Born in London in 1933, I developed a passion for painting and sculpture at school, but kept it in abeyance for two years in the army and three more while reading History amid the beauty of King’s College, Cambridge, and with vacation travels to France and Greece in the days before tourism really got going.
Then I looked around. Though moved by painting and its history as much as by sculpture, it was sculpture that I wanted to make. Tactility is what I most respond to, then volume and mass and the relations between them. Tactile values as perceived by the eye. Colour I was not so gifted for. I had not been to art school. I lacked all skill.
At the same time I needed to get away from the greyness of post war Britain and from the familiarity of my own Country. So, late in 1956 I went to Milan. I had seen the works of the new Italian sculptors in London at Erica Brausen’s Hanover Gallery: Marino Marini, Giacomo Manzù and that arch-mannerist Emilio Greco. Giacometti and Henry Moore I admired, but I wanted the great working hub that was Milano, where both Marini and Manzù worked, and I came to love the wonderful, foggy and mysterious city with its clattering trams. After a few weeks study at the Accademia di Brera I left to find Manzù, who had given up his Brera professorship, in his own studio. He liked what I could show him and phoned immediately to the foundry he worked with, to a marble carver and to a copper smith, all old friends from boyhood in Bergamo or from the Partisans against the Fascists, and he sent me to work with all of them.
I travelled around on my Lambretta scooter, bought with money from teaching English, visited the great Romanesque churches of Lombardy, with their carvings form the dawn of western sculptural tradition. Till then I had steeped myself in the sculpture of archaic Greece and in the tribal art of west Africa. It was sculpture at its various beginnings which fascinated me, and there was plenty of that at the museum of the Castello Sforzesco. Manzù let me have the use of one of his studios in the Castello, overlooking the courtyard where Leonardo had set up his giant equestrian monument some 450 years before. I was particularly chuffed when a workman stuck his head round the door and said “Buon giorno, maestro”.
The Fonderia M.A.F. (The initials of the three original partners) was the most ramshackle construction of rafters and corrugated iron sheets kept apart with ropes to let out the smoke and the intense heat from the furnaces beneath. Nine or ten workmen, from apprentices and labourers to expert craftsmen who were the current partners. This foundry became one of the centers of my life for the next twenty years or more as I was to do all my own casting there. In early years, virtually every time I went, there would be a Manzù at one end of the central workshop and a Marini at the other, with lesser fry in the middle. Though the two of them did not frequent one another. When in Milano I always lodged with Fanny, a desperately poor old lady of 83 whose father had been Garibaldi’s trumpeter during the 1860 campaign to liberate Italy, and also the first violin at the performance of Aida at La Scala. Such are the threads of history that touch our lives.
In early summer I met up with a Russian-Irish girl whom I had known before and who had won a painting scholarship for Italy. We went for a while to a school for marble carvers at Carrara and then by scooter on to Salzburg, where both Manzù and Kokoschka held a magnificent summer school in the fortress. They were inspiring teachers and we returned three years running. After a visit to England we lived in a mountain village some 60 km from Rome called Anticoli Corrado. Living was very cheap then and especially on mountain villages, Italy being still in post-war penury before its industrial boom. But there was an ease and openness in personal contacts which enabled me to breathe more freely than in England at that time. In summer 1959 we were married. First the civil marriage in the City Hall of Rome on Michelangelo’s Campidoglio, with the Carabinieri in ceremonial dress leaning on their swords; followed by the religious ceremony at the Russian Orthodox church.
At this time Manzù moved to Rome, partly for his health and partly to be near the Vatican for which he was working on a pair of huge bronze doors. He invited me to work for him in one of the two new studios. I was then and remained a pupil, but as I gained in experience, my role evolved into that of studio assistant. I spent my time setting up panels for the reliefs on the doors, finishing bronzes, setting up armatures for big figures of his favorite model, Inge, whom he married at this time. Work on the Doors was very slow, as it had been for a dozen years already, due to the Vatican’s disapproval of Manzù’s ideological imagery, but then a new Pope was elected, John XXIII°, now canonized a saint. He understood Manzù, a fellow Bergamasco, and work on the Doors went apace with Manzù developing his own iconography and composition. At the same time he made a series of seven portraits of the Pope.
For the development of my own work I had to move on. So we set off for friends in Paris who found us a small house in the suburb of Sartrourville. This is where I did the majority of my figurative work, plus a few portraits as a development of my work with Manzù. I did a few over life-size figures in plaster as well as many small modelled figures from life in which I attempted to get beyond the surface to render the vitality of the figure through the freshness and rapidity of my fingers in the clay; the form being given through the palms of my hands. The smaller pieces I cast in plaster myself and we took them down to Milan in several trips of the 2-Cheveaux. I worked a lot with my friends in the foundry and for a short while in Nice, where I divorced and remarried. Together with the paintings of my first wife, my bronzes were exhibited at the Crane Kalman Gallery, London in 1966 and the following years at the Galerie le Fanal in Paris.
I then accepted a subsidized situation to help an Austrian friend set up a bronze foundry near to Salzburg. I was there for two and a half years, during which time my work became more formal and abstract. This was determined by my use of wax worked with hot irons and of plaster worked with knives. I followed the forms which grew from the limitations of these techniques. And I had a show in the massive vaults of the Salzburg Landesregerung. My wife became very ill at this time and the insurance enabled us to move back to Brianza, the area north of Milan, where eventually we were able to build a house and studio. My work developed further through the Seventies and Eighties working with plaster masses and with lighter, more aerial, forms made with sheet wax. I am a tactile sculptor and rarely use drawings. During these years in the orbit of Milan I exhibited more than fifty group shows and ten one-man shows, mostly in Milan and nearby. For the Biennale di Scultura di Monza I brought in the British participants.
Eventually the Milanese climate proved too much for my French wife and we moved again to Nice. But she required more and more intensive nursing which I could not reconcile with working seriously at sculpture. She died in the year 2000. Little though I thought I could ever give up, I found myself in my late seventies too sapped to begin afresh the seriousness of sculpture. We have shipped most of my remaining bronzes back to London or to Cornwall. The work represents about four decades of development, remaining open-ended. The break has been too long and must now remain. “We” means I have married again very happily. Meanwhile, Manzù’s great Doors, with the most beautiful bronze reliefs of our age, were finished and installed on the far left of St. Peter’s façade in 1964, shortly after my departure.