Having captured the athleticism of hares in bronze and ceramics, Paul Jenkins tells Janet Menzies why he is adding foxes to his repertoire
Hares capture interest and the imagination across the world, and the sculptures by Paul Jenkins perfectly encapsulate their madness and mischief. Now he is adding foxes to his repertoire, he tells Janet Menzies.
Sculptor and ceramicist Paul Jenkins wonders why his bronze and pottery hares are so popular. “I didn’t realise people would like my work so much – I’m still shocked. I have always been able to make a living out of it and that surprises me because I didn’t expect to do that. People are collecting them now. I don’t really know what makes them so popular.”
Looking at his gawkily beautiful creatures in mid-jump or boxing together in a flurry of paws and ears, it is easy to see why they are loved – and also to gain an insight into what makes humans generally so intrigued by hares.
In every part of the world where hares live, from China to Europe, Africa and America, they are the stuff of ancient art and mythology. We associate them with the moon and with shape-changing, madness and mischief. Jenkins’ hares look as if they would be involved in all of these things. Their weird leaps and extraordinary bodies seem mysteriously separate from us, yet friendly and familiar, too.
Jenkins remembers how he was first drawn to hares: “I had a little workshop unit in a vineyard near Wombourne in the West Midlands and used to see them quite a lot there. I love their spirit and their leaping about. So I started studying them and found out about them. I love to show them boxing and fighting and jumping up together. They are fantastic to watch if you can get the chance, you see them bolting across the fields. But now you don’t seem to see them that often.”
He admits to using some artistic license. “I probably do make the paws and ears a little bit bigger to exaggerate them. Of all my subjects, hares are my favourite, especially doing the little bronzes gives me so much opportunity in the sculpting. You can have them standing on one foot and it shows the movement. I love that shape. With the ceramics you can’t do them on one paw, so it compromises the design a little bit.”
CARVING, POTTERY AND SCULPTURE
But the material that set Jenkins on his path was wood. “I was self-employed and I started doing carving on some blocks of wood and I enjoyed it and carried on. Then I went to art college to learn how to throw pottery, and gradually the sculpture started from there – but the hares didn’t come along for about another 10 years.”
Once Jenkins had started, the influence of the hares literally grew. “A couple of years ago I was commissioned to do an 8ft-high bronze hare. I had a small maquette about 11in tall of two hares jumping up and that formed the basis for the large one, which we did in a limited edition. They have ended up all over the place – some were even sold at Sotheby’s. But it was a complex project; to get them to stand up we had to have long bars for support. I would still like to do another very big hare sculpture, but they are expensive to make I’m afraid.”
Meanwhile, he has begun a new collection of work focusing on his original love of ceramic work and introducing foxes to join the hares. “I’m working in stoneware, which is a high-fired glaze, unlike earthenware. It becomes very hard but it can be a difficult medium for sculpting because you have to allow for 7% or 8% shrinkage during the firing process. In the past, I have made some pieces which are Raku-fired, which involves an additional rapid heat at the end.”
Raku produces a high sheen with a distinctive crazed finish, but Jenkins warns: “The process is so smoky and really not nice to work with, so I am developing some different finishes. In the past few weeks I’ve done some little foxes in bronze as well as the ceramic ones. I am really excited about all the new pieces. I love how foxes jump up and dive down with their paws on something they have seen. I love to see them.”
Born in 1949 in the West Midlands, Jenkins claims to be partly retired. “I am really pleasing myself now.” But his latest work is more vibrant than ever. This year will see Jenkins’ work in galleries all over the country, as well as his local Stourbridge Galleries, so it will probably be easier to track down a Jenkins hare than a real one – and worth it, as his work becomes so collectible.
To discover more about Paul Jenkins and his work, call 01384 386512 or go to: www.pauljenkinsgallery.co.uk