You might have seen Sean Henry's sculptures appearing around Woking in the past couple of months, and wondered what they're all about. Who are these figures inspired by, and how were they made? Ahead of our talk with Sean next week, we had a little chat with the artist to find out more about his life and work.
Sean Henry in his studio
Tell us a bit about your path as an artist – did you grow up with an interest in art and sculpture?
I certainly grew up with an interest in making things, whether it was go-carts, tree houses or complicated air fix models, which I would paint & then later shoot with an air rifle or melt on a fire (!). I started making things in clay when I was fourteen, some of which I sold in a street market in Guildford High Steet. I was lucky enough to have access to a kiln outside school, and so took on commissions before I was 18. After a year experimenting with non-clay art forms on an excellent Foundation course in Farnham (where I learnt to draw), I decided to take a BA degree in ceramics at Bristol University. I have made all my sculptures in clay since then - even if the final artwork involves plaster or bronze & paint.
Face to Face: The Figurative Sculpture of Sean Henry exhibition at The Lightbox
Why have you chosen the human form as the subject for your work?
I'm not sure - the decision was made when I was very young - but it probably has something to do with wanting to reference life with my sculptures, to refer to the lived experience, as opposed to making art that more knowingly links itself to other works of art. As I said, I started out as a maker, not an artist.
Woman (Being Looked at) in Peacocks Shopping Centre, Woking
What is your process for making a large-scale sculpture, and how long will it typically take to complete?
It can be slow, not least due to the time consuming nature of mould making, bronze casting (via the lost wax process) and occasionally scaling up work in clay using a Pantograph, which is how I made the 3m high Seated Figure in Yorkshire, and Couple in Northumberland. I try to mitigate delays by working on more than one piece at a time, so often I will be painting one thing in the morning, sculpting another in the afternoon, and drawing in the evening - all the while checking my iPhone like an Apple addicted fool! The smart phone is definitely an anti-creativity device, and I feel I can legitimately blame it (or myself) for slowing things down even more!
In short Seated Figure took 2 and a half years to complete from concept to completion, while Catafalque took perhaps 9 months.
Seated Figure on the Yorkshire Moors
What has been your favourite / most memorable location where one of your sculptures has been placed?
I have three: The North York Moors, Newbiggin Bay and Ekebergparken in Oslo. All three locations are memorable, each for different reasons.
Some of the reactions on Twitter to the sculptures placed in Woking
What have the reactions been like to the sculptures around Woking town centre?
Very positive & heartening, especially when they first went in. People were very very surprised and that first week was especially memorable for me, as everybody seemed to have a view (good and bad) and there was a lot of buzz about them.
I'm very grateful for WBC's support of the installations, and to Camilla Lobo (the Woking train station master) for giving permission to put my Seated Man on Platform 1. It's a great location for him.
Any interesting future plans to mention?
Quite a few. I'm installing a big piece in Queenstown New Zealand in early November, a second version of the Seated Man, and I have a show running currently in Stockholm. I'm also about to start on a commission in Norway, and am planning ahead for a show in Germany in 2019. So - lots to keep me busy!
Face to Face: The Figurative Sculpture of Sean Henry is open now till 5 Nov.
Sean Henry will be at The Lightbox in conversation with gallerist Peter Osborne on Tues 26 Sept at 1pm.