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A statuesque presence

PUBLISHED: 09:00 24 April 2014

The completed Devon Life nude sculpture

The completed Devon Life nude sculpture

MATT AUSTIN

To mark Devon Life’s April edition being themed The Arts Issue, the magazine comissioned its own artwork - The Devon Life Nude. Here Naomi Tolley tells the story of a very special project

Nicola starts the process of sculpting and creatingNicola starts the process of sculpting and creating

Capturing the brave, confident, intelligent beauty of a black woman was Nicola Ravenscroft’s vision when creating the nude sculpture, Amethyst Josephina. Commissioned by Devon Life to produce a unique piece of art for this month’s Art Issue, Nicola collaborated with a South West-based, British-African model, photographers and writers, to bring this dream to fruition. Creativity is the essence of life, says Nicola as I talk to her in her home, the

penthouse of a former 18th century mill on the banks of The Exe, and the birthplace of her work.

Poised on a chair in her apartment, she is surrounded by her own art works: from poignant lyrics she has penned to framed sketches of intimate poses and paintings of far-off seascapes.

Nicola begins the process of polishing up the bronze after the patternation process had been completedNicola begins the process of polishing up the bronze after the patternation process had been completed

“I live and breathe my work. It is my life. Creativity and ‘being’ are simply inseparable,” she says, reflecting over a cup of tea and the wire bones of the half-finished, much-loved sculptures which sit atop her dining table.It becomes immediately clear that Nicola isn’t just a sculptor, a lyricist or an interior designer. These ‘arts’ form an intrinsic part of her identity, both in her work and in her family role as a mother of six and grandmother of three. You could say ‘creativity’ is in her blood.

“I come from a long-line of artists and architects,” she says, adding that her great-great-grandfather was the late Hebert Menzies-Marshall, the English watercolourist and Vice President of the Royal Watercolour Society. Her father, Peter Noel-Perkins, to whom she has dedicated Amethyst Josephina, was also a musically talented and gifted professor of architecture in Australia. Nicola herself trained at London’s prestigious Camberwell College of Art.

"From conception to completion, creating Amethyst Josephina has become my friend "

“From a very young age, I would write songs, and my father was the inspiration behind that creativity,” she recalls. “There is something about architecture, music, sculpture and the spoken word, like poetry, that is ‘spacial’ - it carves meaning into a space. As a family, we have all felt that.”

It is this love for three-dimensional art which led Nicola to create a sculpture for Devon Life, rather than a painting. Her unique idea meant she immediately stood out from the crowd. Says Andy Cooper, Editor of Devon Life: “We wanted a local artist to create a unique piece of art, here in Devon, for this month’s art issue. We put a Tweet out and, from the flood of submissions we had coming in, Nicola was the only person who suggested a sculpture.” And so the creation of Amethyst Josephina began.

“I wanted to capture the brave, confident, intelligent beauty of a black woman,” Nicola remembers. “I try to harness the ephemeral essence of my subject, and then I work that particular feeling to create something beautiful. It is like writing a melody, a song about someone or something. When a friend introduced me to Amie, I knew she was perfect for this project.

“For nude models, it is essential that they feel comfortable at every stage because, inevitably, there are going to be moments of vulnerability - they are standing there naked in front of a relative stranger in a strange place.”

What followed was a series of ‘sittings’, starting with Nicola taking very detailed measurements of Amie’s head and body, which were scaled down to approximately a third-life-size. From those measurements, Nicola began to build a wire armature.

“This process is really important because you have to get the exact gesture right before putting the clay on. It is about far more than just a gesture, it is about creating a feeling. I wanted that slant in her hips, her arm draped back.”

Firstly, Nicola sketched her gesture and created a maquette (a preliminary model) to get the posture just right. She also slept with the armature in the room to see it in different lights to gauge how it looked and felt. “I lived with it, I got involved with it, before I started building it,” recalls Nicola, fondly.

On the second sitting, Nicola started putting on the grey clay: “I work quite fast because my sculpting style is quite free.” Over a period of one month, Amethyst Josephina took shape before being collected by Geoff Moate of the Talos Art Foundry in Hampshire, a sculpture casting team whom Nicola has previously used to cast her work.

Using the ‘Cire Perdue’ or ‘lost wax’ process, the team created a series of casts, before pouring molten bronze into a final mould of the sculpture. This was then signed, numbered, patinated, polished and mounted on a slate base.

“From conception to completion, creating Amethyst Josephinahas been a journey - a journey which is all part of the final art work. She has become my friend,”

Nicola says, recalling the two-month process.

“The still, silent presence that a finished sculpture offers up is mysterious, other-worldly almost. It invites a peaceful involvement, a feeling, a hearing, a

sensing. All of my sculptures are living experiences, installations in their own right.”

Nicola is inviting Devon Life readers to experience this for themselves. Amethyst Josephina, measuring 61-centimetres in height, is one of a limited edition of nine, signed by Nicola Ravenscroft, for sale at a price of £9,000 each. To buy this unique piece of art produced for Devon Life, or for commission enquiries, contact Nicola Ravenscroft on 07766 111095 or e-mail nicola@ravenscroftsculpture.com

To see all of the images of the making of the Devon Life statue, view the video on YouTube - click here

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