Interview with André Chahil
By André Chahil | Photos by © A. Chahil | P. Hearsey
With a background in architecture, interior and furniture design of more than 30 years, Hearsey is a self-taught sculptor who specializes in sandcasting to create pieces which engage the quality of bronze as a noble material in its own right. His sculptures are intimate in scale and intended for the interiors of homes, offices or hotels. Hearsey cuts, carves, grinds or welds the cast bronze to create unique forms before invariably exposing the natural bronze or oxidizing to produce the unique surface finishes that have always been an essential dimension of his work. His Oeuvre fascinates due to the high standard in craftsmanship and sculptural elegance. Our collaboration started in 2016, followed by a conversation. Enclosed is an illustrated interview to portray a sculptor of great talent.
Mr. Hearsey, every sculptor favours a material. In your case ... why is it bronze?
Wafer Lazy Table" by Philip Hearsey | Burr oak, steel, brass | 87cm x 65cm x 45cm | Photo © P. Hearsey
For many years, I loved wood and now bronze as well. They are both materials with special qualities to be wrought into physical objects. These materials are in many ways similar, but the role each plays in achieving the same end is very different. A unique characteristic of bronze is, that it is eternal, yet malleable. I really love the stuff! In its natural polished state the tone and depth of color is sublimely beautiful, yet the surface is endlessly receptive to the transformative effects of oxidisation. The alchemy of oxidasation, the process of patination, is often challenging, sometimes really unpredictable. Every time you are creating a new sculpture and it´s very exciting. Concerning the wood, I have a life-long love to this natural material. It featured very prominently in my work in interiors, furniture making and architecture already for many years.
Is there a reference to the great era of bronze in your work? The historical era from approximately 3300-1200 B.C.?
Not directly. But historical craftsmanship influenced me, of course. In the early 1980´s, I bought, amongst other antiquities, a Middel Cypriot pottery bowl from 1750-1600 B.C. This one was described as being hemispherical with a rudimentary lug handle and 10,8 cm in diameter. What really appealed to me is the way it sits, not flat ... but a slight tilt. When I started making things in bronze in the early 90´s one of the first vessel forms that I created was a semicircular bowl with a polished rim and sitting at a slight angle. Whereas the Cypriot bowl is stationary many of my earlier pieces are rounded and roll slightly before coming to rest, the uneven distribution of weight ensuring that pieces end up at a tilt and producing the slight ecliptic shape that is typical of my early work. Furthermore, the exploration of the vessel form became my main preoccupation for many years and although my current work is more sculptural – the vessel form is an inescapable thread that still runs through much of my work. But I still create and love the earlier designs. Although the shape may not have changed, because the same pattern is used, the finish on each piece is individual and no two pieces are the same. It´s also important to mention, that none of my created vessel forms are intended to serve any useful purpose, but only function as art objects.
From Phidias to Koons. If we take a look into the classical history of art, can you mention any inspirational sculptors whose work you appreciated ... and possibly influenced your own creativity?
Let me start with Henry Moore. And of course the works of Barbara Hepworth. Both, very famous and internationally well-known British Artists ...
In my hometown, the city of Hamburg, there is a famous sculpture by Moore which is visible in a public space, very close to the department of Art History at the University. It´s in bronze as well, called „Die Liegende", a female „Reclining Figure". It was created in 1979 and is available for everyone to touch. There was a diplomatic relationship between Moore and our former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt from that decade. Schmidt, a native citizen from Hamburg, died in 2016, while Moore already passed away 3 decades earlier in 1986. Their deep relationship from those days can also be interpreted as a sign for peace after WWII, mediated through art. Moore´s organic shapes, curves and lines as well as his references to nature and mature humanism, are in my opinion reminiscent in your work.
(left): „Reclining Figure: Hand" by Henry Moore | Bronze, 1979 | 200cm x 221cm x 150cm, 800kg | Located in Hamburg, Germany | Photo © A. Chahil (right): „Tremurro" by Philip Hearsey | A wall-mounted sculpture, Bronze | 17cm x 7cm x 24cm | Photo © P. Hearsey
Really interesting, thank you. I also would like to mention Reginald Cotterell Butler, known as „Reg Butler", in this matter. Another British sculptor, his media was metal. Very interesting metal-constructions of great complexity. These three were amongst the names of the day in my youth, but I can´t say that they had a long-lasting impact, as I formerly wanted to be a painter.
Concerning the value of bronze, another interesting case in context to Moore. A bronze sculpture was stolen from the 72-acre estate of the Henry Moore Foundation in Much Hadham, Hertfordshire in 2005. This heavy two-tone Reclining Figure was – incredible to imagine – professionally removed, stolen. Worth with more than £3 million in the official art market and of course impossible to sell. Art experts and Scotland Yard investigators believe that Moore´s work was melted down and sold for no more than £1,500 in the metal scrap market. This fact, I must say ... is for lovers of art really hard to bear. The Moore Foundation, located in Hertfordshire, close to London and not to confound with Herefordshire, the beautiful landscape on the very edge of England, almost in Wales. You live and your sculptures are created there. Mr. Hearsey, how would you describe this place on earth to a potential visitor?
The beautiful place where I live and work is fairly remote and largely untouched by modern things – it is agricultural land, poor and fit only for sheep and some cattle. Each morning I walk my dogs up our very quiet lane. There is only little traffic and few machines. Just sounds of the countryside, birds most of all and the occasional sheep. When turning back towards home, I face the Black mountains. They rise about a mile in the distance and in the centre lie the Darrens – you should know that „Darren" is Welsh and it means a rocky outcrop. There are two of them in my view, the Black Darren to the left and Red Darren to the right. Between them is a bowl, that cuts into the hillside. The Black Hill and this area became very famous by British author Bruce Chatwin, in his novel „On the Black Hill", published in 1982.
(left): „Some Other Season" by Philip Hearsey | A unique Bronze work, freely rotating on a bronze base | 47cm x 29cm x 76cm (right): „Offa´s Dyke" | Hills at the England-Wales border, 177 miles long | Photos © P. Hearsey
Is this also inspirational to you and reflected in your Oeuvre?
"Open Curl" by Philip Hearsey | Bronze, Edition 4 of 9 | 41cm x 18cm x 41cm | Photo © P. Hearsey
Inspiration is everywhere but I do have a very strong connection with the place where I live. The natural world is the over-riding preoccupation and my work is definitely rooted to the rural. The light is always changing so the view is never the same. In the early morning clouds cast enormous shadows over the hillside creating new patterns of time. The light plays with the surface exposing things I´ve never noticed, shapes I ´ve never seen. Nearer home the fields rise up from the Monnow valley where the hedge lines and pasture shapes curve and curl, constantly inspiring me. Paradoxically the sea, so far away, its rhythms and its influence on the land it touches is finding an increasing place in my work. This is the same natural rhythm that flows through almost every strand of our life. But it´s under my feet where the last obvious and yet most provoking and challenging shapes and textures catch my attention.
Whenever possible, I prefer to work outdoors. Beyond open space and practical considerations there is an overwhelming and direct connection with nature. When walking, I move through the landscape and experience the duality of distance ans closeness. The River flows, grasses move, trees make patterns. I must say that there are endless tiny events in the nature, many sources of inspiration to me.
From the beginning of an inspiration to the perfection of patination. The complexity of crafting process ... how would you describe its procedure?
First of all, my work is instinctive and spontaneous. Sometimes I do a quick sketch but mostly I have an idea in my head, presumably sparked by things I have seen, and I turn this into a three-dimensional reality through the process of making, thinking, looking, touching, altering, refining, patinating, polishing, gilding, colorwashing and finishing until I have achieved something that usually bears some relationship with what was in my head at the outset. I specialise in sand casting. The process directs simplicity and is itself simple. A bonus is immediacy. The casting, although solid bronze is not yet a sculpture but a material that can be cut, carved, ground or welded. Casting in sand moulds demands a robust pattern that can be withdrawn from the sand to leave a void and this places some constraint on the shape of castings and the way in which they are ultimately used. I am intrigued by the surface and the alchemy of patination. Not because of any obsession with technique, which is difficult to master, but because of the challenging possibillities and the unpredictability of the outcome. The colouring is not a surface coating: it is fundamental, it is the surface. It´s the result of a transformation of the material, by the material, as if it somehow decides its own development.
Exposing bronze edges – finishing pattern – patinating | Sculptor Philip Hearsey at work | Photos © P. Hearsey
While the bronze is still warm, wax can be applied to stabilize the patination and buffed to a shine when cool. More often the patination is allowed to stand for several days when loose material is removed by brushing before several coats of a marine grade lacquerer are applied. This finish may also be improved by a final coating of wax. Finishing is the final process, removing all traces of patination and requiring that the bronze is taken back to its original state. Brushing or sandblasting are alternatives to a high polish.
Last step in perfection, when a sculpture is born it will be titled. Is there a back story, for example behind titles like „Acanto", „After the Rain", „Hartland Tide", „Infinity" or „Lapping"?
There is always a back story. And what is in my head when I create the work it is deeply personal but it matters as much that the work engages the imagination of the onlooker to connect with a deep-rooted and instinctive appreciation of simple, universal forms.
Some pieces with titles you counted up are made in editions, usually 7,9 or 12 but sometimes 5 or less and occasionally more than 12. The numbering again shows the pattern number followed by the number of the cast in the edition size. Titles are very important. They give a clue as to the background of each piece but with an ambiguity that allows the viewer to form their own interpretation as to meaning of each sculpture and form a personal connection that expands and adds an extra dimensional to my work. In the end ... my work is a visual event to be enjoyed by the senses – simple objects or events inspired by the natural world. I hope that my sculptures finds a connection with others.
„Strand Q" and „Lapping IV" by Philip Hearsey | Polished Bronze | Photo © A. Chahil
I am already connected with all my senses to a variety of sculptures of your creativity, especially fascinated by „Strand Q" and „Lapping IV". Can you mention another sculptor that evokes the same inspiration?
There are many great artists that inspire me. The spirit of Eduardo Chillida´s work is very similar, although the sculptures from this great Spanish sculptor look differently. I tend now to be more intrigued by painters working with texture and color and sometimes wish I had followed that path. But my sculptural work is moving in that direction.
Mr. Hearsey, the art world is anxiously awaiting your future creations. It was a pleasure speaking with you!
Thank you Mr. Chahil, the honor is also on my side.