An Interview With The Sculptor Nick Hornby About Glyndebourne Festival

20th August 2017

Held at the eponymous estate in East Sussex every summer since 1943, the Glyndebourne Festival has become a venerated addition of the British summertime calendar for many. It has also grown to become one of the most important opera organisations in the country. Originally billed as a concert series taking place inside the home, a fully functioning opera house opened on the site alongside the original building in 1994. As cultured clans descend on the estate every summer, the festival's programme has grown to include many other artistic outlets.

This year, several contemporary artists were selected to show their works throughout the grounds of the estate during the festival, including porcelain sculptures by White Cube’s Rachel Kneebone, paintings inspired by Hamlet by Heather Betts and monumental sculptures by the British artist Nick Hornby.

Une seconde vie #1, 2017. By Nick Hornby.Bronze. Head: 65 x 37 x 68cm (50kg) Plinth: 110 x 60 x 60cm (150kg) Edition of 1 of 3 + 2. Shown here at Glyndebourne Festival 2017. Copyright the artist.

Nick Horny, who lives and works in London, has previously exhibited his sculptures at Tate Britain, The Southbank Centre, The Fitzwilliam Museum and CASS Sculpture Foundation in the UK, as well as at galleries in the USA, Hong Kong, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Greece and more. During his globe-spanning fourteen year career he has also won the Clifford Chance Sculpture Prize, the Deidre Hubbard Sculpture Award and the BlindArt Prize among others. Clearly a man with a voracious appetite for work.

Hornby is presenting a selection of works at this year’s Glyndebourne Festival, which closes on the 27 August, that draw on historical connections with artists including Michelangelo, Rodin, Brancusi and Matisse. Each work aims to create dialogues between old and new spirits, technologies and materials. Cast, cut and carved from bronze, marble and resin, the sculptures dominate their landscapes while remaining respectful of their surroundings and traditions. Candid Magazine’s Art Editor Harry Seymour sat down with Nick to discuss the project.

Harry Seymour: How did the opportunity to work with Glyndebourne come about?
Nick Hornby: Glyndebourne have worked with some iconic sculptors including Tony Cragg, Anish Kapoor, and Antony Gormley. They also have a stunning bronze Henry Moore on long term loan (Draped Reclining Woman,1958 – initially exhibited at the seminal exhibition Documenta 2 in Kassel). I was invited by Glyndebourne to see the opera house and gardens, and I jumped at the chance to take on this commission.

Muse Offcut #1, 2017 by Nick Hornby. Bronze, 400 x 120 x 100. cm, Edition of 3 + 2. Shown here at Glyndebourne Festival 2017. Copyright the artist.

HS: Did opera inform the works in any way?
NH: Yes – both visual art and music have a lot in common. I grew up with music as a chorister. Both engage with figuration and abstraction – a cello is animal gut (a traditional string is made from gut), stretched over a bridge (the name of the timber support) and made to vibrate by horse hair (the strands that make up a bow). Both music and art have structure, support, narrative. Both have layers – in music there is the idea of polyphony (multiple overlapping melodies). My sculptures combine multiple narratives and the multi-viewpoints – at times individual voices come into sync, from certain angles images snap into view.

HS: Can you explain your choice of materials?
NH: It is a mix of practical, appearance, and association. Metals like steel or bronze can support large structures, corten is a bright rusty red colour, and marble is associated with classicism or bathrooms. Each material has different physical properties and practical abilities, and each material has narrative meanings and cultural associations. Art is about ideas, but sculpture has to “stand up.” If you look at classical marble figures, they always have a support at the ankle, for example Michelangelo’s David has a tree stump.

Muse Offcut #1, 2017 by Nick Hornby. Bronze, 400 x 120 x 100. cm, Edition of 3 + 2. Shown here at Glyndebourne Festival 2017. Copyright the artist.

HS: Is a sense of art history important to your work?
NH: Yes – for me it is very important. But to the viewer, no. The works have meaning with or without recognising art historical references. It is for the viewer to make their own meanings.

HS: Can you describe the making process of these works?
NH: Not easily! You start with an idea, or a material or a feeling. It’s hard to pin down… something you read yesterday, something you saw as a child. There is normally a trigger that connects an idea with something real (an abstract thought to a material or process). The most important step is the site – in this case – Glyndebourne. You don’t make a 700kg bronze idea unless is has somewhere to go. Processes; digital, non-digital, on a computer, on a piece of paper, cut using a digital robot, maybe hand manipulated, maybe cast into another material, maybe painted. Small steps and large steps.

Vanity Working on a Weak Head Produces Every Sort of Mischief (Jane Austen) , 2016. By Nick Hornby. Marble. 100 x 50 x 50. Edition of 3 + 2. Shown here at Glyndebourne Festival 2017. Copyright the artist.

HS: Can you tell us more about how you fuse technology with handcrafting?
NH: This year the festival opened with Hipermestra – a Baroque opera written in 1658 but set in a vague, contemporary Middle East. This mix of old and new is not uncommon at Glyndebourne or the arts in general. I find it very natural to move between old and new technologies. There was a time when people spoke about their ‘online presence’ and there was this difference between ‘online’ and ‘offline’ – now it seems that technology has become inseparable from life. We don’t live a ‘hi-tech life’ we just live life – which now includes an iPhone and contactless pay.

HS: How does the outdoor landscape influence the work?
NH: It has enormous influence over the work. It often determines the work. In a gallery the references points are doors, windows and your own body, the viewing distance from the sculpture is limited by walls. Outside in the landscape reference points are trees, clouds, valleys – all of which are huge. From far away, 3D is reduced to 2D – the silhouette. Up close you can touch the surface.

The Present Is Just a Point, 2013. By Nick Hornby. Marble resin composite, aluminum 260 x 200 x 114 cm. Unique. Shown here at Glyndebourne Festival 2017. Copyright the artist.

HS: Can you outline your inspiration from Rodin, Michelangelo, Brancusi and Matisse?
NH: I literally ‘outline’ – I’m very interested in how we interpret in diagrams and signs, and how we seem to condense large meaning into singular images. It could be a red triangle and you think ‘stop!’ or it could be the famous silhouette of Michelangelo’s David, and you think Classical art, Renaissance, single point perspective, patriarchy, the problems of western-centric art historical narratives. I’m inspired by these iconic names because they almost become universal signs – and because their work is incredible.

HS: How would you like people to interact with these works?
NH: To look, to have a feeling or an idea. To see them from far away, and then to go up and touch them.
HS: Where will the works go afterwards?
NH; The works remain at Glyndebourne until March 2018. After that the main pieces are going to LA.

Nick Hornby: Sculpture (1504 – 2017), until August 27, 2017 at Glyndebourne Festival 2017.
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