Simon Gudgeon: wildlife sculptor
PUBLISHED: 13:44 22 June 2009 | UPDATED: 16:04 20 February 2013
Stephen Swann is bewitched by the work of a man whose ability to capture the essence of wild animals in bronze has resulted in worldwide acclaim
Sculptor Simon Gudgeon tells me, a wry grin on his face, "I retired at 24. I had read law at Reading University, done a couple of years working as a solicitor in London, and then I thought, 'I don't want to be doing this, it's just not me.'" Well, all I can say is thank goodness he did chuck his job in or I wouldn't be standing beside a lake near Bere Regis with the riffling sound of the River Frome in my ears looking at a bronze sculpture of an otter chasing a salmon. And it really is a lovely thing, this sculpture, the epitome of what has come to be seen as Simon's signature style, that is to say, a smooth, almost minimalist approach to the depiction of wildlife.
Minimalist yes, but in Simon's hands less is most certainly more. Not for this artist an obsessive, detailed realism that results in a subject looking as if all life has been drained from it; what you get is a moment captured, a vortex of movement, and the very spirit of the animals. So a bird by Simon seems somehow to be of the air itself. A leaping salmon is a sinuous shape fighting its way upstream, poised and gravity-defying as if about to leap from its delicate, wave-shaped base, the sun on the rich patina of the bronze of which it is made making the fish look wet. And a pair of roe deer, standing beside a stream, the light shining through trees dappling their sides, look as though they have heard you coming and do not know whether to take flight or stay. This is animal sculpture born out of intense looking, of clarity of vision and, above all, of deep sympathy.
So how does this one-time solicitor come to be where he is today? What makes a world-ranking wildlife sculptor? Simon was born in Yorkshire in 1958 into a farming family. Life on a 180-acre mixed farm near Scarborough saw the young Simon observing and drawing the birds and animals around him. His foray into the dusty realms of the law ended with the aforementioned moment of epiphany and from there he tried commercial photography - to this day he remains a gifted photographer - then garden maintenance and design, then with the recession of 1990 came something of a business crises - Simon at this time employed a dozen people - and in an attempt to take his mind off things his mum bought him some paints.
"I became obsessed by painting," Simon tells me. "I knew I was where I wanted to be and where I wanted to be was a wildlife artist. I was beautifully single with no possessions. I got jobs through a London agency as a house-sitter and I used other people's homes as places to hone my painting technique. My first exhibition was at the Battersea Exhibition Centre in 1992 and it was well received." Soon afterwards Simon began to experiment with clay and three-dimensional representation and the rest, as they say, is history.
Simon has had exhibitions in London, New York, San Diego, Paris and The Netherlands and everywhere his work has met with considerable acclaim. He has made trips to Africa, Australasia and Asia in search of wildlife subjects. His work has found a home in important private collections both here in the UK and throughout the world - HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, the Duke of Bedford and the Duke of Northumberland are numbered amongst those who have bought his work.
Nor has Simon confined himself to sculpture. In 2001 his book, A Passion for Grouse, with both words and illustrations after paintings by Simon, came out to great reviews and in 2006 he produced Woodcock - Artists' Impressions, again to great acclaim.
That was then, this is now, and at the beautiful lakes where Simon has installed examples of his work I am looking at a bronze that is positioned on the lake itself. It is of two pelicans, one perched on the top of a perfect ring of bronze, the other standing on and in the ring at the exact point where it touches the surface of the water. Again it is all about the curve of a beak, the line of a neck and the gorgeous light-reflecting patina of smooth bronze. And on this calm-as-a-clock day with the surface of the lake mirror-smooth, the sculpture is poised on a perfect reflection of itself, a sort of two-for-one offer - one, a work of art inspired by nature, the other, a work of nature somehow inspired by man.
I end by asking Simon where he sees his work going in the future. "I am moving towards more abstract forms," he says, "to forms that suggest rather than dictate a particular bird or mammal, but the inspiration will always spring from watching the subject in the wild, of learning to understand the importance of balance in nature and man's impact on animals and their habitats - these days an impact that is all too often damaging."
Well, of one thing I am certain, wherever Simon's artistic journey might lead, to follow him on that journey will be our great good fortune.
To see more of Simon's work and also find out aboutwww.simongudgeon.com