John Davies at The Sainsbury Centre

14 October 2016

Last week I was lucky enough to be invited along to a Sunday Study Talk at The Sainsbury Centre. I have to admit when my friend asked if I wanted to go to a talk about John Davies I didn’t know who he was. It was not until she mentioned ‘Bucket Man’ did I realise it was something I couldn’t miss!

I’ve been to The Sainsbury Centre a few times and ‘Bucket Man’ has always been a piece I enjoy looking at. Another piece I love is ‘Two Figures Pick-a-Back’, both are quite striking and unusual.

Who is John Davies?

John Davies was born in 1946 and is a sculptor, painter and teacher. He studied at Hull and Manchester Colleges of Art before moving to Slade School of Art in London.

“to make a figure, not like a piece of sculpture, more like a person… I wanted my sculpture to be more like life in the street”

In 1969 he was awarded a Sculpture Fellowship at Gloucester College of Art. As part of the fellowship he made a life-size clothed figure, believed to be a self-portrait. Gradually he began to create a larger number of life-size standing, clothed figures.

Two Figures Pick-a-Back detail

The Sainsburys

Robert and Lisa Sainsbury were early patrons and supporters of John Davies' work. They awarded Davies a bursary when he finished art school which made it possible for him to set up his first workshop. The Sainsburys supported many artists, included John Davies, and built close friendships with many of the artists they supported. The Sainsbury Centre holds around 58 sculptures and drawings of Davies’ work.

Sunday Study Afternoon

The talk was a fascinating overview of the life and works of John Davies, split between 4 speakers. All of which were passionate and knowledgeable about the topic, and covered a large selection of his works and his influences. From his early experiments with life-size casting, masks, miniature figures, to his later works inspired by his new life in Spain.

First Solo Exhibition

His first solo exhibition was at Whitechapel gallery in 1972, where ‘For the Last Time’ was first shown. Quite a strange piece where Davies explored arranging his models in various positions, which could suggest various meanings.

The relationship between this characters is unknown and much is left to the observer to draw their own conclusion. Davies has written of this piece, that he wanted it to express feelings of repression, and the humiliating rituals used by oppressors. View this work here.

The Circus

I particularly liked the work, which was more athletic. The life-size sculptures which had a feeling of movement, such as climbing ladders, walking on tightropes on sitting on a swing. These are quite different to ‘Bucket Man’ for instance.

Bucket Man

A whole section of the talk focused on ‘Bucket Man’ which got everyone thinking about what it really was all about. It is one of his early works where the models are usually engaged in ambiguous activities. His head, chest, hands and feet are sculpted from resin cast into moulds taken from a person.

He is life-size, his eyes face forward quite blankly, he wears old workmen’s clothes and carry’s an empty bucket in each hand. The sculpture uses some unusual devices which make it quite unique. On his head rests a black ball shape, which is reminiscent of an apple or perhaps more symbolic as a ‘thought bubble’ perhaps. It is very much left to the observer to reach their own conclusions.

Lots to Think About

The talk was a great introduction to the life and works of John Davies. It was a fascinating and engaging 2 hours and I really enjoyed being immersed in the work of such a unique artist. To find out more about talks or exhibitions at The Sainsbury Centre be sure to visit their website or Twitter.

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