Interview with Luke Shepherd
Q: What do you hope to achieve within sculpture?
A: As a bronze portrait sculptor I focus on making the bust intensely life-like and as a result I hope the viewer can’t help but be engaged in a relationship with the bust. The viewer is always important, as I am trying to communicate with them through the work. But the clay must come to life. This doesn’t depend upon whether it is smooth or rough, but upon the degree of accuracy of observation and understanding I can capture. Modelling clay is like poetry; a magical process of observation and investigation of how light lands on a surface. It’s a subtle thing. I am trying to re-discover the visual language needed to transform the clay beyond mere technique or idea.
I find that the techniques of construction and how the sculpture is made have a real fascination for many viewers. So I aim to leave making marks that tell the history of how the piece is constructed. This helps the viewer to begin to have a conversation with the work.
Also, the materials from which sculpture is made are an important part of it’s essence and makes the tactile experience of the sculpture very immediate.
Unlike a painting, sculpture is more limited in its capacity to unfold stories. Essentially it is a tactile art and I think better suited to capture a moment rather than to rely on a narrative. In this way the power of the observation is paramount and the viewer is left to see this, rather than to work out the story being told.
Q: You’ve been commissioned to undertake portraits of many famous people over the years. Have there been any favourites?
A: I have many wonderful memories, but it is always a nerve-racking experience to try to capture a sitter’s likeness, despite having ample experience and ability to draw upon. Jacob Epstein said “a portrait sculptor needs a front of brass, the hide of a rhinoceros and all the guile of a courtier.”
I feel blessed to have met the late George Thomas, who was a marvelous and kind character: Listening to Stuart Burrows in a relaxed mood quietly break into the most glorious solo: Although not famous, when I modelled my grandfather it gave me time to really get to know him and this made for a special relationship in his later years.
It’s a very privileged position as most sitters relax and quietly share many of their inner most thoughts during our sittings together. Yet there are wonderful stories told in confidence that I would never repeat!
Q: What do you think of current trends within Contemporary Art?
A: Quite simply, I do not understand them. Conceptual art might be intellectually clever, but it leaves me cold as I can’t find the soul. An evocative word “soul” – but this is an essential ingredient if art is touch more than the cerebral cortex!
Q: So what value should art portray?
A: Very few people these days, have or take the time to stop and really look at the exquisite beauty of which we are a part. The artist is one of the few members of our society who may choose to do this. I see the artist’s work as having to reflect that beauty, through the value of slowing down and appreciating the nature of things. So many people say to me that they wish they had the time to do what I do. Portrait sculpture and indeed observational sculpture is one of the most challenging aspects of art that I know. This is partly what keeps me both fascinated and frustrated and returning the head again and again.
Q: During the 90’s you traveled and worked extensively in Asia and Australia and New Zealand. How has this influenced your artwork?
A: It gave me the opportunity to work with people and in ways that I would never have contemplated previously. For example, I was commissioned to produce a 6ft Buddha statue in India in only 8 days with a team of 12 people working under my supervision and this is the largest piece that I have made to date. As we couldn’t get hold of any expanded polystyrene, I decided to use straw for the centre of the piece. We ordered 10 bales which arrived on bicycle rickshaw after being cycled all night from the nearest agricultural town 25km away. I can tell you that we didn’t waste a single piece of that straw, knowing the toil that brought it to us.
Overseas I studied with Nepalese Bronze casters and visited foundries both in Thailand and Australia. I undertook a residency at Hawke’s Bay Art College in New Zealand and worked with Maori youth. I gained experience and confidence to tackle more that I could have encountered at home. Unfortunately it makes a large gap in my CV, but I have much inspiration and experience from my time overseas. A few years ago I re-built an old out house and turned it into a beautiful stone studio at our home on the edge of Dartmoor National Park. I feel settled and enthusiastic about the next phase of my work.
Q: What are your ambitions? Are there any faces you would like to model?
A: There are people I would like to meet and maybe through my work there could be a chance to do this? It was fascinating to work with HWL Poonja, whose presence was so strong and alive. There are a few people who have this quality and I would love to model their busts. Masters within the internal Martial Arts field interest me very much also.