Chelsea Flower Show 2014
My third year at the Chelsea Flower Show and by all accounts I consider myself a veteran! Seasons pass to the rhythm of the Chelsea calendar. June is reflection month - with the buzz of the previous Chelsea resounding in one's ears, one plans for the next. July is refinement, plans are discarded and new ones take shape and details start to emerge sometimes taking one off on a roller coaster tangent. August is miniature month. I build the intended display in miniature which allows me to see how the components work together. September is paperwork paperwork paperwork… file upon file has to be submitted to the organisers to support your re-application and one fills them in with trepidation. Many are the stories of exhibitors being relegated to the forest with little or no excuse from the organisers… the nagging suspicion being that interest in display or product has waned. For the time being I am immensely lucky to enjoy pole position at the show and provided I keep on coming up with what I hope is a show stopping display I will be able to retain this. By October work is in full flow and the remaining months are but a blur of hard work and details.
Chelsea 2014 was no different. I had made a decision to present different studies of horse sculpture since this is my forte. I wanted a show stopping entrance to the stand and worked on a pair of life size fighting stallions which formed a gateway to my display. Behind, a pair of thoroughbreds jumped a bush and in the nearside corner a mare grazed beside her foal. At the back corner, I worked on a water feature to provide a waterfall for my life size grizzly catching a salmon. The gurgling of the water feature created a very “zen-like” ambience and I am going to make another one next year! I went overboard with the Gazebo and used fluted reclaimed wood posts, with an inlaid driftwood floor and my signature tyre interior slated tiles! Ontop of the Gazebo I placed an eagle with 2m wingspan, cantilevered out from the roofline ready to launch down upon his prey.
Invariably the last two months of preparation are hard graft. Art has been overtaken by intense craftsmanship which does not let up until the lorry arrives, impatiently awaiting the loading of the sculptures. I have come to realise (and my wife now accepts) that this is not a matter of poor time management - I'm just never happy with any of my sculptures and it takes a deadline to rip them out of the studio. Left to my own devices nothing would ever leave my workshop!
I have also come to terms with the ups and downs. Generally, around 2 months into the making of the sculptures, I go into a downer. Nothing looks good. Doubt about finishing the pieces to my original expectation creeps in and I go through a couple of weeks’ worth of unease and nagging worry. This invariably leads to cathartic moments when I recognise the source (usually a tweak of the armature!) of the problem and come out of it a happier man. Another depressing moment happens after the loading of the sculptures. Having worked 12-14 hour days for two months leading up to the loading - with a BANG it’s all finished and an emptiness descends upon me which takes a week or so to shake. These moments are balanced by the glory of set-up. Within 6 days my cousin, Matthew, and I take a wet boggy 70 square metre lot and transform it into an oasis of sculpture and I am reunited with my work in a magical setting – seeing them as if for the first time. Presenting them is also a happy time. Seeing throngs of people taking shots of my work and sometimes indulging in the hedonistic pleasure of listening into comments of spectators is really amazing and there’s not a moment goes by where I don’t thank my lucky stars that I have the opportunity to uplift people through my craft.
…and then the tear-down. 48 hours of ripping up everything that has been so carefully presented. After two weeks of hard work this is a real chore however with the sculptures going off to their future homes the years’ worth of focused work has paid off!
James Doran Webb
Coffee Table Book
Installation & Care
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