Imagine doing your job and having to think seriously about how your work will be perceived not just now but for centuries ahead. What a burden of responsibility. And yet this is the reality of life for sculptors of high profile public work. While most artists only have to be true to their own muse, the public sculptor must balance this with a responsibility to the audience of today – and of generations to come.
It takes a special breed of person with a singular kind of talent to handle this. Even among this small cohort, Philip Jackson stands out. Today, Philip is trusted with the most high profile and illustrious commissions British society can offer. His work includes The Equestrian sculpture of HM the Queen, Matt Busby and Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford, the ‘In Pensioner’ sculpture for the Royal Hospital at Chelsea, the Gurkha Memorial, the Wallenberg Monument, the Jersey Liberation Sculpture, the Young Mozart, the Korean War Memorial and dozens more.
Time and again, public bodies choose Philip on the basis of his technical skill, emotional sensitivity and – not least – the seriousness with which he views each new commission. He says: "Creating a public work is like writing a book. You need to study your subjects thoroughly. You have to remember that you have three audiences to think about – the people commissioning the work, the viewing public today, and the viewing public of 300 years from now."
Philip’s diligence was certainly required for two of his more recent projects. In 2012, he completed the Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park. This was a highly charged and occasionally controversial commission, and yet the work received unanimous praise. The elegiac memorial changed perceptions of Bomber Command, and is now one of London’s most visited landmarks.
Then, in 2015, Philip completed a statue of one of the 20th century’s most revered statesmen: Mahatma Gandhi. The commission in London’s Parliament Square marked the 100th anniversary of Gandhi’s return to India to start the campaign for independence. Prime Minister David Cameron described it as “a magnificent tribute to one of the most towering figures in the history of world politics.”
Limited edition maquettes of both Bomber Command and Gandhi are available in Philip’s keenly anticipated new show at the Catto Gallery, ten years since his debut in 2007. Of course, alongside his public commissions Philip is a prolific creator of outstanding ‘gallery’ works. And these will form the bulk of the exhibition.
Fans of Philip’s work will be thrilled to see this show delve deeper into the psychology of the human form. Curious hooded figures abound, each rising out of the ground like organic structures. Many are inspired by the masked figures of Venice – a theme the sculptor has explored for 40 years. And Philip teases immense drama from the hands and eyes of otherwise cryptic creations such as The Boat Master.
There is such skill and subtlety at play here. But then Philip has dedicated himself to his craft for around 60 years. He was born in Inverness in 1944, and was obsessed with art from an early age. He decided to be a sculptor at age 10. Over half a century later Philip is more in demand than ever, and working just as hard. Like his hero Jacob Epstein, he has no interest in retiring. One reason may be that he is a perfectionist; he sees only the flaws in his work. Another is that he simply loves his job. “Why retire if you enjoy what you are doing,” he says. “Keep working on what has intrigued and beguiled you all your life.”
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