Dynamic sculptor Kate Denton flies high with new work
PUBLISHED: 15:38 06 July 2017
Action sculptor Kate Denton has a reputation for creating dynamic sculptures which capture the grace and beauty of movement. Arts editor Andrew Clarke spoke to her about a new series which capture humanity’s ability to risk all for greatness
East Anglian sculptor Kate Denton has achieved a form of artistic alchemy – the ability to create a sense of grace and movement from a static object.
Originally from Sheffield, Kate has long been resident in the wilds of north Suffolk with a studio based in a series of old farm buildings. For many years she concentrated on capturing the essence of wildlife and the natural world in bronze, while also teaching life drawing at art colleges, but recently she has become increasingly preoccupied with the human figure.
Her most recent series of sculptures looks to combine both her love of wildlife with the human form by illustrating the Greek legend of Icarus and his doomed flight towards the sun.
It’s a subject that fascinates her and next year she is planning to stage an exhibition of a dozen Icarus sculptures along with additional drawings, plans and maquettes.
For Kate, her life has always been a creative blend of physics and art. Her sculptures require precise engineering skills to allow them to be free-standing and still exhibit this sense of free movement.
So a sculptor has to be an engineer as well as an artist?
KD: “I think you have to be. The centre piece for my Icarus exhibition is a seven foot bronze called Dare To Dream which depicts the moment when Icarus reaches the apex of his flight towards the sun. It’s the moment just before he falls and the whole piece is balanced on his tip toes. You have to get the physics right, at the very beginning, which is why I make a series of maquettes before I even start, and then scale it up.
What makes the Icarus so special?
KD: “It’s a really emotional project because it blends the two areas of my work. Most of my work until now has been about movement - now I am combining the human figure in a very dramatic fashion. It’s really a comment about us as a species always striving to go further, how we get up again after falling short and how at times, like Icarus, we over reach ourselves. It’s about aspiration.”
You have carved out a very distinctive reputation as the creator of ‘action’ sculptures. Was this something that had always wanted to do or was it something that just happened?
KD: “My family comes from Sheffield. Dad had a steel works up there. I grew up there and loved being around the factory. They used to teach me to weld, I just loved everything about it, the smell of the furnaces and the sight of the molten steel flowing out.
“Then Dad sold up and we moved to the Channel Islands where Mum and Dad ran a hotel for many years. It was a great place to have my teenage years and then I applied to Goldsmiths Art College because I had always loved painting....”
So what came first painting or your love of steel?
KD: “That’s a good question. I think they grew side by side. From the age of seven I was doing both. When you are a kid you just do stuff. I remember the guys in the factory would say to me: ‘Here’s a load of scrap metal – join them together, see what you can make of it – and I would make stick shapes and all sorts of bizarre abstract constructions but at the same time I was also painting and drawing and, of course, the more you do the better you get at it and after a while it just feeds itself.
“People argue over whether it is nature or nurture and I am sure it’s a bit of both. My mother is a very good watercolour artist, my grandmother was also, so it is in the DNA, but that’s not enough, You also have to work at it. Fortunately I love the silence of being on my own. I have never been drawn to being part of the hurly burly.”
So when did your fascination with animals and movement start to appear?
KD: “When I was still in college, I put in a running cheetah into the Royal Academy exhibition and in those days established artists, in my case it was the sculptor Elizabeth Frink, picked me out as the best newcomer. There was no prize money but I got to meet Liz Frink who was utterly charming and encouraged me to work on the simplification of form. She invited me to her studio and I went a couple of times. I think winning accolades like that just gives you the confidence to go: ‘yes I can do this,’ So much in life is confidence – that and looking. I spend days looking at things that I have a problem with. If you look deeply enough an answer will appear.”