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San Francisco to Milan

Art&Museum Interview July 2021
Double magazine page with artist interview 2021
David Begbie San Francisco to Milan
by Derek Culley

Internationally renowned sculptor David Begbie has worked almost exclusively with the human form throughout his career. Since his first pioneering solo show in London in 1984, a whole new genre of steelmesh art has emerged and continues to grow. He is the master of his medium wiremesh, and his work speaks for itself.

“David Begbie transforms a light-weight steel or bronze wiremesh spectacularly into a dynamic three-dimensional figurative form. His transparent sculpture in wiremesh is as much about light as it is about substance, and he transforms his seemingly inanimate machined industrial material into dynamic and evocative sculptural forms.
... Begbie is able to shape the human form with his hands to produce the illusion of rippling musculature. He makes it seem as sensitive and pliable as wax....

Edward Lucie-Smith

What is the key to the success of your work?
My work is successful because it is a fascinating mix of classical qualities with contemporary material. It is sculptural economy and succinctness with an exuberance of content and subtlety. It is also a marriage of figurative and minimal art.

Do you have a preoccupation with the human form? Since when?
Yes, despite the trends during my art school years for non- figurative, abstract, minimal and multi-media activities. I can only work on things and subjects for which I have a feeling and passion. Therefore, my commitment enables me to explore the possibilities extensively.

When did you first start working in wire-mesh, what year?
I discovered the particular properties of wire mesh in 1977 at art school; at that time, I was working with more conventional solid materials - such as plaster, wood, bronze, stone and fibreglass casting. I explain this in more detail on my website.

What are the unique/special properties of the wire mesh?
Firstly, the mesh is manufactured at o the roll and is a uniform grid structure machined with unwavering integrity. When the mesh with all its lines stretch into three dimensions, it has the psychological e effect of creating an entirely new type of space - that is, space it newly occupies when stretched.
Secondly, it is transparent - 90% thin air, yet it has as much, and possibly more, presence than a conventional solid form. Because of this, I have been able to introduce the use of lighting as an integral part of a particular composition, combining two and three dimensions by using shadows - an optical fusion of image and object.

Where do you study human form?
I use a variety of ways to record and study the forms. Mainly photography and video, whilst also using direct drawing in charcoal and inks to capture different aspects, stances and movement. Sometimes I use models. I am generally very aware of people - body movements and expression. Artists develop a way of seeing for their own purposes. Good sources of day-to-day study are social contact, working out in the Gym, the use of photos, TV and video, plus an unknown degree of subliminal intake. Works of Artists such as Rodin, Michelangelo, Medardo Rosso, Egon Schiele, many other painters inspire me, as do the works of my contemporaries. My sources perpetually evolve along with my experiences.

How do you respond when compared to the masters, Rodin, Michelangelo and Rosso?
There are similar concerns, mainly as Rodin was the first and most successful artist to use a fragmented form as his subject consciously. He also went on to deal with emotional, physical, passionate and violent expression. Using wax as his medium, Medardo Rosso has been an intriguing influence. The majority of his mature works appear ‘softly eroded’ or transformed as if by the elements and evocative of the mysterious workings of the imagination - half-formed personalities from the deep subconscious. I look to Michelangelo, who was the exponent of exaggerated physical form (mannerism). Due to the inherent properties and the nature of working with the steelmesh, I often have to exaggerate physical features. My concerns are precisely contemporary in that I am transposing a modern industrial material, in a mannerist way, but by no means, the same fashion as Michelangelo, because my influences are from a much broader context in today’s society. My sculpture is entirely different because of the nature of the material, although the results do strike the same chords.

Please discuss your following two significant shows, to be held in San Francisco and Milan.
The forthcoming exhibition in San Francisco is to be staged in a new gallery space in a beautiful historic building in the heart of San Francisco. The building was formally the office of architect Frank Lloyd Wright who designed the Guggenheim Museum, New York, amongst many other buildings worldwide.
E Shoua, the owner of Gefen Fine Art, has acquired the building in its entirety with a grand opening this summer. I have been invited to participate along with an international selection of artists showing simultaneously on several floors. Although I have exhibited extensively throughout the USA, this is my first exhibition in San Francisco. Gefen Fine Art have two other San Francisco gallery spaces - 239 Union Square and at the Fairmont Hotel, Mason Street.
The exhibition in Milan this autumn is with Cris Contini Contemporary, with whom I currently exhibit in London and Italy. The Milan gallery is a new large flexible exhibition space. Although I am currently exhibiting with Cris Contini in Cortina and Montenegro, my first exhibition will be in Milan.

Download the interview (PDF) here
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