Suffolk sculptor Paul Richardson gets caught up in nature’s world of death and rebirth
PUBLISHED: 10:37 20 February 2018
Sculptor Paul Richardson is best known for his quirky, figurative steel sculptures – over-sized East End geezers, a Roy Rogers-style cowboy, a native American chief on the warpath, Pegasus, a flying horse, a Day of the Dead Mariachi and a earnest looking butler, among many others.
His pair of ballroom dancers still cheer up patients at Ipswich Hospital and his fly-swat-waving General still raises a smile for anyone waiting at the Major’s Corner bus stop in Ipswich or those heading to the Regent.
But, the north Suffolk-based artist has recently found himself being inspired by leaf litter and the detritus of the natural world. Over the past 18 months he has become captivated by nature’s cycle of death, decay and rebirth. The sign that something has changed in the world of Paul Richardson is spotted immediately as you drive up to his studio and workshop.
Outside, on the lawn, are a pair of giant-sized Sycamore seed pods positioned on top of a couple of concrete paving slabs, close by there is a Filigree Fire Basket with its intricate, weaving pattern creating a network of delicate veins which can safely hold its flaming contents while allowing flames and complex shadows to lick around it and create fascinating shapes.
By the backdoor an out-sized steel replica of a half-dessicated leaf stands forever contorted by the process of decay. A network of threads and capillaries weave their way across the surface which is now only half there. The somewhat sturdier stalk, curled by the drying out process, now forms a stand to carry the weight of the sculpture.
This recreation of the natural world gradually came about as Paul took his dogs for their twice daily walks in the countryside surrounding his workshop.
“I suddenly found myself taking notice of the world around me, I started really looking at the trees and the discarded seed pods and the leaf litter on the ground and I was fascinated by the shapes and the ways that things broke down as they returned to the earth.
“I loved the fact that the leaf was almost skeletal when I picked it up. It was fragile but the fact it still had structure meant that it was also resilient. I thought it was amazing.
“At first I put it down because I made figures but I kept going back to it and I realised that I had to make this in steel.”
Having made this large, free-standing leaf, Paul then set about making a much more demanding leaf globe which was designed to be a garden feature.
“I was commissioned to make an armillary sphere and I said can I have more of a free reign and make something a little different? They said a cautious okay, so I made this leaf sphere instead. They weren’t sure, so I went back and made them an armillary sphere and put the leaf sphere into the Art for Cure show and it sold really well.
“I got the original inspiration from kicking great clouds of leaves about when I was a kid. I loved the way that they would go up into the air. I got a picture in my mind of leaves flying around in a whirlwind and the leaf sphere was my attempt to capture that image.”
He said that the overall theme of his latest work was rebirth. “As things break down they are setting up the ground for the process of renewal and rebirth. Take the sycamore seed, from that seemingly dry, sterile pod a new tree could grow.”
He said that the challenge for him as an artist was to breathe life into the empty spaces. The designs were so much more intricate and large empty areas were just as important as areas filled with sheets of metal.
“I used to teach drawing years ago in the Midlands and I always set my students a task which did their heads in. I used to say: ‘Okay, today we are going to draw the empty spaces because I knew that what wasn’t there was just as important and informative as the things that were.
“With any work of art, it’s more about what you leave out rather than what you put in.” He added that within nature you could discover a host of complicated geometric patterns. “I am working with the head of a metal dandelion at the moment and space, shape and line are very much in evidence. Nature always gets there first.
“I’m loving this new phase of my work because I am being forced to look again at nature and see the world afresh.
“I love working with figures and playing about with characters and will continue doing that, but these new investigations into the natural world are what are exciting me at the moment.”