Nick Hornby, Artist
It is very difficult to engage in a conversation about contemporary British sculpture without examining Nick Hornby. With commissions all over the world and pieces that stand beside Barbara Hepworth and Auguste Rodin, it would be easy to understand if Nick were engrossed in the pretentious world that can capture a talented young artist. Instead, he is calm and speaks in a rhythm that is pensive and precise; because the truth is that he is interested in the experience of reflection and learning from his audience.
Contemporary British Sculpture
Where does your interest in materials come from?
Materials are incredible! They both function (structure, etc) and carry meaning. For example, marble can support a standing figure as well as evoke platonic ideals. The viewer reads associations both of the material and how it is treated – rough, smooth, hand made, machined.
For my current show at MOSTYN, I’m combining digital and analogous processes, resins, liquified photographs and high gloss lacquer… the results are uncanny… on the one hand, the works are vivid and clear and tactile; on the other hand, the curvatures, images and reflections all keep the work a little in the realm of the unreal, the virtual.
You have said that you like to look back at art history for inspiration. How does digital technology fit into that process?
I have quite an a-historic and magpie approach to art history as well as to technology. I approach historic art in the same way as contemporary art - and equally, I mix traditional and contemporary tools and processes. I might spend a day at my computer then a day with an orbital sander and angle grinder, a day with clay and a day with augmented reality.
How does modern technology in general fit into the Renaissance Paragone argument, i.e. the debate of whether painting or sculpture is superior?
Ha - what an interesting question. But also perhaps only in the fictitious realm of this question… as in - in today’s post-digital, post-internet world - it seems obsolete to make distinctions between online-offline. I am my avatar - my avatar is me.
In 2019, the Harlow Commission became the 100th piece to have entered the Harlow Art Trust which must have felt like a great achievement. How comfortable were you with the remit of combining Science and Technology with the heritage of the surroundings?
Thank you, yes it was a wonderful commission to research and realise. The collection is incredible with works by Rodin, Hepworth, Moore, Frink, Chadwick to name but a few. I personally don’t see any antagonism between art and science - I think both can be highly figurative (art can depict things, and science can examine things), and both can be highly abstract. And I think that’s the exciting thing which conjoins the two… how each negotiate between “idea” and “real.”
How does it feel to be amongst such prestigious names as Elizabeth Frink, Barbara Hepworth, and Auguste Rodin?
A great honour.
You use the year 1504 in the title of your 2013 New York solo exhibition and then again for your Glyndebourne series. Is it correct to assume that this is because Michelangelo’s famous sculpture of David was unveiled that year?
Do you consider Michelangelo’s famous figure to be the beginning of modern sculpture?
I’ve heard that said before. I think the idea of “Art History” has become so problematic that I’m not sure I can answer that question. We’re only just starting the enormous task of undoing the western-centric-ness and gender biases that have prevailed for so long. Modern sculpture as a term seems to reek of that problematic succession of white men. And as a white man - I’m very weary of it. To take another angle - I do think Michelangelo’s work “feels” incredibly ahead of its time… the “unfinished works” that “reveal” the materiality is as close to genius as I could imagine.
Last year, you did the Outset Bialik Residency in Tel Aviv and you have also worked in Los Angeles and New York. How does living and engaging with the arts of other countries influence your own work?
It’s a great privilege to travel and to teach. Sculpture is quite slow (it can typically take 6 months to cast a bronze, and often 12 months to simply realise a large work)… which means the lessons I learn on a residency typically don’t become visible until much later. However, a simple conversation with a student at Tel Aviv could open up an entire new body of work. And that is very exciting.
What do you think that we have to learn from the arts of other countries?
On the one hand, globalisation has had a homogenising effect… (drinking a diet coke in the Louvre Abu Dhabi), but on the other hand cultural differences rooted in intergenerational stories is utterly fascinating. There are great opportunities that can grow from these strange juxtapositions.
In the description for your first solo UK exhibition at the Mostyn Gallery in Wales, it says that, for the first time, you explore gender and sexual identity in terms of your own life story. Your work is not generally considered autobiographical, so why did you decide that now is the right time to express this journey?
The answer to this is very personal: My father has Alzheimer’s and this year he reached a point where he forgot who I was, this year is also the 10 years anniversary of my mother’s death, it is year I turned 40 and split up with my partner. This happened during a global pandemic. Something clicked.
Did you learn anything about yourself during that process?
Yes - but I’m still in the process of formulating those thoughts.
Designed By Woulfe consistently tries to incorporate art in their designs and has, therefore, worked with many artists over the years. What advice would you give to interior designers who are considering contemporary sculpture, either commissions or direct purchase, within their projects?
I have great respect for designers - and it's great to work together on projects. I don’t think there is a formula - but when you can initiate a dialogue early on in a project that can be beneficial. The commission I did with Peter and Philip Joseph for Matches Fashion was a joy to work on - they are fantastic and communicate their vision very clearly. Also a commission I did for Andaz 5th Ave in NYC with Tony Chi - another incredible architect/designer. In both cases we started a dialogue very early on.
What is your dream public commission?
I’ve found that I produce my best work when working with great people… so my dream commissions are those working with curators and commissioners who I admire and who want to engage and be in dialogue. Also, budget is important…. because sculpture is extremely expensive and typically one has to compromise ideas to fit budgets… it would be wonderful to be able to realise an idea without that compromise.
What do you hope a viewer will learn from your work?
I don’t want them to learn from me - on the contrary - I want to learn from the viewer. I’m sure the viewer knows enough - and very possibly much more than I do. I respect the viewer. All I hope is that they bring themselves openly to the work and try to enter into dialogue with the ideas.
What is your next project?
I’m currently focusing on a substantial Monograph to be published by Anomie with texts from Dr Luke Syson, Dr Hannah Higham, Dr Helen Pheby.
It is close to the end of a monumental year - what are you most looking forward to and what are you most hopeful about in 2021?
Touch. I miss touch. Hugging, simple hand shaking, warm embraces.
Who is your ideal collector?
Apart from “flippers” …Anyone. Everyone is included. Art shouldn’t have snobberies.
Zygotes and Confessions, at Mostyn, Llandudno, Wales.
14 November to 18 April 2021. The exhibition, curated by MOSTYN Director, Alfredo Cramerotti, is Hornby’s first solo exhibition in a public institution in the UK. A monograph on Nick Hornby, edited by Matt Price, will be published by Anomie in 2021.
Designed By Woulfe has invited Tova Ossad of Ossad Art Management to interview a range of art world personalities. Her fifteen years' experience working in this sphere has exposed her to many artists, auction specialists, art advisors, conservators, and gallerists, thereby giving the Design Journal fresh insight into the fundamentals of art. This series will explore buying, selling, appreciating, and everything in between.