Suffolk sculptor's new Bronze Age
PUBLISHED: 13:18 13 September 2010 | UPDATED: 17:49 20 February 2013
Suffolk sculptor Sean Hedges Quinn tells how he carved out his fascinating career in art, and in the film industry
Suffolk sculptor Sean Hedges Quinn tells how he carved out his fascinating career in art, and in the film industry
How did you become a sculptor? I dont think it was ever my intention to become a sculptor as I didnt really think it was feasible option as a career. What I did know from a very early age (about six) is that after watching Jason and the Argonauts, I wanted to work in the movie industry preferably making monsters, spaceships or doing prosthetic make-up. These aspirations came to fruition when, after doing a Foundation in Art at Suffolk college 1988-90 and then graduating from university with a degree in model-making, I was accepted as a prop maker on the 1996 film The Borrowers.
My first professional sculpt was a 12 foot Action Man for this film and after creating several other outsize props (the idea was to make normal people look small by making the props bigger) I was taken on by the world famous Jim Hensons creature shop in London. Working on a film called Lost in Space in 1997, I helped sculpt a 13 foot alien called Blorp as well as making parts for a giant robot and several spaceships. My sculpting career had taken off!
What are the skills you need?
Well, there are many different disciplines of sculpting from abstract to contemporary, but in my particular discipline it is all about accuracy and realism. Almost all of my film work has to be good enough to be projected on to a 60 foot cinema screen. So there is not a lot of room for error, even more so now it is all high definition. Some people say what I do is more craft than art but it is, of course, still sculpting. In the case of my figurative sculpts, such as Sir Alf and Sir Bobby these can be looser, enabling me to express myself more and to stamp my own particular style on the work.
You live in an interesting home. Can you tell us about that and does it suit your work/lifestyle?
I live in a 1930s former RAF base cinema in the village of Great Bricett in west Suffolk with my wife Hayley and my three children Niamh, nine, Joseph, eight and Ryan, six.
The auditorium where the serviceman would have watched the movies is now my workshop where I do the majority of my sculpts. The area where the projector used to stand is now the residential area along with the areas that were once the entrance hall, cloakrooms, caretakers office, etc.
It has a fascinating history having once been a church, then a gymnasium, and then after around 25 years as a cinema it became a youth club and finally a police fire-arms training centre before eventually closing down for good in the mid 70s. It was saved from falling into disrepair when another local artist Dot Boag bought it in the mid 80s .A wonderful character, slightly eccentric who was once the girlfriend of John Lennon in the days when he was in The Quarrymen. She had aspirations to convert the cinema into an art gallery. Unfortunately she became terminally ill and she sold it to us pleased in the knowledge that a fellow artist was to, at least, use it partly for what she intended.
You have produced statues of Sir Bobby and Sir Alf Ramsey and more recently Arthur Lowe. Tell us about the process. Do you work from photographs; do you talk to friends and family of the people concerned?
When I am first commissioned to sculpt a statue my first priority is to gather as much information as is feasibly possible about the subject. This is done in the form of photographs, film footage, DVD, talking to family, maybe reading their autobiography and in the case of Sir Alf, finding his former tailor! To get a true likeness of your subject it is not just all about getting their facial features right, it is of equal importance to try and bring out their personality, mannerisms and even habits they may have had. It is only through doing this research that a true likeness can be obtained.
After I have exhausted myself with information my sculpts always take a familiar path. Firstly I sculpt a maquette (a small 18 inch model) version of what I feel the statue may look like. This is to make sure the chosen pose will work in 3-D before proceeding with the full scale version.
Next I find a model who is as close as possible in size and shape to my subject. I place this model in my desired pose and then take a series of photographs whilst turning the model 360 degrees. These photographs become the reference for my sculpt. The model also becomes the template for all the measurements needed to get the anatomy the correct size.
With the information obtained from the models bone structure, I now proceed to construct an accurate metal armature that in turn becomes my subjects skeleton and will be vital in supporting the pounds of clay that is needed to sculpt the figure.
Finally, I start sculpting my figure from clay. I always sculpt the figure naked to begin with so to make sure all the muscles are correct before finally sculpting the clothes on. This is, I feel, the only true way to getting any clothing to hang the correct way. After the clay work is done, and all concerned are happy with the likeness, it is then moulded, cast in wax and then sent to the foundry to be cast in bronze.
How long does each figure take?
A deceased person takes longer. Arthur Lowe took me in the excess of 1,100 hours to sculpt. Sir Bobby Robson took considerably less as I was able to have a sitting with him and get all the references, measurements and photographs I needed to complete the sculpt.
What are the real challenges, the toughest parts of the job?
Without doubt getting a true likeness. All the figures I have sculpted are of very public figures, people who are instantly recognisable to most members of the public so because of that they have to be right. It is always a challenge to please family members or close friends of the subject and that old saying that you cant please all the people all the time' is always on my mind! Its a good pressure though and so far nobody has openly criticised the likeness of any of my statues. Sir Bobby Robson unveiled his own likeness and to say my heart was banging away when the cover came off is an understatement! Fortunately he loved it so I neednt have worried! Phew!
Any funny or bizarre tales to tell about working on a particular sculpture?
When I was researching material for Sir Alfred Ramsey, I was extremely fortunate to come across his former tailor, Mr P J Little who, although now retired, had his own premises in Ipswich for many years. Sensing a bit of a coup, I rang him at his home and asked him if he still, by the slightest chance, had Sir Alfs suit measurements from 1962. Well it was almost 40 years ago but he assured me he would take a look in his files and call me back the next day. True to his word he did. I am very sorry but I am afraid I do not have Sir Alfs measurements from 1962. Although it was a long shot I was still a fairly disappointed. But, came back Mr Little, I do have his measurements from 1963. I was thrilled; unless Sir Alf had eaten too much pudding over Christmas 1962 the measurements would be perfect! They were. Mr Little became a good friend, he made me a suit for the unveiling and now 10 years on, it still fits and looks immaculate.
When I had completed the small maquette of Sir Bobby Robson I was invited up to St James Park, Newcastle to get his approval before proceeding with the full scale statue. I went by train and on arrival I was instructed by Mr Robson personally to call the football club and they would send somebody to pick me up and bring me to the stadium. This I did and five minutes later sure enough a car arrived driven by Mr Robson himself! He immediately caught the attention of everybody at the station and I remember thinking they all probably thought I was his new signing! He also later gave me a personal tour of St Jamess Park and even invited me to stay for a European fixture they were playing that night! You hear stories like this all the time when Sir Bobby is mentioned, he truly was a very wonderful and genuine human being. I was extremely fortunate to know him.
Roughly how much do you charge for your work?
The cost for any one statue can vary enormously, depending on such factors as size, complexity of the pose, the time given to complete it, the facial expression, are they alive? Can I have a sitting? And even the cost of bronze on the world market. Taking all these factors into account, most statues cost between 35,000- 80,000. Obviously any private commissions undertaken, say of a portrait bust, are very much cheaper because of their size.
You have been involved in film work. Tell us what you did on V for Vendetta and Clash of the Titans.
For the film V for Vendetta I was responsible for sculpting 3ft and 5ft replicas of the Lady of Justice statue. These were used in a sequence from the movie in which Evey (the lead actress, Natalie Portman) is lead by V (a Vigilante) to a rooftop to witness his destruction of the Old Bailey in London. They were sculpted in clay, moulded and then cast in fibre-glass ready for the pyrotechnics sequence.
For Clash of the Titans I was heavily involved in the realisation of the Stygian witches (based on Macbeths witches of fate, they were three witches with grey skin and one eye which they shared between them!) These were full body suits created from foam latex and silicon that the actors fitted into.
I have worked on over 20 films over the past 14 years, including several Harry Potter movies, Phantom of the Opera, The Mummy, 12 Monkeys and The Hours to name but a few. Each film is a unique experience; each one as diverse as the last and that is what I love the most. It is a very rewarding job and one bonus is you get to work with some of the most incredibly talented artists and individuals in the country.
When you see your work on the big screen is it exactly as you envisaged?
Well, more often than not it is even better as special digital effects are used to enhance it. Also, remember your work is being lit by some of the most experienced lighting technicians in the world. One drawback is that quite often your work may not even make the final cut of the movie, because the director decided the sequence was not needed, its out of shot or whatever. A perfect example of this is the giant 13ft alien I sculpted at Jim Hensons creature shop for Lost in Space. This huge foam latex creation was completely animatronic, took dozens of artists three months to build at the cost of around 140,000 but never made the final cut.
Whats next for you?
I am hoping funds can be raised so that I can be commissioned for my next project which is a very exciting and interesting one. A statue is planned of a very diminutive Ipswich lady named Edith Maud Cook, who was born in Fore Street in 1878. She was a Suffolk aviation pioneer and in 1910 became the first British woman to fly solo when she piloted a Bleriot monoplane at Claude Grahame-Whites aviation school in Pau, near the French Pyrenees; an achievement that predates that of both Hilda Hewlett and Harriet Quimby, the two women widely regarded as the first female pilots.
It was only her premature death in a balloon descent at the age of 31 that has shrouded her place in history as Britains first. It is hoped that a statue would draw attention to this very distinctive historical feat. But, as with most artists, I keep my fingers in a few pies to keep busy. Apart from Edith Cook, I am pushing for a couple of more bronze statues, plus, the film industry is busy at present with Pirates of the Caribbean 4, Clash of the Titans 2, Captain America, The X-Men prequel and War Horse all shooting this year in London so who knows?
If someone reading this wants to become a sculptor, how do they do it?
I would say firstly, after completing an art degree be it sculpture, model-making or 3-D Design, persistence is the key. Get a good portfolio together and be prepared to hunt and seek out opportunities, certainly in the film and advertising industries. Dont be afraid of rejection, take criticism on the chin and use it constructively for your benefit. You really have to make things work as the work will not come to you. It is important to keep your finger on the pulse, to work hard, enjoy what you do and then eventually the rewards will come.
How can people find out more about your work?
I have a web page that I can be contacted on www.seanhedgesquinn.co.uk
For information on the Edith Cook statue, contact Andrew Taylor of the Suffolk Aviation Heritage Group at Andrew@taylor8392.freeserve.co.uk