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Ivory plaque from Fort Shalmaneser Kalhu

Ivory plaque from Fort Shalmaneser Kalhu, Nimrud
Iraq, 900-700 BC
The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge


I first came upon this piece in 1990 and sketched it, putting it away for future reference. Drawing something is a good way of analysing its form, much better than just photographing it. The process of repeating the shapes and patterns of a piece from three dimensions onto paper helps me to physically connect with the way it was made.

The plaque itself, made within its material and functional boundaries, has a stylized rhythm and order, suggesting it was made to repeat itself in a frieze and had to conform to certain preordained dimensions. But it is clearly derived from a natural source that in itself grew according to natural rules of form, distribution and repetition. It has to suggest volume, perspective and complexity within itself, whilst remaining essentially flat.

This illusion of form and complexity suggested to me ways of approaching work that, whilst restricted by its material (maybe a wood board) also had a vitality and engagement for the viewer, that had its own internal logic but that also referred to other, natural processes, using a material that showed the marks of growth and layering.

As I now know, the palm motif had strong connections to kingship and fertility and can be seen in some extraordinary friezes from Assyria. The decorative element of this plaque has reduced what was once a highly important symbol of the central and natural power of royalty to a pattern. It reminds me of the basic symbolic function of patterning and, in a sense, the ultimate demise of meaning when contexts and beliefs change. If the nursery rhyme is the myth downgraded, then surely pattern is the powerful symbol trivialised.

If art is to survive and continue to produce meaningful objects which can be widely read and understood then it has to retain a relevant position in society and not exist merely for decorative or commercial reasons. It used to be a dream of the new structures of society proposed in the early 20th century that artists would have an integrated function in society. Now they often seem to occupy an esoteric and highly specialised place, derided by some and idolised by others. Let us redress the balance and produce work that has relevance for all, meaning for all and is produced in the right spirit of generosity and celebration of life.

© Richard Bray, 2007


Richard Bray

Richard Bray

Maple Three Piece by Richard Bray

Maple Three Piece by Richard Bray, 1991
© Jesus College, Cambridge

Richard Bray ARBS (b. 1955)

Born in London in 1955, Richard Bray grew up in Kent and then studied Photographic Arts at the University of Westminster. He then worked as a picture researcher and showed his photography in various locations in Britain. A volunteer in Tanzania for two years, Bray discovered wood sculpture. Posted to a remote hospital below the Rift Valley escarpment, he began to explore – and get lost! - creating sculpture made and left in place. Since then location has been fundamental to his work, whether for sculpture exhibitions, such as the ‘Sculpture in the Close’ exhibition held at Jesus College, Cambridge, every other year, or for public commissions, such as ‘Hinxton Crowd’, the 30ft beechwood mural recently completed for the Wellcome Trust at Hinxton.

Key to recent enquiries has been the question of context and status in the visual arts. How do process, placement and reputation affect the meaning and value of the material record, in both historic and contemporary societies? Bray engages with this question in both the classroom and the studio. A postgraduate student in Fine Art at the Norwich School of Art and Design, he addresses the question from a historic angle. In and beyond the studio, he has started to use found objects (both physical and textual), to examine the gallery space and the public environment to challenge some of the elitist assumptions associated with the fine arts and to address as wide an audience as possible.

A teacher at the Cambridge School of Visual and Performing Arts, Bray participates in Cambridge Open Studios and regularly welcomes students and other visitors to his studio in Great Wilbraham. The recipient of a David Urwin Arts Award in 1985, 1988 and 2006, he regularly exhibits at The Fine Art Society in London and with Ingleby Gallery in Edinburgh. Bray also shows in Berg Apton Sculpture Trail, Norfolk and 'Fresh Air', Quenington, Gloucester, every other year. He is an Associate of the Royal British Society of Sculptors.

Richard Bray lives with his family near Cambridge.

UCP 2008

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Selected Exhibitions

1996 Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, solo exhibition

2004 Gainsborough's House, Sudbury, group exhibition

2002 Salisbury Cathedral, group exhibition

Works in Public Collections

1991 Jesus College, Cambridge - Maple Three Piece

2000 Lucy Cavendish College, Ceambridge - Bookstack

2004-2005 Wellcome Trust, Genome Campus, Cambridge – Hinxton Crowd

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