Modelling Jamie

I was commissioned to do the bust of this young man by his father in 1998, His father had recently acquired one of my pieces and said he liked the kind of feeling that the piece emanated and would be pleased to have his young son portrayed with that kind of feeling. The young man was about ten at the time I was introduced to him; his face had a cherubic quality and a sense of innocence about it which offered a real challenge.

After agreeing to do the work however, a period of doubt crept up on me as I slowly became aware that I had never worked on a bust of a European before and wondered if this was the time to start learning, but not being the type to shirk from a challenge, I began the work. The whole process took nearly three years to complete as Jamie was away at boarding school and so there was limited access for modelling as this could only be done during the holiday periods. This created some real problems as he presented a completely new physical challenge each time we met. This was of course taking place during the most rapid growth phase of his life; the journey from childhood through puberty to the threshold of manhood. The project began with an innocent, cherubic looking boy and ended up with a young man.

Working on this bust of Jamie presented a whole new set of unexpected challenges, the greatest of which was my inability to see the surface of his skin. Up to that point the type of skin I was used to was dark, opaque and reflected the light however, this young man’s skin appeared translucent, with no reflection of light from its surface. Instead of the surface what I saw were the veins and capillaries beneath the surface. This presented a real challenge that forced me to find a solution which was to cover his skin with petroleum jelly which helped to reflect the light from the surface of his skin. I’ve since discovered that the old European masters used such methods as part of the array of techniques they used to create their art. This experience gave me a great deal of insight into the reason alabaster and white marble were chosen by the classical European sculptors to depict the European skin. I hope Jamie and his father are happy with the result, I certainly am.

This piece was created in my workspace which is a shed at the end of my garden in the south east corner of London, where all my work is produced. It measures approximately nine feet by twelve. This lack of space forces me to work in a modular way which gets me around the problem of scale. In spite of its limitations it is conducive to the creation art.

The space may be limited but it is high above the rooftops and in the winter when the trees are without leaves I can see way out across the Kent countryside. Up there I feel very close to nature and in touch with the changing seasons. Sometimes I go there on a really cold winter morning to find the piece I’m modeling completely frozen, in the summer by midday it is often so hot I have to work outdoors in the garden. However, I enjoy being up there because of its closeness to nature, I can follow the changing seasons, and be in touch with the wildlife.

This shed reminds me of the wooden shack in Jones Town on the border with Trench Town, west Kingston that was home to my grandfather when I was a young boy in the late nineteen forties. I can remember spending many wonderful summer holidays there with my Grandfather Esau. His home consisted of one room with a rather crude wooden bed with a coconut straw mattress and walls that were covered with magazine and newspaper cuttings, there were stacks of books of all sorts packed in cardboard boxes beneath his bed. He was very influential in my early life; he was the only person I knew who collected and read books other than the bible and of course he would always be ready with an answer to any question I would challenge him with. He was a reader and a traveler who had traveled and worked in many countries in the region including Cuba, Panama, Costa Rica and the USA, at that time he worked as a market porter. Whenever it rained his roof would leak and everything would be drenched, which is exactly what happens in my shed, I guess I am always trying to relive those early memories and emulate him. I would look forward to spending time with him during the long summer holidays. At that time in the nineteen forties, that part of Kingston was an exciting and vibrant place; at its core was the sprawling Coronation market, the main Kingston market. This is the area and period that was then in the process of giving birth to the Rastafarian movement, Reggae music and enduring characters like Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. It is a long way from the sunshine and heat of Jones Town/Trench Town, to this autumnal south east London scene.

©Fowokan November 2008