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“Bridget’s figures, animal and bird sculptures were economically carved, capturing the essential characteristics of their nature or habit, a subject may appear to be soft, although the profile would be sharp as her sense of curve and rhythm – still her hallmarks – tell of form as well as the incongruity to be found in birds or beasts.” Ann Elliott, author of ‘Touch and Time: The Sculpture and Drawings of Bridget McCrum’
McCrum’s work is a potent fusion of the ancient with the modern. She works primarily in stone, from
which some pieces are also cast in bronze. Initially influenced by archaeological finds and by the work of Brancusi, Hepworth and Moore, her sculpture also contains oblique references to the landscape and fauna around her homes in Devon and Gozo. The basis of her work is a lyrical abstraction of living forms, a process after which only the primary elements of her animals and birds remain identifiable.
McCrum was born in 1934 and went on to train as a painter with Lesjek Musjynski at Farnham School of Art in the 1950s. From 1980 she began to work primarily in stone, having learned her craft from John Joekes and Andrea Schulewitz on the South Downs. McCrum also works with bronze, a metal she uses to cast many of her stone pieces.
Q&A with Bridget McCrum
by Dr Claudia Milburn
CM: Reviewing your work from the past three decades, one can trace a progression from your earlier more figurative works towards increased abstraction. Can you tell me how and why this developed? It feels a progression towards capturing the essence of your subject, would this be an accurate reflection?
BMC: Yes, essence is a good word. I never want to repeat myself and I did heads and finally did a piece based on an unfinished Cycladic head. It said it all and so I thought that’s that! Done it. I still have some here based on Somali heads from my travels there.
CM: Can you explain the relationship between your drawing and sculpture?
BMC: I trained as a painter at art school, as they were called then! My tutor was brilliant, a Pole called Lesjek Muszjinski, he was brilliant and remained a friend until he died, and his stepdaughter bought a sculpture in memory of him. Lovely.
CM: Your work fuses the ancient with the contemporary. Can you expand upon this particular thread in your work?
BMC: I always believed in timelessness. My travels have been in Mesopatamia, Syria, Egypt, Sudan, Algeria, Somalia, all around the Mediterranean. Don’t tell me the Greeks were the first people to do the figure accurately, they were doing a form of abstraction.
CM: As a close lifelong friend of Elisabeth Frink, were there find mutual concerns in your work and did you find you inspired each other?
BMC: Lis was a friend; we were both sent down to Exmouth at the beginning of the Second World War to someone who gave a home to the children of the Indian army to get us out of the blitz. She helped me enormously when I started sculpting.
CM: There are evident influences in your work relating to sculptors including Hepworth, Moore and Brancusi. Can you tell me more about the significant influences on you as an artist? And, furthermore, who do you admire in terms of draftsmanship?
BMC: Well certainly Brancusi, probably more than Moore and Hepworth, but I do admire their work as well.
CM: You have referenced the impact of being blind in one eye, and how this may have increased your desire to work with three-dimensional form. Could you expand on this?
BMC: Apparently, I only see two-dimensionally. Don’t know what three dimensions are! I met a 14-year-old once who was blind in one eye and she was making sculpture and rather good. I remember having a book, A4 with tiny black and white photos, I was five and there was a photo of the Collosus of Memnon and a ramshorn capitol with a ramshead on top in Baalbek in the Lebanon and I remember wanting to see them. Unusual for a five-year-old! I have seen them both!
CM: The relationship between your sculpture and the landscape is clearly an important aspect of your work. How has landscape / the rhythms and forms found in nature inspired your work?
BMC: When I first visited Algeria, I became obsessed with the shape of sand dunes. Just beautiful curves ending in ridges but no inward lines.
CM: You travelled extensively and have referenced the inspiration of objects and places seen and experienced on your travels, particularly ancient artefacts from Mesopotamia. Could you expand on these influences and their lasting impact on your practice?
BMC: I became particularly interested in standing stone. In the Sudan there is a camel trail up to Cairo which has been used for thousands of years. It took 40 days and when camping in the desert they would stipple drawings on to the stones and you can still see them in the middle of nowhere, wonderful, some were good and some hopeless but fascinating. Then a bird always lands on top! The great thing is that they weren’t commissioned like the temples.
CM: You have spoken about exploring timelessness in your work. Can you talk about this?
BMC: I have always been fascinated by timelessness. I think visiting caves and seeing the drawings they did. They had no sketch books or cameras and yet they could carry the images in their head.
CM: Can you tell me about the importance of the negative spaces around your work, particularly when more than work is placed in close proximity to another?
BMC: My tutor at art college always said draw the spaces. It is the same with sculpture, it took me along time to look at the space, I then became very conscious of it and always see it when I look at things now. Things from life need altering, so the space is just as important as the object.
CM: You have extensively explored the bird motif in your work. What has drawn you time and time again to this subject matter?
Birds make good abstract shapes and I have minimized them over the years. Where the light hits the light there is no need for a line, your brain does it for you.
CM: Can you tell me about your new work included in the exhibition and the latest developments in your practice?
BMC: The less you put into a drawing the faster it looks as though it is moving and that is something I have concentrated on. I would like to have made another piece like Crescent Birds (you have a photo) and that is a new idea.