stainless steel rods, it is virtually maintenance free. I find it interesting to think that the plastic I used (made from oil) is the residue of an ancient life form and was also being formed millions of years ago.

Your works are made with materials as varied as wood, plaster, iron and plastic. Do you have a preferred material to work with?

It depends on what I am trying to make. I am as much attracted to the process of using a material as I am the material itself. The way something can be worked has such a profound effect on the outcome that I can’t really separate the two.

Using sheet materials such as plywood and plastics, I find some methods of working are transferable and some are not. At the moment I am making molds and casts, and though I am using clay and plaster, I am thinking about the process and outcomes in terms of layers.
It is always exciting to work with new materials and techniques. Either to realise an aesthetic ‘I need to make this part transparent’ or as a solution to a practical problem ‘how do I ensure this stays on the wall’. 

You do a lot of work with schools. What do you enjoy about working with students, and are there any projects that you are particularly proud of?

To offer an insight into the making process and put young people in control of an aesthetic solution is very rewarding. Working in three dimensions is something that is frequently overlooked in schools and yet it has so much to offer. The combination of the practical and the aesthetic helps to engage everyone involved and the requirement to work independently creates a wide variety of results. And, because students do things that I wouldn’t think of, it inspires me too. Often the work I do with schools results in a permanent and site specific piece and this gives real focus and meaning to what we do, in the spirit of ‘this is not a dress rehearsal’ - so it really matters.

I worked on a large project with all the juniors at Langrish Primary School to make a centenary seat in the shape of the Roman numeral letter C. It was clad in 100 relief tiles based on visible and invisible natural forms which wrapped around all the vertical surfaces. The students did a fantastic job of transposing 2D images into relief and we realised our goal of making a timeless functional testament to the school. There are other memorable projects but it is the consistent quality of each relief the pupils made that stands out in my mind.

What have you got planned for the upcoming Young Curators workshops you’ll be leading at The Lightbox?

The Young Curators will be busy during four practical workshops. They will be using clay as a waste mold material into which we will cast plaster. Working with abstract shapes, photographs and objects from the natural world around them I will help them create sculptures inspired by the work of Henry Moore. My aim is for the Young Curators to make something in each of the first three sessions and then use what they learn to make a final piece in the fourth session.

Participants can expect to learn new ways of working with a familiar material, clay, and understand basic principles of casting forms in plaster, and will learn what constitutes negative and positive space. In easy (hands on) stages they will explore the relationship between the inside and outside of an object they design, and then eliminate the difference between the two by making a sculpture.

I hope members of the group will gain a deeper insight into working in three dimensions and experience the simple joy of creating a solid, unique and surprising artwork.

Young Curators is £25 for 4 sessions:
4.30pm – 6.30pm on Thurs 8, 15 Dec (2016), 5, 12 January (2017) and optional session on 19 Jan to install exhibition
More information and booking here

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