Limestone sculptor's model showing a crocodile
Egypt, 323-30 BC
The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge
... AS SEEN BY CHRISTOPHE GORDON-BROWN
The Fitzwilliam Museum is a treasure house of artefacts, especially for a sculptor – within its walls are a thousand expressions from different moments in history and from diverse parts of the world. Many artists, artisans and designers have been labouring down the ages to embody in different materials their own unique points of view. Sometimes they have been under some sort of direction, at other times they have undoubtedly been sailing under ‘free-expression’.
For a contemporary artist this is very interesting, for he can study the work of his ‘brothers’ down through the ages, and so position himself in relation to them. But the surprising thing is that despite the differing modes and expressions on show – there are common elements found through the ages. For me, one of these that I am drawn to is simplicity. A cutting away of extraneous data such as decoration, man made texture, symbolism, etc., and an interest in the power of the form itself. And of course, the museum is full of examples.
The forms that have this awesome simplicity are few and have to be searched out - though they are found in greater number amongst the works from Egypt. I suspect that the desert influence has something to do with this. I have been to the desert, and have found that after the busyness, complexity and noise of the city, a desert with its stillness and empty quiet is very alluring. So personally, I am drawn to the naïve and the primitive, because of its directness and lack of guile. There is an innocence I love, which has a beauty I don’t always find in the fussy intricate superfine artefacts of ‘civilised’ society.
Now, I don’t ever take a single object and work from that. My tendency is to take in those objects that captivate and then search for a pattern. To see how the many percepts add up to a concept, if you like. In my case it is this: That if you have many intricacies and details the thing loses power. With less detail, you have more power. Six actors on a stage have a greater psychological impact than sixty. The paradox is that if one of those six actors is flawed, he stands out as such. With sixty he doesn’t. So those six have to succeed for they’re to be a vivid spectacle. We have the same problem with sculpture.
It’s like poetry. The few words are a distillation of the many – they are powerful, and in the right place they can say things that the many cannot say. Thus a piece of sculpture is a condensation of many words; it is an immediate expression taken in at one glance – as opposed to the serial presentation of many ideas on a page. But its simple form has to be very carefully constructed for it to work – like a poem. On top of this, it is appealing to the sense of feeling – and less to the intellect. Because of this, it can talk from and to the unconscious, which the intellect using ideas cannot do so easily.
This talking to and from the unconscious is exactly what these primitive simple forms can do. The peoples in those periods where not highly intellectualised scientific persons – they believed in the spirit that lay behind matter, they were not identified with or hypnotised by a consumer commodity production system. In short they were not gross materialists, so they intuited and felt the power that lies behind the phenomenal world. To them this power was sacred. Consequently their works are imbued with these beliefs and convictions and so they have left us with these precious simple powerful objects that we can see here and there in the Fitzwilliam Museum – and which I find so beguiling as a sculptor.
Christophe Gordon-Brown (b. 1952)
Born in Kampala, Uganda, in 1952, Christophe Gordon-Brown came to England when he was ten. First at home in Lichfield, he subsequently attended school in South and North Wales. He then moved to Cambridge, where he completed his A levels at CCAT, the Cambridgeshire College of Arts & Technology. Long fascinated by forms and stones, Gordon-Brown then contemplated training as a sculptor, but decided to opt for a more secure future and trained as a goldsmith. Following his studies at Loughborough College of Art and Design, he went travelling and spent a year working on boats on the Amazon and in hotels and restaurants in Columbia and Peru. Back in England, Gordon-Brown set up a workshop in Loughborough. In 1985, he decided to return to Cambridge and worked as a jewellery designer on Magdalene Street. Ten years later, Gordon-Brown moved to his own premises on Grantchester Street in Newnham. Shortly after, a burglary at his workshop robbed him of all his stock, gold and stones, but as luck would have it, he had a chance conversation with an elderly lady who commissioned him to produce an original sculpture. Gordon-Brown accepted the challenge and has produced more than seventy sculptures since. Ever larger in size, he occasionally uses the pavement in front of his studio and a neighbour’s garden as additional work space, but also has access to a large studio in Fulbourn. The devastating burglary aside, Gordon-Brown has not looked back and has recently won a major competition for a large-scale sculpture for Robinson College, Cambridge.
Further to his work as a goldsmith and sculptor, Gordon-Brown also regularly teaches spoon-making in Ireland and runs sculpture workshops alongside an 'open-access' use of his studio in Cambridge. He is also an accomplished poet.
Christophe Gordon-Brown lives in Cambridge.