Just Showing Off, Really


I'd always been interested in art, but never really done much until relatively recently. Then in 1998 I slipped a disc and found myself with quite a bit of spare time, so started carving, initially chalk, then various other media. This is just a page to show off some of the stuff I've done. The chalk was interesting, because it was always going to be transient art, and could be carved with unconventional instruments. For instance, I used an old dinner knife; not one of the rigid serrated ones, but the older, flexible ones with a plastic (originally ivory, of course) handle. I still carry forward a love of transient art, inspired by Andy Goldsworthy. Carve some channels in the beach, take a few photo's while the tide comes in. This is not unconnected with the Heads Project, of course. Click on the thumbnails to see a bigger image.

My version of the Venus of Willendorf While I was off with a bad back, I found a log, maybe a metre long and 40cm diameter, and fantasized about carving it into a youthful version of the Venus of Willendorf. In fact, the project never took off, but I did make a couple of prototypes in clay, exploring the 3D shape I had in my mind. This first one was simply to re-examine what I imagined the original was like conceptually. I had pictures of the real thing, of course, but wanted to make my own version. I'd been reading (and re-reading and re-reading!) Jean M Auel's Earth's Children series (Clan of the Cave Bear, Valley of Horses, etc) and was hung up on the idea of these ancient goddesses.
Younger, terracotta goddess The final clay goddess was what I was intending to do with the log. A girl of perhaps 16, lightly pregnant, with well-developed breasts, thighs and buttocks, but lacking arms and free of personal features like a face. I burnished the clay when it was leather-hard to bring up the shine a bit. She's springing forth from a cleft in some rocks, with leaves and ferns around her lower legs. The rocks represent the earth, the plants are lower forms of life, and she herself is humanity, of course. You wouldn't believe I was a staunch Darwinist, would you?
Cat Goddess water feature Whilst at the same evening class, I made this Cat Goddess water feature. The clay is stoneware, so frostproof, and it lives outside all year, growing slowly green with algae. I use the electric toothbrush (and an old brush head!) with non-scratch cream to clean her each spring. Sadly, the forked tongue doesn't work well with the water, so I have arranged the pipe to shoot the water directly out of her mouth, rather than onto her tongue.
Woman Car Woman Still obsessed with women, I carved this piece from celcon blocks (lightweight concrete foam "bricks") and had it cast in bronze. It's called Woman Car Woman, because it's a blend of both. It looks good when polished bright, but that's hard work to maintain, so for now I'm leaving it outside to weather, in the hope it will eventually go that dark brown that bronze statuary is generally patinated at the foundry.
Burr Around that time I was on a narrow-boat holiday with some friends and found this burr by the side of the canal. A lot of the internal wood was rotten, and I chiselled and gouged it out to form this rather ear-like thing. It doesn't really have a name, nor is it intended to represent anything. It just is.
copper cup As well as carving, I was also banging bits of metal. I'd retained an old hot water cylinder which we'd had to replace some years previously when it had split, and this 2-part cup and support was one of the more successful pieces I made from the rescued copper sheet. I had done some silversmithing, and knew how to curve the sheet, but for these pieces I deliberately folded and creased the metal as I formed it. I did try to sell this piece to a gallery in Cambridge (who did take some of my silver work) but he sniffed at it. Well I like it!
This is one of my earliest heads. It's a rather soft, coarse-grained limestone and I think has a satisfying Bruegelesque feel, which inspired me to call him Botolph. He sat about for quite a while before I eventually glued him to the wall of a patio we have in the back garden. The loose texture of the limestone has contributed to the deterioration that's occurred over the years. I still think he's pretty cool.
Botolph's daughter Not long after carving Botolph, I decided he needed a wife, so set about carving him one. This one is in Portland limestone with lots of shells, which made for interesting work as the shells are much harder than the stone itself. She's quite a bit bigger than he is. I deliberately made her both virginal and mediaeval. I think I was doing her on her wedding night, or something like that. When I'd finished her, however, we decided that she was far too young and beautiful to be his wife, so re-christened her Botolph's Daughter.

Botolph's wife Finally, after several years, I really did carve Botolph a wife. She has the chunky profile to match his rather brutal features, and also seems to me quite mediaeval in overall appearance. The curved collar she's wearing puts me in mind of traditional Dutch costume, but I really know almost nothing about that, so I'm quite possibly way off there. She is glued to the patio wall next to him, looking rather smug. Actually, this shot makes her look rather demur, but that's just the angle of the photograph. There's a rose in the way, so for now, you'll have to take my word for it.

This dinosaur skull started off in my mind as an Allosaurus skull, which I first stretched and simplified, then became creative with the holes. Dinosaur skulls, particularly the big ones, do have lots of holes to lighten the structure while not weakening it, and the ones in this one started off roughly in the right places. I changed them to suit my own imagination, but the essence of thin planes and struts is entirely appropriate. The wood is tulip wood and it took several years of very intermittent carving to finish.

In 2004 I visited the Pompidou Centre in Paris where I saw a splendid sculpture by Henri Laurens called Nu Agenouillé (Kneeling Nude). Sadly, the camera battery had gone flat. Next time I went to Paris I managed to forget the camera entirely, so did a quick sketch. Finally, I was in Paris in late 2006 and the buggers had changed the display entirely, and the Laurens had been put away. There were no pictures of it in the shop and the email contact that's supposed to answer queries like mine has several times failed to respond to my enquiries. Anyhow, I got on and carved my own version based on what I could remember and then later, what I felt like doing. I don't suppose it's that similar, but that was never really the point.
For years I've admired the neck vertebrae of long-necked dinosaurs like Diplodocus, and wanted to make some sort of a replica. The chance came when Jenny arranged with Mark Evans at the Leicester Museum for me to get some close up views of their reconstructed Cetiosaurus so I could sketch and photograph it. He was very helpful and I came away with all I could need. I didn't intend to make it an exact copy, more essence of sauropod neck vertebra. Paul Bainbridge gave me a lot of advice on making a wire armature and introduced me to non-drying clay, which is what I used to model it, each dimension being perhaps a third the original's. Then I had three copies cast in bronze. They're resting loose on the block of wood, with their various flanges articulating. I still wonder about making a really big one, but the cost of casting it in bronze is enough to put me off for now.

Pigeon skeleton Some time around 2004 or 2005 I found a pigeon skeleton in our front garden. The pelvis was broken and it had obviously been hit by a vehicle and died in the garden. Amazingly, it hadn't been disturbed much, so clearly the local foxes and rats hadn't noticed it. I collected up all the bones I could see, bleached them, then stained them with dilute Indian ink. The idea was to set them in plaster of Paris pretending to be a fossil. After they'd been getting in the way for a very long time, I finally made a frame and cast the plaster of Paris. Sadly, it expanded slightly as it set, pushing the best mitre joints I've ever made apart slightly! The bones didn't stain evenly, so some are really quite pale. We used more Indian ink to stain the plaster.

This isn't really art. The wood is old roof timber, rescued from when we had the roof restored. It's 130 year old pine. I set a bathrom tile on the front and had Go Glass in Cambridge make me up the frosted shade. They were enormously helpful, advising me about how exactly to go about it. The final version was far and away the most expensive, but also the right solution, so I don't begrudge the cost.

We decided to make our very good friends and neighbours, Lorna and Richard a lamp, too, but they wanted a standard lamp. For the shade, I made a light wooden frame to which Jenny attached some hand-made paper we bought. She added some strips of carefully ripped tissue paper, to emulate reeds, water and clouds, which we think looks rather good.

Around that time I made this magazine rack, based on the idea of a skeletal boat, with just the keel and ribs left. Sadly, one of the end ribs has taken a battering, and broken. I'm thinking of having some aluminium ones made to the same dimensions, so they can just slot in in place of the current plywood ones.

As part of the stone heads project, I carved this waterworn pebble I picked up in my back garden. We were about to go to Somerset for Christmas, and I wanted to see how good the electric engraver I'd acquired would be for carving some features on a small stone. I quite like the result. It doesn't qualify for the project, as I didn't pick it up at the seaside. The chrystalline stone it's resting on is just a convenient plinth. If I submitted it to the Royal Academy, would the plinth be accepted and the head rejected, I wonder.

I made a small head for Anne Warren during our visit to Melbourne, Australia, Easter, 2007. I selected a pebble from the nearby river and carved it in the style (slightly) of an African Fang mask. It also doesn't qualify for the Heads project, since I gave it to her, rather than chuck it back in the river.

Inscrutible God

From the summer of 2006 for a year I worked on a tribal mask carved from Cuban mahogany. It's based on a rather smaller mask I once saw in a shop window in Paris, but I've not seen anything like it since, and can't find out where it might be from. It's an inscrutable god mask. The mahogany, in case you're concerned, was rescued by a friend from a fire-damaged building in Leicestershire in the 1970's IIRC. We reckon it's probably pre-war. The building's owners had been trying to give it away for months and John was disappointed he could only take one piece. The rest was either burned or dumped in a land-fill.

Mbebe-go Mbebe-go

While walking along the beach in Spain, selecting a pebble to carve into a head to be cast back into the sea as part of the Stone Heads project, we realised it would also be fun to carve heads from pebbles to keep as free-standing items or to hang on the wall. The ones I didn't throw back into the sea we brought back to the UK and I finished the first one a few weeks after we got back. I called him Mbebe-go and wrote this about him.


In all the swirl and clash of modern living, Mbebe-go provides a calming influence, a centre of quiet serenity, radiating out into your home. A meditative, contemplative character in a brash world.

This influence is a two-way exchange, however, and aspects of the household are equally likely to affect Mbebe-go in unpredictable ways.

Tokoloshe The next pebble I carved is a pale mish-mash of fractured stone of different colours, with hundreds of cracks and lines running through it, all filled with different coloured matrix and then 'cooked' back into a solid pebble. The rocks along the coast of Andalucia are mostly metamorphic, which is to say that when the African plate collided with the European one, there was a lot of mountain building where they met, the rocks were all folded, heated and subjected to immense pressures, which changed the nature of the rocks in some striking ways. I used the natural patterns in the rocks to decide how to carve it, and finally decided it was a tokoloshe. The photographs show it with rather greater contrast than I see in reality. I might varnish it to bring out the colours a bit more.


A tokoloshe is traditionally a southern African water spirit, though in recent times it is increasingly seen as a domestic spirit. It is generally friendly towards children and is noted for its ability to become invisible by holding a pebble in its mouth. Commonly taking the form of a dwarf or child, it is mischievous, rather than malevolent, unless owned by an evil sorcerer. It is sensitive to the emotions and tensions ebbing and flowing within the household and this should be borne in mind, since your mood might influence it as much as its might affect you. It is as a child that I have represented my Tokoloshe.



I've called this pebblehead Mpangi. He's made from a piece of metamorphosed rock that I picked up off Playa Calahonda in May. Although he does look rather cross, in fact he is quite benevolent towards the household and reserves the more ferocious side of his nature for driving away malevolent spirits.

The other thing I'm carving is the torso of a young girl. My mum had an apple tree cut down and I brought home the last of the logs, intending to burn them on our open fire. As I cut them into fireplace-sized logs, I realised that one was really rather torso-like, so I peeled the bark off and am in the process of shaping it. Might still end up on the fire, of course!

Last modified by Rob Clack, 24th June, 2007