Resting with Ancients: Nichola Theakston Invokes Animal Spirits in Her Contemplative Bronze Sculptures
As far back as 5,000 years ago, ancient Egyptians worshipped the goddess Bastet, who took the form of a lioness, a fierce warrior deity associated with the sun. She was seen as a protector during pregnancy and childbirth and a defender against evil spirits and diseases. Over time, her likeness adopted the characteristics of a domestic cat, which in later dynasties assumed cult-like status, and the animals were revered and bred for protection and sacrifice. Along with mythological beings such as Sekhmet, another lion-faced, solar goddess of medicine, the deities comprise an integral part of sculptor Nichola Theakston’s soulful exploration into the history, lore, and spirits of animals.
Working in ceramics and bronze, Theakston’s practice (previously) centers on meditative depictions of mammals, drawing on ancient sources to connect viewers with contemporary concerns and timeless perceptions.In her continuing series of primate portraits, the subjects appear calm, meditative, or lost in thought and emphasize her interest in our “commonality and shared consciousness.” With a focus on faces, she often leaves the bodies unfinished, hinting at shoulders or limbs while highlighting the details of jawlines, ears, and brows.
Informed by her work with ceramics, Theakston is constantly evolving her approach to the nuances of texture and color. Each piece, first sculpted by hand before being cast in bronze, bears an organic, expressive approach that spotlights the presence of the artist’s hand. The surfaces feature subtle score marks, nudges, and notches, which draw attention to elegant silhouettes and the supple folds of ears and eyelids. A range of patination techniques, which the artist is consistently experimenting with and developing, create subtle shifts in contrast and hue so no two are exactly alike.
“I have been working recently on canine and feline subjects with reference to ancient Egyptian forebears and sculptural representations,” Theakston tells Colossal. In “Pariah,” the artist’s beloved Mediterranean podenco named Nola mirrors the sleek features of Anubis, the dog-headed Egyptian god of funerary rights and usher to the underworld. “Nola at times seems to very much embody her ancient ancestry and our interwoven human connection with both,” she says.
“Resting with Ancients” will be on view with Sladmore Gallery as part of London Art Week from June 30 to July 7, and if you’re in The Netherlands, you can find her work at Art Laren fair with De KunstSalon, which runs June 16 to 18. Theakston is currently casting a new macaque study at Castle Fine Arts Foundry in Powys, Wales. See more on her website and Instagram.
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Through Trompe L’oeil Bronze, Prune Nourry Fuses Human Anatomy and Arboreal Roots
At the end of Jean-Baptiste Lully’s baroque opera Atys, the titular character is transformed into a tree. This metamorphosis, the result of a spell cast by an agitated goddess, secures Atys’ Earth-bound fate, melding human and plant life into a single body.
French artist Prune Nourry draws on this mythological allegory in a series that visualizes the hybrid form. Standing several feet tall to be lifelike or larger, a trio of bronze figures emerges through intricate networks mimicking both veins and branches, “fractal shapes that we can find in different scales in nature,” the artist says. Each sculpture references the form’s roots in operatic performance, and Nourry painted the smooth metal in a trompe l’oeil style so that the works appear as if made of rope, used frequently in stage rigging. This illusory material also alludes to the connection between the infinitely large and infinitely small, a concept often described in the framework of string theory.
Nourry, who lives and works between New York and Paris, has long been interested in the body and the way it interacts with the environment. She recently completed a massive public work featuring a pregnant mother embedded in the land, and earlier projects include anatomical sculptures that similarly connect vein and branch. In her ongoing In Vitro series that began back in 2010, for example, Nourry uses laboratory glass to create delicate, sprawling renditions of human lungs and bodies. As a whole, her practice “questions the notion of balance and the ethical issues attached to it: the body and healing process, the dangerous demographic imbalance due to (the) selection of babies’ sex in some countries, the ecosystem, and (the) interdependence between living species,” a statement says.
Last year, the artist collaborated on a performance of Atys, and you can see the massive rope installation she created for that production in the video below. Find more of her corporeal projects on Instagram.
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Dancing Figures and Natural Elements Coalesce in Jonathan Hateley’s Elegant Bronze Sculptures
Immersed in nature, female figures dance, reflect, and rest in Jonathan Hateley’s limber bronze sculptures. The subjects commune with their surroundings, greeting the sun or leaning into the wind and merging with patterns of foliage or lichen. “I was drawn to create a sculpture reflecting nature on the surface of the figure, which could be better highlighted with the use of colour,” he tells Colossal. “This has evolved over time from the shapes of leaves to fingerprints and cherry blossoms to plant cells.”
Before he began an independent studio practice, Hateley worked for a commercial workshop that produced sculptures for television, theatre, and film, often with rapid turnaround. Over time, he was attracted to slowing down and emphasizing experimentation, finding inspiration in regular walks in nature. Although he’s focused on the human figure for more than a decade, he originally resisted that style. “I began with wildlife, and that began to evolve into organic forms with details illustrated onto the sculptures,” he tells Colossal. Between 2010 and 2011, he completed a remarkable 365-day project of tiny bas-reliefs that were eventually composed onto a kind of monolith.
Hateley initially began working with bronze using the cold-cast method—also known as bronze resin—a process that involves mixing bronze powder and resin together to create a kind of paint, then applying it to the inside of a mold made from the original clay form. This naturally led to foundry casting, or lost-wax, in which an original sculpture can be reproduced in metal. The initial design and sculpting process can take up to four months from start to finish, followed by casting and hand-finishing, which usually takes around three months to complete.
Right now, Hateley is working on a series based on a photo shoot with a West End dancer, a reference that helps him achieve the anatomical details of extended torsos and limbs. “The first of those sculptures has a figure reaching upwards, hopefully towards better times,” he says. “I saw her like a plant growing out of a seed and eventually flowering, (with) oblong, cell-like shapes gradually merging into circular reds and oranges.” And currently, he is modeling a ballet pose in clay, evoking “a person in a calm restful state, like she is floating in a calm sea, thus becoming the sea.”
Hateley will have work at Affordable Art Fair in Hong Kong with Linda Blackstone Gallery and will be included in Art & Soul at The Artful Gallery in Surrey and Summer Exhibition 2023 at Talos Art Gallery in Wiltshire from June 1 to 30. He will also have work with Pure at the Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival from July 3 to 10. Find more on the artist’s website, and follow on Instagram for updates and peeks into his process.
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Gracefully Elongated Limbs Stretch and Bend in Isabel Miramontes’s Figurative Sculptures
With a flair for dramatic contortions of the human body, Spanish artist Isabel Miramontes (previously) casts elongated limbs and impossibly stretched torsos in bronze. Many of her elegant sculptures depict androgynous figures with no discernable gender or clothing who are caught in the midst of movement. Expressive and exaggerated, the figures evoke the distinct tension between corporeal limitation and liberation.
In “Come On,” for example, one subject attempts to pull another from their collapsed position on the floor, while other works feature characters with segmented bodies or heads attached to an upper arm rather than a neck. The latter emphasizes the ephemeral aspects of both motion and the flesh, showing that each will ultimately disappear into memory.
Explore more of the artist’s recent works at CASART and on Artsy.
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Anthony Theakston’s Elegant Sculptures Imbue Ceramics and Bronze with Avian Spirit
Known as silent predators of the night, owls possess the beguiling ability to swoop within inches of their prey undetected due to specialized feathers that make their flight almost completely inaudible. It’s no wonder that for millennia, the enigmatic creatures have represented wisdom, helpfulness, and prophecy in myths and folklore around the world. Lincolnshire-based artist Anthony Theakston has always been fascinated by birds and flight, and he summons the mystical beauty of the avians’ elegant wings and tender faces in ceramic and bronze.
Theakston prizes out the essence of each living being in a way that is neither purely abstract nor representational, transforming an inanimate hunk of plaster, ceramic, or bronze into a form poised to launch from its perch at any moment. “My work is as much an abstract sculpture or design that contains some spirit of life in general, and the bird form seems like a pure way to represent this to me,” he tells Colossal. “The barn owl has a particular place in my work, I think, partly because it has an obvious beauty but also because it in some way has a human quality to its facial characteristics and structure.”
To begin a new sculpture, the artist starts by discerning a mood that he wants to convey and searches for imagery that captures that feeling. After sketching loosely, he refines the idea into a formal design. “I am most happy with a simple, uncomplicated expression of the idea, and so much of my time is spent refining and altering every small detail until it seems to work perfectly,” he says. “I like to think of it as an equation which has been expressed in its simplest form.” Once the design is finalized, he sculpts the minimal lines of legs, heart-shaped heads, and beady eyes from a solid block of Herculite plaster and adds a variety of surface finishes to produce an array of patinas and patterns.
Theakston will release a new bronze edition at the end of May and is exhibiting work at Affordable Art Fair Brussels between February 8 and 12 with De Kunst Salon. Find more of his work on Instagram.
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Lithe Figures Cast in Bronze by Coderch & Malavia Mimic Gracefully Choreographed Movements
From their recently relocated studio in Ribarroja de Turia, Valencia, Coderch & Malavia (previously) sculpt dancers and precariously posed figures frozen mid-movement. Swirling locks of hair sweep upward into the air, a long scarf billows sideways in folds and wrinkles, and a childlike character balances on a totemic stump with crows perched nearby. Mimicking the grace and exactitude of skilled ballerinas, the sculptures are poetic and intimate as they capture fleeting moments in patinaed bronze.
A new work, “Giant of Salt,” is a collaboration with the Costa Rican dancer Fred Herrera, whose known for his production of the same name. Spanning nearly four meters and weighing 1,350 kilos, the large-scale sculpture depicts a nude figure in a low backbend, head resting on the ground with hands upturned toward the sky. Coderch & Malavia derived the pose from Herrera’s choreographed piece, which is created in the style of Japanese dance theatre known as Butoh and features slow, writhing movements.
Currently, the duo is working on a collection of works related to Russia’s war in Ukraine and preparing for a February exhibition at an outdoor sculpture park in Almacelles, Spain, and a solo show slated for April in Paris. Follow updates on their latest projects on Instagram.
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