Introducing 11 of the most exciting contemporary British sculptors working today, from the modern to the classical
In tune with the current debate around statues and representation, British sculptors are remarkably busy reworking the idea of statues as upright military figures or Royals from an imperialist past. Meanwhile, the vanguards of the eighties British Sculpture Movement are working just as hard producing monumental structures for public spaces and avant-garde shapes for galleries.
Either way, our great British sculptors are producing some exciting work that is certain to hit the headlines throughout 2021.
For Wollstonecraft by Maggi Hambling. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0
The statue, For Wollstonecraft, rather than representing the author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), depicts an anonymous, naked, everywoman in silver rising from a volcanic eruption.
Thomas J Price
Network by Thomas J Price. Image via Hepworth Wakefield
Similarly, the sculptor Thomas J Price presented Reaching Out (2020), a nine-foot-tall, young woman checking her mobile, representing the UK’s black everywoman which can be found in Stratford, East London.
Price is keen to step away from glorifying one famous person on a plinth and his next project outside Hackney Town Hall on the Windrush Generation is promised for 2021-22.
Sculpture of David 'Bomber' Pearce by Laury Dizengreme. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0
Rise Up, Women by Hazel Reeves, Manchester. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0
Hazel Reeves is another figurative sculptor, who sculpts in clay for bronze with a passion for social change. She is renowned for her statue of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst (Rise Up Women) unveiled in Manchester 2018. However, Reeves is diverging for 2021.
Currently the artist in residence at Knepp Wildland, West Sussex, she is working on a rewilding project to reverse Britain’s decline in wildlife. Listen out for her bird-inspired soundscapes soon to fill our urban spaces.
Richard Deacon's Let's Not Be Stupid (detail). Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0
On the non-figurative front, Turner Prize winner (1987), Richard Deacon is preparing for the reopening of the Royal Academy of Arts (RA) on May 18th by curating a range of impressive sculptures for the Sackler Sculpture Gallery.
Deacon is an abstract artist whose seven, super-sized, ceramic sculptures filled Madison Square Park, New York in 2008. Entitled Richard Deacon RA Selects the exhibition is a great opportunity to see sculptures by past and living British sculptors.
Sitting on History (1995) by Bill Woodrow. Creative Commons Attribution 3.0
Included in the exhibition is a sculpture by Deacon’s contemporary Bill Woodrow, Fingerswarm (2000) which cleverly crafts a swarm of bees in bronze with gold leaf. Like Deacon, Bill Woodrow hails from the British sculptors to emerge onto the international contemporary art scene in the 1980s known as the New British Sculpture Movement.
Woodrow’s sculpture, Regardless of History (a head crushed between a book and the roots of a tree) graced the fourth plinth, Trafalgar Square, in 2000. Some might also know Woodrow’s Sitting on History (1995)—an outsize book in ball and chain—at the British Library in London.
Cloud Gate at the Millennium Park, Chicago by Anish Kapoor. Creative Commons Attribution 2.0
Another contemporary is Anish Kapoor. Kapoor is known for his colossal sculptures like Arcelormittal Orbit the UK’s tallest sculpture at 115 metres tall sited at the Olympic Park in East London and part of a sculpture walk called The Line.
This impressive sculpture also incorporates The Slide by artist Carsten Holler for the madly adventurous to shoot down. Now Kapoor is exhibiting his paintings-cum-sculpture—mountainous heaps of paint—at Modern Art Oxford from 2nd October 2021.
1 of 31 actual size figures on London's skyline in Event Horizon by Antony Gormley. Creative Commons Attribution 3.0
Along The Line’s route is Anthony Gormley’s Quantum Cloud a breath-taking structure of steel (influenced by quantum physicist Basil Hiley) that dominates the East London skyline.
Anthony Gormley, famous for the unmissable Angel of the North spanning the Gateshead horizon, is preparing for a comprehensive solo exhibition in Germany from June at the Schauwerk Sindelfingen. Gormley likes to focus on the relationship of the human body to space as well as produce large, architectural sculptures. He filled the great halls of the RA in 2019 with massive swirls of iron, alongside 24 super-sized, cast-iron figures of himself entitled Lost Horizon (2008).
From the Knees of My Nose to the Belly of My Toes by Alex Chinneck. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0
A Bullet from a Shooting Star can also be found on The Line circuit. This sculpture, an inverted electricity pylon standing 37 metres tall is the creation of a younger British sculptor, Alex Chinneck.
In Hackney, East London, Chinneck used thousands of pieces of glass to create smashed windows across the façade of a derelict factory: Telling the Truth Through False Teeth (2012). In Margate he sculpted the front of a house sliding into a garden, From the Knees of My Nose to The Belly of My Toes (2013). With Alphabetti Spaghetti (2019)—a series of knotted post boxes—suddenly appearing overnight like Banksy, Chinneck is likely to make another commotion soon.
Embankment by Rachel Whiteread. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5
It’s clear to see that Chinneck has been influenced by Rachel Whiteread. House, a temporary public sculpture in Mile End in East London was the cast of an entire house and won the Turner Prize in 1993 making Rachel Whiteread the first woman and the youngest artist ever to do so, aged just 30.
Whiteread is best known for “casting” objects. Untitled Monument followed Bill Woodrow’s sculpture onto the fourth plinth in 2001. This eccentric sculpture consisted of a cast of the plinth itself in transparent resin placed upside-down on top of the original.
Moving on from casting, Whiteread is now using discarded wood and metal for her sculptures. Her latest sculptures, Poltergeist and Doppelgänger, which look like huts ravaged by a storm, form a new exhibition, Internal Objects, showing at Gagosian, London, from 12 April to 6 June.
Dock by Phyllida Barlow. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0
Finally, it’s worth keeping an eye open for one of the greatest contemporary British sculptors, Phyllida Barlow. Still working in her late seventies, Barlow has captured the British sculpture scene since graduating from the Chelsea College of Art in the sixties. She has a link to the industrial North—Newcastle-upon-Tyne— where she was born at the close of the Second World War.
Barlow's birthplace has left its mark with the use of timber, plaster and cement in the creation of her work. Her solo exhibition, cul de sac at the RA in 2019, embraced this legacy with its enormous constructions defying gallery spaces.
Read more: 10 Unknown facts about Cleopatra
Read more: Auguste Rodin: Everything you need to know
Keep up with the top stories from Reader's Digest by subscribing to our weekly newsletter