Beyond the Chair
PUBLISHED: 16:07 25 July 2011 | UPDATED: 19:44 20 February 2013
Henry Bruce, creator of the Giant's Chair, talks about recent work and life on Dartmoor with Harriet Mellor. <br/><br/>Photos by Alexandra Richards
Henry Bruce, creator of the Giants Chair, talks about recent work and life on Dartmoor with Harriet Mellor.
Photos by Alexandra Richards
The Giants Chair was a sculpture that did what it said on the packet. A towering 20ft seat, hand-crafted by Henry Bruce from local green oak, was erected in 2006 and spent four years on a hillside on the artists own land, an intriguing addition to the Dartmoor landscape. But fame and lack of planning permission was its demise. The Dartmoor National Park Authority feared hoards of hiking art-lovers and curious ramblers were clogging up the paths and single track roads. Despite a public campaign to keep the chair up, the officials brought it down. The massive monument is now under new ownership, although not to an art dealer but, as Henry reveals, to a hand of cards.
After several rounds of poker late into the night, the chair had found a new home in Dorset.
He is rather coy about the transaction, but stresses the chair was relinquished in mutual good faith not as a gambling debt.
In fact it was good for me and the new owner. Im not precious about it. People enjoyed it so much it was a fun thing that caught the imagination and that alone was great.
It may sound blas, but Henry views and produces his work in a transient way.
I dont get obsessed by one idea. I get started on something and inspired by it but then I move on to something else whilst it gestates a bit, he says, striding past a large pile of work in progress, carved wooden heads that lie amongst the mud and weeds near his workshop.
More philosophies are explained as he opens black rubbish sacks brimming with used shotgun cartridges.
Its all about developing ideas by re-using waste materials instead of burying them.
The former furniture maker and designer read Social Anthropology at Edinburgh University. Becoming a sculptor was something he turned to when he found furniture too limiting. Hopefully its a skill hell return to because the hand-made salvaged wood tables and chairs in his home are beautiful.
Henry works large-scale. The most current example (and his largest) is a private commission of a 16-metre high octagonal oak spire.
I like to make things on a scale which are moved out of everyday context. My work engages people if possible by bringing them to a beautiful spot.
Almost a year after dismantling the Giants Chair, another structure stands in its space, but this time its in transit. Named the Horizon Cube, its made of steel and aluminium with scratch patterned sides, suspended inside a cube tubular frame. Again the Dartmoor scenery is the canvas or backdrop, so it has different reflections and light from each angle and weather front. The difference here is that while the chair blended in with the environment, the metallic cube is purposely alien to it.
Its about relationship with the earth. About reflecting the elements. Its abstractness highlights the beauty of the environment in contrast but doesnt detract from it.
It is about to be transported and resurrected with star billing at the Art on the English Riviera summer show at the regenerated Cockington Court Craft Centre from late July through August.
It will be interesting to see what its like when it travels and is mounted in Cockington with trees in the background and on flat ground. Ive been three times to look at where it will hang.
Recognising this rising talent in the art world, Cockington have requested a permanent homage to the cube from Henry in the form of a stone and oak bench, engraved with the name of the sculpture.
I have a bench sideline, my work was part of the Royal Bank of Canada show garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show this year, and I created a studio workshop as part of the garden.
Henry not only built his own workshop but also the incredibly cool home he shares with wife, Flora, who is embarking on her own new career as an actress and film-maker now that their four children aged 12, 10, 8 and 6 are gaining a bit more independence.
At the time of going to press, the family finds itself reluctantly in the spotlight. Henrys youngest sister, Florence, is alleged to be Prince Harrys latest girlfriend, and a national newspaper has printed a wrong portrayal of Henry.
The 34-year-old is so unassuming and low-key he even dropped the Brudenell part of his double-barrelled surname to work under plain old Bruce. And despite Henry being brought up between London and France, his young family have lived in almost splendid isolation, counterbalanced by urban travel, near Widecombe-In-the-Moor since 2001.
Up here is everything we were looking for in terms of environment. Its more intense and diverse. Im interested in our relationship with nature so I pick up information from the landscape and try and respond.
Art on the English Riviera at Cockington Craft Centre until 29 August also features the Westcountry ceramic greats exhibition with work by Bernard Leach, and Mike Fletchers Hazel Cloud, where 1,000 hazel sticks will be assembled by the public.
Henry Bruce is producing a piece for the annual Heathercombe EDGE Sculpture Trail 3-25 September. For more about Henry Bruces benches, see www.dartmoorbenchcompany.co.uk
Watch the exhibition's promo film by notablefilm makerDanny Cooke CLICK HERE