Figure Process Material: A Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle Engagement Programme

Ahead of the Figure Process Material exhibition at Munro House in Leeds, we spoke to Leeds-based artist Paul Digby about his recent work as Engagement Coordinator for the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle.

Can you tell us a bit about the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle Engagement Programme and what its aims were?

The main aims were to deliver a project that focused specifically on engaging people who use community services, and to provide a positive learning experience about sculpture and contemporary art. The programme involved a series of courses that consisted of artist led sessions, and visits to the galleries that comprise the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle (Henry Moore Institute, The Hepworth Wakefield, Leeds Art Gallery and Yorkshire Sculpture Park). The sculpture by Rebecca Warren positioned outside Henry Moore Institute was the main focus of the project.

The artist led sessions were based on the figure, and the materials featured were clay and plaster casting, with the opportunity to learn basic techniques including drawing. These sessions are accompanied by a printed publication, two exhibitions in Leeds and Wakefield, and an evaluation seminar.

I worked with groups from within Leeds Adult Social Care, who use community services in Leeds and Wakefield. The project was also supported by the Workers Education Association who have connections with these communities.

How did you come to be involved in this kind of work?

My background research is in Outsider Art. I celebrate work made by people who are untrained and as you can see in the exhibition [at Munro House], the work that stands out is the work made by people who derive a pure enjoyment from making art. Drawing and sculpting for everyone involved is more about making and creating something beautiful.

Rebecca Warren’s sculpture ‘Man and the Dark’ that was situated outside the Henry Moore Institute (as part of The Body Extended: Sculpture and Prosthetics exhibition) was used as a starting point for the programme. What sort of responses did you get to Warren’s sculpture?

There was an appreciation for her work that I wasn’t surprised to hear. People were making links to the work with TV adverts such as ‘moneysupermarket.com’ (e.g. the man’s big legs in tight shorts) as well as discussing the gender of the legs because of their physicality and rough textured surface.

People’s views did of course differ, as each individual brought their own meaning to the sculpture. Because of the sculpture’s eye-catching size, form and colour, people were unable to avoid the work. People were also fascinated by the process behind it, which led on well to the following sessions where they engaged in casting and clay figure work.

How can (engagement with) art make a positive difference to our communities?

I feel it provides the opportunity to access good quality resources, such as materials and transport to galleries to see exhibitions, as well the opportunity to meet artists and mix with people from different communities. There are also benefits to partnering with the non-arts sector in a wider socio-political context.

Do you think there is there something particular to the medium of sculpture that makes it a good art form to engage with and as a way to connect with people?

There is a physicality to making sculpture that allows people to easily express themselves, through the use of clay for example, and because of the ‘crude’ material quality of Warren’s work people felt welcomed. This did not detract from the content of Warren’s sculpture, it only added further to its meaning.

What have been some of your highlights from this project?

Providing quality resources that enabled people to access the galleries within Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle, as well as working with artists to deliver sessions in the galleries. I also personally enjoyed working with staff from the YST and its venues, as well as the community groups.

What projects do you have lined up next?

I have two applications in process; one is to work with Leeds Dementia Services to create a series of mosaics that will connect together as one narrative, and be shown in Leeds City Museum. Another application is to create a series of sculptures of people who work in the Emergency Service, responding to Classical poses. I have already created a series of drawings after visits to various Fire, Police, Coast Guard and Paramedics centres. I am also hoping to work with Leeds Sculpture Collection again, taking a sculpture into a secondary school.

Figure Process Material is an exhibition of work created by participants of the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle Engagement Programme, and is open 24 – 28 January, with a closing event Friday 27 January 6-7.30pm.