LARGE SPADE VENUS 1986 (Contribution to book)
William Turnbull, Lund Humphries 2022

I first began working in bronze with AB Fine Art Foundry in the late 1980’s. This was almost a complete reversal of my previous method of making things. This new way of working was labour intensive, involving many people and took months from the start to the finished sculpture. At first, I was somewhat in awe of the process, not so much the mechanics of it (such as the mould making and the melting and pouring of the bronze), but the labour and time involved in putting together the cast pieces and finishing them to achieve the final completed sculpture.

It was at the foundry that I first met Bill Turnbull. He was always deeply involved in whatever he was working on and did not waste any time talking to anyone other than the foundry technicians who were working with him. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was learning a lot just by absorbing from a distance.

Initially, when I was working with a technician on my own sculpture, I would ask for components to be put together in a precise way and then leave them to do the work, returning three or four weeks later to view the result. It was always stunning, but often not quite right, something might be a few millimetres out of alignment or a patination not the right tone, something that would bother me but possibly no one else would notice. At first, I accepted these errors because I could not bring myself to ask the technician to destroy several weeks’ skilled work and to start again. But over the course of several months, often being at the foundry on the same day as Bill Turnbull I realised from watching him working that it was absolutely fine to say no, this is not right, we have to start again. The revelation for me was that it didn’t seem to upset people, in fact the opposite, as I saw that the foundry technicians prided themselves on being prepared to go to any lengths to get it right for him. From this point on I started to experiment with saying no.

A favourite sculpture of mine by Bill Turnbull is Large Spade Venus (1986). What fascinates me about it is the use of the spade blade to suggest the ripe belly of a Paleolithic Venus figure, combined with African scarification and Cycladic sparseness. But most of all the fact that we only know about Paleolithic Venus figures because they were possibly excavated by the use of a spade. So, in a way, the sculpture is being discovered archeologically as we look at it.

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