This is the first of many blogs I plan to write about my late husband, the sculptor Brian Taylor.
First to thank the friends and family who have supported myself and our children since Brian passed away.
We want to celebrate his life through his exceptional artwork and with the great support we have already received, this is proving to be a very positive and exciting experience.
Thank you also to the collectors who have already come on board. Without their support at this early stage of building Brian’s reputation, we would have had a much steeper hill to climb. With their appreciation and love of Brian’s work we are on our way to doing him the justice he deserves.
Brian worked hard in the studio all of the time I knew him, so the work you see on this new site, is not all, by far of the works he made. His studio needs renovation and with this come the exciting discoveries of new pieces, many made before I knew him.
So I will keep you posted in my regular blogs with stories about his past and future exhibitions.
After studying at the Slade School of Art in London, Brian won the Rome Scholarship – 1958-60. He was taught by the art historian and Keeper of the Queen’s pictures, Anthony Blunt. He was so impressed by Brian’s work that he gave him a block of travertine marble from which Brian carved a life size boy.
He then taught at Winchester and Goldsmiths Colleges of Art before settling at Camberwell College as deputy Head of Sculpture.
In 1970 he was invited by friends to celebrate the New Year in Rome. He writes: (see below)
“Friends took me to meet their relatives in the Serra di Burano, Le Marche where I met Pippo Saldi, a farmer who bred and reared Burano horses of so rare a strain that there were no more than eleven stallions at stud in Italy. These were the war horses of classical antiquity, which had been employed to pull heavy munitions carts at speed over long distances. Pippo showed them at nearby Citta di Castello, where the horse fair had been held annually for hundreds of years.
The whole region had scarcely changed since the days of the great Duke Federico da Montefeltro, the condottiere who built palace s at Urbino and Gubbio and was portrayed by Piero della Francesca. Everything is steeped in tradition, people, customs, food and stories. It was here that I first saw my horse, a beautiful young colt, satin-skinned and curiously chocolate in hue, with a blond mane. Up until this point most of my work had been centred around the human figure for which I used a rigorous measuring system, where I imagined the form, usually standing, enclosed inside a cuboid space. The inherent problem with this approach is that the standing figure is seen as a twisting column whose elevations appear to escape their spatial confinement. In contrast, the structure of a horse is wholly sympathetic to being contained within a cuboid space and this realisation made a profound impression on me. I jokingly said that I would be back to sculpt the horse next summer.
I was taken at my word and in the event, I did return, but by then it was a different matter: the colt had grown to double its size. the unique feature of the breed is an enormous lung capacity which requires a body structure as broad at the forequarters as it is at the haunches, whereas other horses taper from back to front.
Moreover this was a highly dangerous stallion that sought to maim, biting viciously whenever I was within range, not built for kicking but making every effort to trample me! I had to devise a system of tricks to get near my subject and I became well accustomed to hearing his teeth snap merely inches from my ear. I learned precisely the reach of that murderous swinging neck.
To transfer sculptural points from horse to sculpture, I tied a rag ball to a long stick and dipped it into a bucket of clay slops to act as a marker. I accidentally discovered that a blob of clay on the horse’s nose could gain me ten minutes in which I could take close measurements of the head and hind quarters without fear of being killed, as the horse would spend these ten minutes licking off the clay. Another distraction I found was to give a high pitched whistle which would so puzzle the beast that he would stand motionless, whereupon I could again approach closely, perhaps for five minutes.
One insurmountable difficulty was the extreme hospitality of my hosts, because the Saldis would not hear of my missing their huge midday meal throughout a period of two months. Sadly it was just at this time of day when the horse was at his most passive, dozing in the heat, that it would have been best for me to work.
My dream had been to have the sculpted horse as a monument on the retaining wall of the Piazza dei Signori of the medieval city of Gubbio, itself like a sculpture in “bas rilievo”, built on the side of a mountain. Instead I brought the mould to England where it was cast in bronze. I have made a series of smaller studies from it, but the original stood in the garden of the artist Ralph Steadman before the late Felix Dennis bought it for his sculpture garden in Warwickshire.
We think this is the first portrait Brian sculpted.
He had a model for the first time at Sutton and Cheam School of Art and would have been about sixteen. He told me that as he had no way of measuring at this time, that the portrait came out much bigger than life size, to his amazement! Amazing too is his apparently natural ability to model, (look at the ear) and to sculpt the features accurately in proportion to each other.
I found the original photograph of this sculpture in the bottom of a dusty old drawer, all creased and scrumpled up. I had the photograph “rebulit”, in the days when such things were done! So this is the only surviving record of this piece.
Below is “Stretching Cat” circa 1953 and was done when Brian was at Epsom and Ewell School of Art. Brian described it to me as a view of a cat from above, when it is drinking from a saucer. At this time we see Brian abstracting from life in a far less detailed style than we see at any other time in his life. The charcoal drawing below is of the same idea and shows the pushing form creating a tension as it moves.
See also the two abstracted forms below the drawing. Here again we feel the taughtness of a living being pushing outwards from the clay, which is what they would have been sculpted in originally. These pieces appear to have been cast in Ciment Fondue. Whereas the bronze of “Stretching Cat” has been around as long as I knew Brian, (35 years!) so he must have been proud of this piece to have made a bronze cast.
This is a picture of Brian taken long before I knew him. We think he was about thirty-two here.
I was eighteen when I met him and he was forty-one. I was in my Foundation year at Camberwell College of Arts and Crafts. I had been sent to the sculpture department as a tutee for Brian as the painters considered me, “too flamboyant and outrageous!”
I remember the first time I met him was when I was booked to have a tutorial. So I arrived at the Sumner Road Sculpture Annexe in Peckham with my large folder, bursting with drawings and keen to meet my new tutor. I entered the small smoky staff room on my right and enquired about Brian.
“Oh you don’t want to talk to him today dear, ” was the response I got, “He’s in one of his black depressions.”
“Well I’ve got a tutorial with him and I’m not lugging this folder all the way back to the painting department until I’ve found him!” I retorted and rushing out of the poky room I bumped right into him. Someone said, “This girl’s here to have a tutorial with you Brian.” So immediately I knew this was my tutor and said, “Well you don’t look like you’re in a black depression!” We both burst out laughing until he said with a wry look on his face , “Why don’t we do the tutorial another day?” To which I replied vehemently, “Certainly not, this is a serious matter. I came here to learn to draw, as apparently sculptors draw differently from painters, and I intend to find out about that!”
Actually I knew my drawing was weak and really had little understanding of the kind of space that concerns sculptors’ drawings. So Brian helped to confirm this by saying, “Well you do really need to learn to draw my dear.” (There was a lot of , “my dearing to girls in those days!) So I said that I knew that,and did he have anything constructive to suggest apart from , “My dear!” It was at this point that he suggested the four hour drawing classes, twice a week, starting at the end of the day from 4 til 8pm! So of course I was obliged to go, and that was when my real education in drawing began. I continued those classes for several years and really learnt a completely new approach to thinking about drawing, as well as new concepts about, “space.”