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Installation Choreography

Tags: Outdoor Sculpture, Private Commission

19th April 2016:
Yesterday saw the installation of a 'small' granite sculpture for a private client in Wimbledon. Normally this would not be of much note, but I think it worth mentioning as the installation was a real challenge, given that I couldn't get any powered lifting machines to help - 'just' a super efficient helper called Duncan.
Rolling the 1700kg. forms round the house, down steps and into the garden location went like clockwork. In fact the size, weight and material of the sculpture were all carefully considered, knowing the route through the garden to the final installation site. These are often unthought of aspects of making and installing a sculpture, particularly when it sits successfully in its final location as if it has been there for years, but they are all part of the back story for the creation.
And of course a dry day is most welcomed.


How to Make a Desk: from Penmaenmawr to Piccadilly

Tags: Public Commission, Studio Practice, Indoor Sculpture, Private Commission

20 October 2015:
Today saw the opening of 21 Glasshouse Street, Piccadilly. This, together with 7 Air Street next door, is the latest transformation of the Regent Street public realm, owned by The Crown Estate. As a state of the art new office space, 21 Glasshouse Street required a significant and appropriate reception desk that is both unique and responsive to its location. Working in collaboration with designers Barr Gazetas, I opened up the idea of the responsive nature in the design, to source a boulder from a quarry owned by The Crown Estate. The concept was an exciting one and the journey of its making was, you could say, made for me but the challenge lay in sourcing the 'right' rock.

This was not an easy task as most dimensional stone quarries throughout the British Isles have now closed down, a casualty of cheaper foreign imports and changes in current building styles and materials. The rock itself is still in the ground, a latent reminder of Britain's proud and historic building materials as well as its varied geological make up. After searching the four corners of Britain, I finally sourced a suitable boulder at an aggregate quarry in North Wales. Actually, I almost didn't pay it a visit because I knew that aggregate quarries blast their material from the rock face, fracturing the boulders with internally hidden cracks. However, when I made that first visit to the top of the ancient quarry (Neolithic axe heads have been found in one section of the quarry) it was pretty clear that this was the right boulder, patiently waiting for me to come me along. In fact, the quarry couldn't move it to be crushed, as it weighed an estimated thirty tonnes.

Below is a set of images which take you through the making of the desk. From the wind swept mountain top at Penmaenmawr in North Wales where I drilled a split the boulder in two, to Fyfe Glenrock in Aberdeenshire where it was sawn and drilled to millimetre accuracy, tacking on the required dimensions of a fully functioning reception desk. Down to my Somerset studio where I cut, shaped, chiseled, ground and polished the finer details, and attached the necessary computer support structure. And finally up to London, where it took a team of six men to delicately site it in the required location and height. I hope you enjoy the journey as much as I did.

Click here to see further commission images and testimonial.


Image credits: No. 10 & 12-17 Anne Purkiss


Sawing Basalt

Tags: Private Commission, Studio Practice

23rd October 2014:
The last two days I have been at the superb granite factory of Fyfe Glenrock, just north of Aberdeen, 'The Granite City'. I was over seeing the sawing of the half boulder I transported from Penmaenmawr Quarry two weeks ago. This is to become a reception desk for The Crown Estate's new HQ in Piccadilly.

The process seems a simple one: place the Basalt block on a trolley, wheel it underneath a vast wire saw and cut, many times. Whilst this is in essence what happened, it took an unusual amount of time to jig the block up on the trolley in just the right position and level, that would mean the top, bottom and back side of the desk got cut in exactly the right place, down to the millimetre. Being a desk, this object has an acute functionality.

The saw we used is a wire saw, common in quarries across the world. It works in just the same way as a cheese wire would on a block of cheese, only slower, as the water cooled wired has many diamond teeth crimped onto it, to act as the cutter: the cut in the second image took six hours! The block had to be taken out of the saw room after each cut, the excess material removed and new measurements made, then back in for another cut. The next step is to polish the surface of the desk and then start to cut out the underneath apertures where legs and computers will fit.

Its a marvellous thing to watch those men handle such large blocks with the slow gentleness one would expect to find in a cabinet makers workshop. There were moments of anxiety though, when having committed a line to be sawn and trusting that it would yield the flat plane in the correct place within the block, having spent a long time trying to understand where in that irregular shaped block, the best position would be to yield the ideal desk.


Quarrying News...

Tags: Studio Practice, Private Commission, Outdoor Sculpture

11th October 2014:
Last week I did something I love, spending time at the top of a hill/mountain, in all weather conditions, working rock. In this case it was the splitting of a thirty tonne boulder of Diorite from Penmaenmawr Quarry, just down the road from Bangor. Unusually for me, this quarry is an aggregate quarry, the land leased from The Crown Estate, by Hanson Aggregates. All of this quarrying material is blasted from the rock face with dynamite, fracturing it into smallish blocks which are then crushed up into smaller pieces used for concrete, Black Top road surface and other aggregates sources. Blasting means that the rock is usually riddled with fractures and therefore no good for making things from, but the particle block I found had about forty feet of rock between it and the dynamite blast, which meant that the major force of the explosion was taken up by other material, simply pushing this boulder into the heart of the quarry.

Upon inspection a month ago, it appeared sound (free from faults) so I went back last week to drill and split the boulder in two, in order to reduce its transport weight up to the Aberdeen saw mill. This was done by using a pneumatic rock drill to place a straight line of 32mm diameter holes across the boulder. I drilled twenty five holes, each to a depth of 900mm, in order to weaken the rock, just like the perforations around a stamp. I then placed plugs and feather, expanding metal wedges, into the holes and took three quarters of an hour hitting them evenly in order to create a sideways pressure which eventually cracked the parent block just where I wanted, in a straight line.

Splitting rock with plugs and feathers is peculiarly exciting, particularly when you actually hear the rock slowy splitting, as if you are tearing it apart. Something that never ceases to maze me is that rock, even extremely hard Diorite, a type of basalt, is actually elastic: you can see the split appearing on the top of the rock, well before it continues down the slides and then, with a load crack, it is parted.

This rock will become the main reception desk for The Crown Estate's new headquarters in Piccadilly.

Searching for Boulders

Tags: Private Commission

22nd August 2014:
Over the past few days I have been travelling hundreds of miles across Cumbria and North Wales in search of a boulder that will yield 3 x 1 x 1metres of clean material. This is a project for The Crown Estate's**** main office building in the heart of Picadilly.

Its been an interesting journey because whilst I was aware that there are an ever decreasing amount of indigenous quarries which can produce large dimensional stone blocks (blocks split or sawn from the quarry face, not blasted, such as aggregate quarries do, there by fracturing the rock), I am shocked to find that the number of remaining quarries are very limited indeed. This is all to do with economics - unfortunately for the quarrying industry of the British Isles, it is now so much cheaper to import foreign material.

However, I did find some very large boulders which may just provide the rock I need for my project. Here are a selection of images of those boulders.
1. Shap granite in Cumbria
2. a glacial boulder sourced from the edge of Snowdonia
3. a huge Basalt boulder from Gwynedd.

Trees of Life – Prior's Court School, Berkshire

Tags: Private Commission

Simon has won a commission for a new building at Prior’s Court School: Bradbury Hall. This involves taking bronze casts of the bark from many of the mature specimen trees that surround the school and nickle plating them. As the school is for the severely autistic child, these simply sensual reliefs of familiar tree barks will be a welcome addition to the facade of Bradbury Hall, creating and sense of unity across the entire school grounds. They also continue Simon’s fascination with surfaces from the natural world. Installed: February 2011.