IN THE FRAME: Bruce Gordon
Brightwell resident, Bruce Gordon, has sculpted for Rolls Royce, Brad Pitt and the Queen. He tells Jennie Walmsley about his work, including his latest commission for the Diamond Jubilee.
How did you get into sculpting?
As a child I always made things. Because I’m dyslexic, there’s always been a 3D element to the way I think. When I was 19 the Prince’s Youth Business Trust helped me to set up as a woodturner. When I found something I was interested in, I couldn’t stop.
To begin with, I was producing functional objects – salad and fruit bowls, but I wasn’t interested in making the same thing over and over again. I didn’t want just to make a salad bowl: I wanted to make a bowl that was interesting, and beautiful.
I started playing around and ended up producing objets d’art, pieces of tactile sculpture. I was working at a very high level, on the Crafts Council list of makers. I exhibited all over the world and sold works every week in Covent Garden Market.
Then I met Helen, my wife, and we moved to Lancashire. I found it very difficult to sell my work up North and couldn’t find the right market. A friend, who worked for a theme park company, suggested I work for them. I spent three years with the company, sculpting polystyrene into giant dinosaurs, huge teddy bears, and developing concept models, including a lot of the planning for Legoland Windsor.
Did you enjoy doing that?
I did, because I was able to make the shift from wood to another medium. I’m a natural sculptor. There are two distinct labels: a “modeller” makes forms by increasing substance from nothing, for instance in clay; and “sculptors”, who reduce, allowing form to emerge from inside a substance, a block of wood or piece of polystyrene. Although I can do the former, I feel most at home doing the latter. It can be a lot of fun. With polystyrene, you use a hotwire, and lots of other tools: chainsaws, abrasives, incredibly sharp knives. There are lot of different processes.
Tell me about your film work.
After the theme park, I worked for the biggest prop company in Europe, based in Bradford, as their Head of Interpretation. When Helen and I moved to London, I contacted other prop companies and was asked to work on the film Tomb Raider One. That led to a decade as a construction sculptor in the film industry. Film work is quite departmentalised – there are painters, riggers, plasterer, carpenters and sculptors. We would produce anything and everything for the sets
Would we have seen some of your work in the cinema?
I did the Trojan horse for Troy. I ran a team of 6 that produced a 42 foot high by 40 foot long sculpture in polystyrene of the Trojan horse which was then moulded, sent to Morocco, reproduced in fibreglass and filmed. I did the car for Batman Begins, “The Tumbler”. I did Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Da Vinci Code, Captain America, Stardust. The list is endless.
Are you still doing film work?
Work in the film world has changed and there’s a lot of commuting. Helen and I moved to Brightwell about 9 years ago with our first child, and we’ve had two more kids since then, so being away a lot isn’t practical. Brightwell is an incredible place to live and come home to. It’s a really safe environment for my kids, and I love that. So I’ve set up locally to get a better quality of life. My new studio in North Moreton is a great space.
Now I want to develop my own body of work. I’m producing high-end garden sculpture and I want to get into the production of public art. One of my sculptures is outside Rolls Royce’ Head office and I’ve had work exhibited at Tate Modern. I still produce work for TV productions and Film, including Dr Who and Torchwood. But I want to move away from disposable commercial sculpture and more into permanent works.
Tell me about your latest, very special, commission.
It came through a conversation in The Red Lion when a friend asked if I could carve a greyhound out of wood. One thing led to another, and two months later I was shown pictures of the heraldic beasts which were sculpted for Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. I was given a unique piece of holly wood which had been planted in the royal hunting grounds. I was then asked to reproduce the White Greyhound of Richmond to be presented to the Queen as part of the official Diamond Jubilee celebrations. It was a fantastic piece to work on, and a great honour. I think I can now claim to be the only living officially commissioned heraldic beast sculptor in Britain! It will certainly mean some of my work is preserved for posterity.
If you could create a public sculpture for Brightwell-cum-Sotwell, or the local area, what would it be?
Public art is really lacking in this area, apart from the water-fountain in Wallingford, and that’s not very special. I think it would be great to make something organic, that fits with the landscape. I’m open to suggestions.