Richard Perry, Starstone, studio, 2013
Interview with Richard Perry
Richard Perry has been a represented artist at Tarpey Gallery for just a few months and I saw my first interview for Sculptorvox as a perfect opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of Richard’s studio practise and the thought processes behind the work that i admire so much.
Luke Tarpey interviews Richard Perry:
Q. Firstly, please could you tell us about yourself and background and what led you to becoming a sculptor ?
Right from an early age I felt that I would end up being an artist. I worked in both painting and sculpture during my degree, I kept up both for a long time but I eventually had to drop painting as a primary practice. They are two different disciplines and ended up being too much work. Sometimes I regret dropping painting. However I work to make a living in the public realm and I also have a separate studio practice, so I have two different sides to my practice, which is sometimes quite hard to reconcile. Sometimes I’m working on a commission, which feels like a larger form of studio work, and other times you just have to take a job to make money, there is a bit of a dilemma but that is just how it works.
Q. So there is a bit of a balance between what you are working on at the time in your studio and commission work that helps sustain it?
Q. Did you find it quite difficult to make that decision?
It is difficult, I would maybe prefer to do a bit of teaching but as I am dyslexic the administration would be a problem, but I think I would have really enjoyed teaching.
Q. Looking at sculpture from the point of view of learning the discipline, I’ve always thought of sculpture as unique, especially working with stone, where you need a specific skill set. I was wondering how difficult it would be to take up. For someone like myself, for example, who has never worked in sculpture before?
Well I think it’s that thing about the difference between what art is and what craft is. I actually see the craft aspect as a means to an end, however that craft aspect takes years and years. It’s like that 10,000 hour thing, to be really good at something you have to put the time in. The skill set is a vehicle to help facilitate the idea, it’s using your head and heart as well which makes a difference.
Q. You touched on it a little bit earlier but I’d like to ask you to go into a little more detail about the painting and drawing side of your practice and how these processes effect the outcome of the finished piece?
I have ideas of what I may want to make and I start making preliminary drawings, the piece has its own evolution separate to that of the drawings. Then I may go back to the drawing after the experience of making some decisions in the sculpture. There is a tension between illusion and sculptural reality happening, which I find quite interesting. Essentially the drawing work doesn’t always produce diagrams for the sculpture, but exists in its own right. Recently I have been making drawings of sculpture in progress.
“Well I think it’s that thing about the difference between what art is and what craft is. I actually see the craft aspect as a means to an end, however that craft aspect takes years and years. It’s like that 10,000 hour thing, to be really good at something you have to put the time in.”
Q. So would you say the work evolves quite naturally whilst you’re working directly with the stone?
The choice of materials is really important and the finish is really important, however those decisions aren’t necessarily made at the beginning. I impose my ideas on the stone; having chosen what I think is the right material for the idea. What I try to do with sculpture is, at the very least, test myself. I have a set of criteria at the beginning but I’m quite happy to break those structures as I go along.
Q. Could you describe one of your typical studio days for us?
Well there isn’t really a typical day because of the nature of the projects. I don’t have a set structure, that part of the practise that has to do with designing objects for commissions; you are driven by the deadline. I try to fit in studio work around that but the closer the deadline gets the longer the hours are whereas the studio work is more organic and a case of any spare time I get to spend in the studio.
Q. I’ve only been aware of your work for around a year but I’ve already seen you work with 3 or 4 different kinds of stone, Irish Blue Limestone, Mansfield Red Stone and Portland Stone. Could you explain a little about the differences of working in these unique types of stone?
What I like about the Blue Irish Limestone is that it has a metallic feeling to it. You can work it really finely and you can get some really hard sharp edges. Because it has those properties I work with that in mind. In terms of finishing, it can take many different types of finish. But it is a stone unlike any other as you can’t just work it like Sandstone and Marble, where it can look beautiful straight away. Blue Irish Limestone is different in that it doesn’t give anything back, you have to do everything to it, it is quite unforgiving and extremely hard which I quite like because it gives you a chance to sit down and think about the next move which I also enjoy.
Q. Could you talk me through the processes of working on a large-scale public commission and touch a little on the different challenges you can face?
I recently made a very large piece in Ireland for a fishing village on the east coast. I chose the material for the commission, each is a one-off with its own specific context. It was a 6 tonne block of Blue Limestone and I spent 5 months carving it at the stone yard in Ireland. I had the block trimmed by the stone yard, then used grinders, air-hammers, hammer and chisels, files and sandpapers. It had a particular deadline and I was working ridiculous hours. You asked me earlier about an average day, in that case it was 12-hour days. It was hard but that kind of challenge is very rewarding.
Q. Working in stone is a very physical process in contrast to the more cerebral side of thinking through the original idea. Can you talk a little about the balance of the creative and destructive sides of working in stone?
There are two things that happen, you are imposing on and listening to the material. You can enjoy the physicality of removing material, it is actually quite good fun, and if you’ve been doing it for years and years I think you can enjoy being quite good at it as well. However, as I said before, the craft aspect isn’t the thing for me, it’s if the piece sings at the end, that’s what matters.
Q. A lot of the most effective sculptural work I’ve seen, that is the work that has most inspired and resonated with me, has been rooted in the environment, inspired by the very landscape that produces the material that forms it. Your work is also rooted in the natural environment – as you put it ‘the asymmetry of landscape’ Can you talk a bit about your relationship to landscape that forms the stone you work so closely with?
It’s almost like you find a view or a set of circumstances in the landscape that relates to how you actually make the work. You come across something and you are looking for a way to make it work in your head. So you see something and shift it about until it feels right. For example, I might be in Sherwood Forest and I might see the juxtaposition of three trees and I’ll just shift about until I like it. Then I’ll take a photograph and never look at it again!
Q. You say you take a photograph and never look at it again so when you get back into your studio how does that inspiration relate to the actual production of the work?
It’s a combination of affirmation and inspiration and the two things working together. As you know most artists are a bit hard on themselves and doubt what they’re doing a lot of the time. That affirmation that you get from the landscape feeds into the work, it’s really important. It is something to do with symmetry and asymmetry. I might make some decisions on one side of the drawing and create a different balance and symmetry on the opposing side.
Q. Asymmetry can be described as both a physical and abstract system. It is of fundamental importance in the natural environment and determines our very existence. How do you articulate such a diverse and often conflicting concept through your work?
I don’t think about it in such a strict fashion. I start off with symmetry because I generally start off with a sawn block of stone. I suppose it’s a bit like a painter and a blank canvas, there is something so beautiful about that blank surface and you’ve got to do something better with that material and it’s so difficult. To put it in its most simple terms it’s about finding that way back to that perfect cube.
Q. So, in terms of your studio work, what parts do you find most challenging especially in relation to the creative side?
I think the challenging bit is how culturally relevant the work is. The only way to be ok with that is just to be interested in what other people are doing, to go to shows, as many as you can, looking hard. Every Saturday for 4 years I used to go to London with my daughter, who was studying music, so we got up at 5am and with my other daughter who intends to study art I went to see as many shows as possible. We tried to do two hours in the National Gallery and then just used to see other shows. Being inquisitive is really important, I carry on doing that, seeing painting and sculpture shows whenever I can.
“Apart from the sheer pleasure of seeing an amazing work of art, you are measuring yourself, your own ambition for your own work and that’s quite important. “
Q. So would you say you learn as much by seeing as you do by actually making work?
It’s a bit like a check in terms of quality, it’s measuring yourself against what matters and that’s tricky, that’s challenging. Apart from the sheer pleasure of seeing an amazing work of art, you are measuring yourself, your own ambition for your own work and that’s quite important.
Q. Do you feel you formed quite a few of your ideas and processes early on and now you are mastering that, or do you feel that you are still learning as you go?
Every number of years there is a bit of a shift in what I do and what I’m interested in. You get to a point where you’ve been working a particular way for so long, it’s about a zeitgeist I suppose, things start to connect and you see what’s happening and you think, ‘No that’s actually really interesting’ and you shift. I think that’s a natural way of being relevant, not imposing that on your self but in quite an organic way.
Q. So, to put it extremely simply, as a painter may start using oils after a period of working in acrylic to challenge themselves which then starts to change the ideas within the work, there can be a similar parallel with a sculptor that starts working in a different type of stone with the different properties of the material similarly affecting the outcome of the work?
I think with painting, you can go absolutely anywhere. I don’t think you can with stone, there is that limitation of gravity to put it simply. With painting you can go anywhere, that’s why I’m so fascinated with painters and painting, that’s why I gravitate to seeing painting shows in general. I think it helps my sculpture, I think it feeds in quite well.
Q. Could you give me a specific example of that, in terms of a painting show you’ve seen that inspired your sculptural work?
Somebody like Thomas Scheibitz who had a fabulous show of paintings and sculpture at the Baltic last year. We were looking at the painting behind me earlier, Arawak by Dermot Punnett, and that kind of glowing green quality – you can actually take that feeling into the studio later on when you’re working and that can affect your day, and that’s what I’m trying to describe really. Or the way Rembrandt applies paint; it is beguiling and makes you aspire to work as well as you can.
Q. Don’t try and be different, just try to be good.
Q. Finally, what do you think is the most important trait you would look for in an up-and-coming sculptor and how would you advise anyone looking to start out on the journey of becoming a sculptor?
In the studio, don’t intellectualise yourself out of making, just get on with making and the intellectual side and the making will come together. Also, as I said earlier, it’s important to check yourself against what is going on culturally and artists you respect and admire.