How did it feel to be elected as a Royal Academician?
It was an honour and I was delighted! It is particularly wonderful as you are elected by your fellow artists which is so much more special than if it was by the critics.
Does it bestow any added pressures or privileges?
It certainly bestows privileges in terms of being able to contribute to the Summer Exhibition each year and to be able to have a forum of other contemporary artists which I can mix with – from sculptors, print makers and painters. It’s like belonging to a very nice, slightly exclusive club really. Certainly, there are those kind of privileges! In terms of pressure, I honestly don’t feel these!
What, apart from this, has been the defining moment of your career?
Oh, my goodness! I’m really not sure. There have been all sorts of highs and lows, as you can imagine, as in any career. I think I was very lucky early on in my career in that I was given a lot of encouragement and help by older artists and various people who acted as mentors and teachers. I couldn’t pin it down to one defining moment in my whole career.
What was your role in the design of the Eden Project?
That was a very exciting project for me and it was very unusual to be invited to be involved in the design of a building, working with Grimshaw Architects. As a sculptor, the commission was really to work with Jolyon Brewis, one of the partners from Grimshaw, on a fairly equal footing to come up with the concept for a new education building and also incorporating art into that building. It was a wonderful commission and I was extremely lucky because Jolyon and I got on very well and it was a genuine collaboration – there are very few really genuine collaborations that happen in one’s career and this really was one.
The challenge for us was to design a new building which incorporated botanical imagery and symbolism. If one thinks about important buildings throughout history in all different cultures around the world, they have all been full of botanical and plant imagery. It was a wonderful challenge and an extremely enjoyable project and I had been working on patterns that underpinned plant growth. There was a particular kind of pattern called spiral phyllotaxis which one sees a lot in plant growth and you see it most obviously in the pattern of the arrangement of seeds in a sunflower head, for example. It also exists in pine cones and fir cones and the arrangement of leaves on a plant. It was geometrically very interesting and I started to think that maybe that could form the basis of a roof structure for the new building and, in fact, that is what we did! We made this sort of plant geometry as the basis of the structure of the building and, at the very centre of this building, created a chamber within which I put a very large granite sculpture which is also based on the same spiral phyllotaxis geometry.
Having exhibited throughout the world, where has been your favourite place and why?
Oh, my goodness again! That’s a bit like asking my most defining moment! There have been a lot of high points and I have worked, as well as exhibited, in countries that I have very much enjoyed. I have worked in Japan, South Korea, in Italy a lot and I think probably for me the really exciting thing has been working with other people who have helped me to make my work, using different cultures and techniques in the many local and indigenous ways. So that’s probably been not just one highlight but a series of them.