“We are surrounded by useful but meaningless things” – Joseph Hillier 2016
It’s quite apt that I’m writing this piece on a sunny day after just finishing a cultural art walk around Gateshead; Sculpture 30 festival has firmly moved outside this season, come rain or shine for the final four months of the festival. And I guess, you could say we are on the home stretch of the festival (but we’ve got lots of activity planned for Summer to round it off – so don’t fret!) and this is an ideal opportunity to reflect on a potential highlight so far?
Well for me, that was most certainly April Sculpture 30 artist of the month; Joseph Hillier Sculpture Tour.
Joe was born in Cornwell, but went to University in Newcastle and now resides in Gateshead, Blaydon. He is widely exhibited in galleries and sculpture parks and has seventeen large-scale permanent installations nationally and internationally. You can read more about his pieces and bio on his website.
Our Sculpture tour, with Joe was fantastic and saw 12 culture vultures on a mini bus travelling to his many sited Sculptures around the North East. Even the weather turning from glorious sun shine, then to sleet, then snow, then a mini hurricane and back to sun, didn’t dampen our mood.
The tour was really brought to life, as Joe talked through his practice, his inspirations and each piece; a fantastic opportunity to hear from the sculptor about his take on the work. The story of conception to sited sculpture is often long, complicated and very interesting, so it was great to listen to his experiences, something that the pieces themselves just don’t highlight.
Stop one – Faith – QE Hospital
Stop two – Mortal8 – next to Souter Lighthouse
Stop three – Lunch time – Souter Lighthouse and beach
Stop four – Generation – Newcastle University
Stop five – Joe’s workshop – Blaydon
Joe’s workshop was fascinating as we got to see pieces in progress, parts of past projects, mistakes, his equipment; it really was a treasure trove for culture vultures! Joe showed us the process of planning a sculpture and the various models and techniques he uses to scale up to a much larger piece.
He also shows us how to use a 3D scanner and his 3D printer…..technology heaven.
I caught up with Joe after tour and took the opportunity to probe a little deeper and find out about his upcoming projects!
- Do you have a favourite piece of your sculpture?
There are pieces which have been pivotal for my practice, those are probably Being Human, my first solo gallery show in New Orleans, Mortal 8, now in South Shields and In Our Image in Newton Aycliffe. It’s a strange thing when you feel the objects you have made start to define you.
In Our Image – Newton Aycliffe
2. What is your favourite piece of Sculpture in Gateshead and why?
- Do you have a global favourite piece and why?
At the moment it might be “the ecstasy of St Teresa” by Bernini. The work is explicit, gravity defying and so baroque. I think these are all the things artists currently deny, but I want to revisit this sort of grand illusion and magic. Bernini creates a true installation using architecture, sculpture, painting, gilding – everything is considered to transport the viewer.
- Why is sculpture an important art form?
Because we are surrounded by useful but meaningless things. Sculpture can be the exact opposite, useless but communicative. I hope to make objects that speak, not literally with words, but things that can speak to people directly, without words.
- 5. How can the public engage with Sculpture more readily to appreciate and explore it?
I am the public, we are all the public. I just prefer to think of other people, clever apes like me. The first thing to do is to look at sculpture, as you might listen to music. Just allow yourself to enjoy it and it can change the way you look at everything else.
- Your sculptures often focus on the human body; why? What is it about the human form that interests you?
I like and am most interested by people. I also like lying. To make a lump of mud (i.e. clay) look like the thing we know best, ourselves, is one of the most primal impulses. After going to art school and considering sculpture in all its forms I sort of reconsidered and recentered my practice on the human body because I felt it offered the opportunity to communicate ideas, attitudes and thoughts in the most eloquent and unsettling of ways, to reach directly inside my viewers. Like a silhouette, a shadow in an alleyway instantly speaks to us, I am interested in those instants before out intellect has time to catch up.
- Do you have any sculptural projects up and coming that you can let us know about?
No they are top secret.
- What would you like your sculptural legacy and impact to be?
When anyone says legacy I think of Tony Blair on his Legacy tour at the end of his stint in power. I don’t think you get to choose your legacy that is for everyone else to decide. I would like to leave some things behind to speak on my behalf though.
70% H2O – Blaydon Leisure Centre
All of Joe’s pieces are extremely accessible, so if you haven’t already, discover Joseph Hillier and his brilliant sculptures! The thing I most like about his pieces are their location; they are often situated as pieces of public art, in places you don’t really stop to appreciate the art, they become part of the urban landscape. They blend in. Very much like the people you see every day on your morning commute, we know them intimately, but yet it isn’t until we actually take a moment in the present to really look, do we in fact discover.
We until next time culture vultures……..