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Backstory: my Tudor Frieze

Inspiration and development of plaster Tudor Frieze

A shot of pin-board in my studio with images I've collected relating to the concept behind this sculpture:

A detail of my finished Tudor Frieze which comprises 25 different tiles

cast directly from fabric

Ideas creep up on you and for a period of time you find yourself being drawn to something visual without fully understanding what it is that intrigues you, what you are going to do about it and where it fits in with your work.

This happened to me in relation to the Tudor Galleries at the National Portrait Gallery. During my visits to the NPG over the last few years I always found myself in front of the portraits of Tudor monarchs and nobles, not being able quite to identify what drew me there. And simultaneously, I realized, I'd been photographing sculpted figures on church tombs, focusing particularly on the detail of their costume.

For a few years I’ve been interested in the interpretation of an organic material such as fabric in the dense medium of plaster or concrete. A fluid material such as silk, in reality full of life and movement, is rendered solid and impassive and this transposition is emphasised when casts are taken directly from the fabric itself. Figurative sculpture had been the main reference for these ideas.

In the Tudor portraits I realized that the artists had also put fabric through a transformation but in their case had represented a very three-dimensional object in two dimensions, taking away all the volume of the original.

Whereas in the stylized sculpted ruffs, the three-dimensionality is already a powerful presence.

The parts of the costumes which I found most intriguing were the ruffs which struck me as the most stylized type of garment one could imagine; not collars, but large, abstract, immobile structures – more like sculpture than clothing.

Detail from my frieze. The motif is indented to the surface

The more I found out about ruffs, the more bizarre and at the same time sculptural they seemed to be. Apparently at the height of ruff fashion, they became so large, stiff and heavy that the wearer had to be fitted with ‘scaffolding’ in the form of wooden struts around the neck and up the back to support the ruff.

The motif is indented to the surface

Despite being wholly figurative in genre, some of the portraits also have a very minimalist, restrained and abstract quality in their design.

Increasingly perceiving these ruffs as sculptures, gradually I began to see why I had been drawn to the Tudor portraits initially. In a further and final transformation I have returned these unreal two-dimensional portrayals back to their real dimension, and by casting them in plaster have rendered them even more rigid and inflexible than the original.

Below: sections from the frieze.

To see the whole frieze follow this link to my website


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