30 years ago, on both sides of the Atlantic, two artists were making sculptural history unaware of each other’s existence. Heather Jansch and Deborah Butterfield are equally serious artists whose subject is horse and whose chosen material is driftwood and bronze. They have both risen to prominence and their disparate influences have spawned the current explosion of factory produced ‘driftwood horse sculpture’
Jansch and Butterfield’s work fueled heated debate among art students for decades as to who was the originator. Who made history first was hardly the point but few paid attention to the essential differences between the two artists' work.
The phrase 'driftwood bronze' is used to describe both their work. Jansch's sculpture have an essential vitality and energy in contrast to the static quieter poses that are the hallmark adopted by Butterfield.
By 1987 Jansch had become one of the house artists with the British contemporary art gallery Courcoux and Coucoux of Stockbridge.
Excerpts from Ian Courcoux's foreword to one of the brochures:
I have often read forewords in exhibition brochures, including some past spiels of my own, which have left me with the impression that the writer was trying to compress a hundred words of interesting information about the artist into two or three pages. In truth, very little had actually happened since the last show! I have the opposite problem with this foreword. Heather Jansch is the consummate professional and this is recognised by all who deal with her. She is never afraid of a new challenge, of working in new media and in changes of scale.
Heather is one of the most positive people I know and this aspect of her personality, combined with the exciting originality of her work, has led to her becoming involved in important exhibitions and future projects in the two years since her last solo show here. One very simple gauge of the public popularity of Heather's work is that the print run of the last Jansch brochure has been exhausted -- that has never happened to us before. The fundamental medium of all the work at that time was driftwood and the show was a sell-out. It would have been so easy for Heather to have continued to produce one beautiful driftwood piece after another -- why change a winning formula? However, that is not her nature and she has recently been working with different materials and styles, in tandem with the driftwood sculptures which are at the heart of her art.
For some time Heather and I had been discussing how her driftwood work might translate into bronze. Having worked with other sculptors where such a transition had been commercially but not, in my opinion, aesthetically successful, I was initially sceptical. From the commercial viewpoint, I worried about the high cost of dissembly of the original piece for moulding and casting and then, of course, of the intricate process of reassembly, chasing and patinating. Aesthetically, I was simply concerned about how the finished article would stand up alongside its driftwood counterpart. But talk is cheap. So Heather, typically, went ahead and had a bronze cast from a piece based on her own two year-old Arab,Ra Ra.. My sceptism disappeared the moment I saw the bronze. Another 'driftwood' bronze, Beethoven, followed and they both encapsulate the essence of the driftwood whilst having that strength which bronze inherently brings to sculpture. Concurrently, Heather had been considering methods of working which would enable her to sculpt more spontaneously -- not necessarily in order to produce more sculpture but, more importantly to her, to satisfy a need for variety of working method allowing immediate change of direction if and when required -- although Heather can work at speed with driftwood, it is nevertheless a process of construction and changing tack mid-piece is not straightforward.
She turned to plaster (no biblical parallel to Lot's unfortunate wife intended, of course). Heather had long had the idea to sculpt horses reminiscent of the Tang period -- short, strong bodies with relatively small heads -- and she saw the opportunity to bring this to fruition. Very soon she was phoning to tell me how exciting it was to have this new-found freedom of working and how wonderful the results were going to be. The outcome is six new bronze editions which will get their first full public airing in this exhibition and I think they are stunning (but then "he would say that", to quote a certain young professional lady). For some time Heather and I had been discussing how her driftwood work might translate into bronze. Having worked with other sculptors where such a transition had been commercially but not, in my opinion, aesthetically successful, I was initially sceptical. From the commercial viewpoint, I worried about the high cost of dissembly of the original piece for moulding and casting and then, of course, of the intricate process of reassembly, chasing and patinating. Aesthetically, I was simply concerned about how the finished article would stand up alongside its driftwood counterpart. But talk is cheap. So Heather, typically, went ahead and had a bronze cast from a piece based on her own two year-old Arab,Ra Ra.. My sceptism disappeared the moment I saw the bronze. Another 'driftwood' bronze, Beethoven, followed and they both encapsulate the essence of the driftwood whilst having that strength which bronze inherently brings to sculpture. Concurrently, Heather had been considering methods of working which would enable her to sculpt more spontaneously -- not necessarily in order to produce more sculpture but, more importantly to her, to satisfy a need for variety of working method allowing immediate change of direction if and when required -- although Heather can work at speed with driftwood, it is nevertheless a process of construction and changing tack mid-piece is not straightforward.
These new small sculptures inevitably led to larger ideas and I started to hear about a fantastic life-size horse in plaster and driftwood that was coming on alarmingly quickly and about which Heather enthused (alarmingly) more and more. It had to be cast, I was told -- it was just brilliant, I was told. All I saw initially was a string of £££ signs. Then I saw the plaster and that was when I agreed with her. Poseidon is something very special -- dynamic, superbly textured, regally rampant -- and will take pride of place in the gallery garden.
Finally, as far as the sculpture itself is concerned, I would just say this of the driftwood work which has been going on contemporaneously. Because of the variety of work which Heather is now undertaking the driftwood sculptures are, if it is possible, fresher and more vital. The latest life-size mare and foal, Nightmare and Daydream II, and a new version of Mare's Nest (the original is shown here as the newHera was not finished in time) are marvellous examples of her original style and form an important part of what I believe will be one of the best exhibitions we have ever staged.
Since the Last Exhibition
There have been numerous moments of note during the past two years with interesting sales of work to interesting people both at home and overseas and, at the time of writing, negotiations for major works are under way. However, for the sake of brevity I shall just cover a few of the more important happenings and potentially exciting and fruitful future projects. Her last show in Stockbridge stimulated a great deal of interest in Jansch sculpture. Mark Eynon, Director of Newbury Festival (the same Mark Eynon who introduced me to Sophie Ryder in 1987), was so taken with the work that Heather was engaged to be Sculptor-in-Residence at Newbury in 1999. Newbury is one of the country's fastest-rising festivals and Heather spent her time there working on pieces which she had already started in the studio, but the public's interest was such that she had trouble finishing them. Heather, being a people person, spent a great deal of her time talking about her work to schoolchildren and grannies alike, and I have since had many people through the gallery who agreed with Mark that her residency was an enormous success.
In the autumn of 1998, Annette Ratuszniak, curator of the Shape of the Century exhibition then being organised for the following summer, asked if a mare, foal and stag could be shown in that major review of British sculpture. These pieces were installed outside Sarum College in the Cathedral Close and were undoubtedly one of the major attractions of the exhibition, itself one of the most important gatherings of British sculpture ever to be assembled in this country. I frequently heard from varying sources that there was rarely a time when Heather's driftwood sculptures were not surrounded by admiring visitors. As an aside, by the way, I hope that it says something about the standing of the gallery that gallery artists Sophie Ryder, Geoffrey Dashwood and Ann Christopher were also included in a ninety sculpture line-up that stretched from the likes of Moore, Hepworth, Armitage and Frink to Randall Page and Gormley.
It was also planned that part of this exhibition would move to Canary Wharf, London, at the end of the Salisbury show. In the early stages of planning it had not been envisaged that Heather's work would be part of the second phase, sponsored by Canary Wharf plc, but the overwhelming success of the work made it inevitable that it would be included. While we were delighted about this, I had reservations that the scale of Canary Wharf might dwarf the sculpture and thus detract from its impact. However, it was sited in a wonderful spot and again the public reaction was tremendous. One e-mail came to me from a gentleman whose office overlooked Heather's work -- he wanted me to let her know how much the sight of her work brightened up his otherwise mundane day. There was corporate interest in the work but, sadly, vandalism of driftwood sculpture in unprotected public places will remain a valid concern -- maybe Poseidon will overcome these corporate reservations. The publicity from Canary Wharf led the producers of the Channel 4 series, Collector's Lot, to contact Heather and they recently spent a day at her studio filming for a new series.
Looking to the Future
The future looks extremely exciting for Heather Jansch and I will finish by talking about The Eden Project. If you haven't heard of The Eden Project yet, you soon will have. Due to open fully next summer, the Eden Project will be one of the most important centres of ecological education in the world. Sited in a 60 metre deep disused quarry outside St Austell, Cornwall, it covers an area of 14 hectares. This is not the forum in which to describe it in great detail -- for that, look it up on the internet. Suffice to say it will become a world-renowned ecological centre with plants and vegetation from all continents growing in a natural environment in both covered and uncovered spheres known as biomes. To give some idea of scale, just one of these biomes could house the whole of the Tower of London and is the largest structure of its kind in the world. So what's the relevance? Well, Ms Jansch is going to make sculpture for the centre along with others such as Peter Randall Page. Not surprisingly, Heather has some amazing ideas which she is discussing at present with the Eden Project management team. I spoke to them the other day and they are more than a little enthusiastic about commissioning the work from her. Of course, Heather does not just want to make sculpture for Eden, but also wants to get involved in public participation projects and this is very much in line with the ethos of the place. It is truly exciting and the type of exercise that only someone with Heather's boundless energy could undertake.