Dearne Valley Horse
This project started in the Lockdowns of 2020. It was called ‘artists in lockdown’, the project was run by Discover Dearne. The project gave artists the chance to examine how they were working over the Covid period and what inspired them.
I wrote about the project in my blog entry (Field Notes #1). This period of time had been a real roller coaster in terms of trying to work through numerous lockdowns and rises in local Covid cases.
The below film was shot earlier in 2020 by Barnsley Museums for a project called Message in a Bottle, here I speak about the Dearne Valley horses in the landscape that inspired me.
I wanted to develop a sculpture of the horses found in the fields at the end of my street. They had inspired me with their resilience during lockdown walks. It all began like all projects do by putting pencil to paper. I think it’s only through drawing something that you can begin to understand the proportions and details needed to develop a 3D form. The illustrations below show this process, from quick outline sketches trying to understand how a horse’s leg works to drawings with much more detail focused on capturing the likeness of a horse.
It soon became apparent that I wanted to explore creating an elegant lifelike horse sculpture and also how these forms could be abstracted into a more angular form, that still managed to communicate strength and poise.
I became very interested in how horses have been represented in art over the centuries. In particular the simplicity found in the Dala horses from Sweden. The Dala horse gets its name from the Dalarna region in central Sweden. It was made by artisans in small villages as a children’s toy. It has gone on to be a visual shorthand for Sweden and a souvenir of the country. I started to refer to mine as a Dearne Valley horse, to try and imbue it with the place it was created.
I enjoyed abstracting the characteristics of a horse into geometric shapes, I was also pleased with how the poise and stance of my modernist horses visually linked with ancient Etruscan or Greek horse sculptures. I am planning to produce a series of bronze and ceramic editions of these.
The images below show both these approaches in development in my studio.
Developing a realistic horse
It took a very long time and many attempts to get the initial maquettes to a stage where the form of the horse looked balanced and its proportions were right. Many refinements had to be made especially to the rear legs which are amazing natural cantilevered constructions. They are able to carry the huge weight of the horse’s body on what are very delicate and slender legs.
Because we were mostly in lockdown during the project it afforded me time to learn new processes and skills. During the lockdown I researched how to create digital 3d forms and also how to print these on a 3d printer. Mixing these tools with the development of traditional clay maquettes really speeded up the process.
Once I had achieved the shape of the horse, thoughts then turned to how to make an edition of them and replicate them to make a small herd. The most manageable way was for me to make them myself from clay in my studio. Once fired they would become a ceramic edition. I made plaster moulds from my original sculpture and experimented with casting them.
The lockdowns slowed my progress. But I eventually got to the point where I had made a small batch of horses and they were ready to be fired. Images below show the process of firing them in a kiln.
I successfully fired the first test pieces and they came out really well. I wanted to explore different glazes so I decided to use both matt and gloss to see how they would affect the character of the horse. I think the most exciting part of this project was to be able to experiment with colours and textures of ceramic glazes. This meant the each horse in my mini herd was totally unique in their colour and finish.