Cambridge Open Studios Interviews 2014 - Edward Parker

Last but by no means least, our final interview for Cambridge Open Studios is with sculptor Edward Parker...

Karen and I loved visiting your studio today. Please describe your working space and what kind of equipment and tools you use.

It is essentially a general purpose metal working workshop, i.e. deliberately non-specialised but I'm able to take on more or less anything which involves forming metal objects - turning, milling, welding, brazing, cutting, bending or indeed anything which involves manipulating any kind of metals. Metal is, as you might of guessed, my thing. I like to feel that I have the equipment on hand to do more or less anything I want to do and - for my sins - suffer from a tendency to invest in bits of kit which I feel will extend my capabilities, on the assumption that they will eventually pay for themselves. Usually it works out OK.

How did you get started?

I started all this by making (mostly always to commission) gates, railings and general wrought ironwork such as weathervanes and the like, I'm quite proud of some of the things I did which are scattered all over Cambridge.

Thereafter it began to develop gradually as I moved into doing things that one might consider to be "Artistic" - horrible word - for example  water features and garden sculpture, which coincided with a period during which I started up a Landscape design company which actually, rather to my surprise, turned out to be rather successful.

Your designs are very whimsical and often there are puns on words in your practice. Is it important to have fun with your work?

Oh yes, it should all be fun, I do think that "Art" should not be po-faced, humour is essential. People get so serious about all this. I love Tracy Emin's bed, it sticks two fingers up to the intelligentsia!

Do you make plans and drawings before commencing a piece?

No I don't any longer draw things, I kind of go straight from an idea to hammering. It doesn't always work out of course (as my scrap bin will attest). I enjoy the freedom from precision which was a factor of my earlier career. You cut a bit this long and another bit that long and it doesn't matter much. Frees you up from any anxiety. Also I seem to have this facility for visualising a 3d object in my head. I can, as it were, turn an object around and "see" it from all sides. I actually thought that this was something that everybody could do but not so apparently.

What is it about working with metal that appeals to you?

Contrary to what I guess most people think, metal is a material which obeys you, you just need to know how it behaves and by and large its properties are predictable once you get to know them. It is not the hard unfriendly stuff that is the everyday experience of it. It is in fact a malleable and workable material with all sorts of interesting properties. Even steel is fun to work with.

How have your previous jobs and careers impacted on your practice?

Oh wow, what a question. Yes my training, as it were, is as an Engineer, my degree is in engineering (Electronics and Electrical as it happens) but my career has taken a pretty tortured path via instrumentation and control design for petrochemical plants through engineering sales (my corporate animal period, thank God long past), then starting my own small instrument engineering company (not as it turned out) an outstanding success. Thereafter, as previously mentioned, I set up a small landscape design and contracting business which remarkably and somewhat surprisingly was quite a success story!

I followed that with running a printing company and subsequently a publishing company (Dinosaur Publications) - the chief perk of this job was that I got to sleep with my boss, i.e. Althea the company owner and chairman.

The final iteration being this metal bashing thing, partly based upon an absolute determination never ever to employ anybody ever again (with all the attendant grief that entails) but to revert to being a man and his dog (dogs have made their appearance at times) and eventually reinventing myself as an "Artist".

This is all based on the premise that one can actually be whatever one wants to be, specific skill sets can be more or less easily acquired to suit whatever you might be doing at the time (like learning a new language, the essence is not the language per se but wanting a tool to communicate more effectively in).

The questions "where did you train as an artist", "where did you learn to weld/forge/etc... which are frequently asked are irrelevant - you just do it - having the desire (and I suppose a degree of presumptuous arrogance) is really all you need.

As a corollary to that I take the view that a degree of ignorance is a useful thing when undertaking a new task, it avoids you falling into the trap of conventional wisdom which of course spells the death knell of creative experimentation!

You have a lot of pieces of metal art in your collection made by other artists. Whose work do you particularly enjoy and why?

Absolutely, I think you can only approve of one's own work against the background of what you like and admire in other folk's work. And in any case, enjoying stuff that other people are doing is an integral part of appreciating this mystical thing called art. You rave about a certain book, I don't get it all. I like a picture that you think is a waste of wall space.

So it goes and as it should be, there are no absolutes and no rigid criteria. If we like it and want to live with it we buy it - or at least I think we should on that basis - I am dubious about the validity of buying art purely as an investment. Charles Saatchi has a lot to answer for I suggest (despite TE's bed).

It's a very interesting juxtaposition, depicting organic materials in such a hard metal. What attracts you to working with metal in this way?

You are right, I'm not personally into this found item stuff or doing things with recycled bits and pieces. I'm not anti it in any way and we have quite a few treasured example of the genre. I have a brilliant butterfly made from bicycle wheel cogs as the body and stainless steel wire wings. A lovely object.

My own thing tends to be starting from scratch, deciding what I want to make and cutting/forging/turning and welding etc. from new material. I'm not precious about this, it is just the way I prefer to work.

I'm keen on insects and arachnids et al, they rather lend themselves to this approach. Beetles are a particularly good subject since many of them (shield bugs and stag beetles for example) already have a sort of metallic sheen about them, woodlice would be fun, I should think about that.

I do like stuff which combines a certain amount of utility with what you might characterise as an artistic ethos. My Bird Trees for example and other variations on that theme. I don't see a discontinuity between something which fulfils a function and which is pleasing to the eye as well. History abounds with examples. I think it was Isambard Kingdom Brunell who said that beauty is "fitness for function expressed".

Examples - Concord, the Eight Foot Single Driver engines designed by Daniel Gooch for the Great Western Railway in the 1860's.

Do people commission you to make work?

Yes, I do take commissions, in truth I am a complete tart, I'll do anything that people want to throw money at me for. Obviously variations on the theme of my "everyday stuff", Bird Trees/Log Baskets/Fire Grates but also whatever people want, such as weathervanes or indeed gates and railings and that sort of thing.

The only caveat I would add is that I can not guarantee to be competitive with the big commercial boys on this sort of thing, actually I have no intention of being competitive. Bespoke ironwork is expensive, I make no bones about it.

Also I'm happy to undertake restoration projects.

What dates are you doing for Open Studios?

Weekends 2, 3 and 4


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About Mandy Knapp