Across the Board and Two Other Sculptures

Text by
Michael Pennie

The following pages are taken from the catalogue of Across The Board + 2 Other Sculptures at Black Swan Arts in Frome Somerset from 6th October - 10th November 2007

When I was a student, David Sylvester said to me during a seminar, that it was only gangsters and sculptors who could make money easily and sculptors could do it with less risk! He was not referring to getting away with murder but to the practice of having a series of bronze casts made in a foundry, from a single sculpture. One work that could easily be copied 7, 12 or 21 times, as an edition. Each bronze signed and numbered - with most of the effort being made, not by the sculptor, but by the foundry men.

Not surprisingly, this traditional way of doing things was rejected by the younger sculptors of the early Sixties. Most of us preferred new materials and those not usual to sculpture making, such as Ciment Fondu, Polyester Resin and other plastics - materials that were cheap and cheerful, but with a very short life compared to bronze, (which, as we know from archaeology, lasts a very long time).

These three works have been made with the same aversion to producing an identical sculpture more than once. Although every cast is not completely unique as some elements are repeated, each small sculpture is a one-off. This inimitability is explored in each of the three assemblages, particularly in the first one, Across the Board. A sculpture that began as the 100 Small Bronzes Project. A means of my rediscovering the practice of bronze casting, engaging once again after a long period of abstinence, with the several processes that add together to make a finished sculpture.

The bronzes were all made in my small studio, transformed into a one-person foundry, These new sculptures mark a radical change in my work, both in scale and materials. From large carved wood works, distillations, when all the excess material is gradually removed, to casting small bronzes via an additive process, one of modelling with wax.
Across the board
Across the Board 2004/2006: At the start it was my intention to make a hundred bronzes and to complete the project by the end of 2005. Although throughout the project, the number and reaching a target became of lesser consequence, the arrival was less important than the journey. My pleasure was in the suspension, at least to start with, of a critical position that would inhibit a period of exploration, a time to extend my formal language and allow for more immediate responses.

The one hundred bronzes were made almost without hesitation, concerned less with the individual and more with the populace I was always looking forward to the accumulation of these three dimensional notes or sketches, together in one work. At the end there were more than a hundred made, the collection has been edited: the present seventy-six is a selection from the first, and subsequent arrangements, refined into its present constituents over some weeks.

Across the Board comprises those little sculptures, that sit most fruitfully together, cast over a period of twenty months. As they were made each one was mounted on a hardwood block and taken from studio to home, for scrutiny and, often but not always, for pleasure - until most of our available window ledges and the tops of furniture were occupied. Nearly all survived this close inspection, however it was clear that several sculptures were more of an entity than a team player and they were eliminated from the final seventy-six.

All the bronzes in Across the Board, which is the largest of the three works in the exhibition, have been subjected to a traditional patination, the effect of chemicals such as Ferric Nitrate or Ammonia Polysulphide, applied by heat from a gas torch or cold dipped.

When the bronzes were mounted across a sheet of plywood, most of the hard wood plinths became redundant, in this work, that is, but they provided the materials to show off the twenty-two new bronzes being made for the second sculpture By Fits and Starts.

Across the Board is a map, depicting events and associations during the time of the making and from memories and future devices.