My studio stands on a 1,000 square metre area hidden away in the second largest city on Cebu Island – Mandaue. Cebu is sheltered at the geographical centre of the Philippines. It is a long thin island, with a mountain range running down the centre. The tropical climate nurtures an array of rich vegetation and flora – much of which plays an important part in the life of the locals.
The studio itself was in dire need of care when I took it over early 2011. I set out to renovate using materials that were locally sourced, degradable and overall natural. I laid local terracotta tiles on the 600 square metres of floor, interlaced with highly polished slices of my driftwood off cuts. I grouted the gaps using broken ceramic pots and tiles, crushed into powder and mixed with adhesive. The breeze that comes in from the South is a great coolant and I left three sides of the studio open to maximise this. I made large 3 metre bamboo curtains that we drop down when direct sunlight filters through. The perimeter walls are also made of bamboo, sliced in half and laid under, over. At some time I will paint the bamboo a green colour. The ceiling joists are strengthened using driftwood braces and two huge arched doors separate my studio from the neighbours. The overall feel of the studio is tranquillity.
Of course the hubbub of saws, hammers, axes and an air compressor rules the working day as I, alongside nine assistants, work on several projects. My tools are primarily hand-held. I have a chain-saw and specialised angle grinder bits however my tools of choice are an axe, a saw and my chisels, which I use to mould the inside contours of the driftwood to fit the underlying profile of the piece I am making. Each piece of driftwood is either bolted, screwed or nailed using stainless steel components onto the base frame and I use pneumatic tools for this part.
My assistants are artists in their own right – trained by me over the course of a number of years. Most of them are the sons of carpenters who have themselves worked for me for over twenty years in my fine-furniture carpentry shop.
Ideas come and go and when a good one pops into mind I will make initial drawings and studies of the piece, pouring hours of research into gaining an understanding of the animal and its habitat. I find myself drawn to movement... a stag galloping along open ground, two foxes playing, a stallion rearing up in fright - as a way of communicating vitality and drama to the sculpture. Once I feel comfortable with the piece, I will draw the final study which I will use as a reference in making a full sized plywood template of the subject. From there we weld a stainless steel frame which takes a couple of days to make and numerous revisions to correct. I try my absolute best to identify proportional mistakes before the hard work begins - mistakes in the frame generally become noticeable once the piece is finished, which means a total rework. Once the frame is as good as I can get it we start to attach large pieces of driftwood onto the stainless steel frame, bolting them securely into place. Onto this I then screw a second layer of driftwood, taking great care to select the driftwood that matches the flow of the muscles and body. The whole process can take thousands of hours.