Lorne is one of the UK’s most celebrated sculptors. To visit her home is to enter a fairy-tale! Peering through the long grass are bronze dogs, sheep, and sundry animals. Then there are the live ones, including horses, a donkey, a parrot in the kitchen and an adder in the garage. Commissions include many fascinating people, famous and less well-known, as well as animals. One sculpture is of Herbert the trout, who lived in her bath for 6 months while she studied his every characteristic before creating the final sculpture.
Lorne Mckean (Russell), Guildford UK
I was given a bag of clay at the age of 7. It was the most exciting present I ever received. Even before that I was making things out of butter and lumps of salt. Out of that clay, I could make anything; people, animals, buildings, stars, farms, zoos – there were endless possibilities and I played for hours. My life making sculptures still feels like that first moment of playing as a child.
While I was at Art school, people would say, ‘Would you like to sculpt my dog?‘ And I’d say ‘Ooh yes please’. People are generous when you’re young, aged 16 or so. So by the time you leave art school, you’re on your way; you’ve got a wealth of people who are supporting you.
What are you working on at the moment?
Jojo the Labrador; he’s trained as a gun dog but most of the time he’s a really spoilt family dog. So I’m aiming to get the close connection with the 17 year old boy who owns him, combined with the fact that he’s a fun-loving, intelligent and soppy dog. He’s very powerful and well-trained, yet sleek. I need to get all these qualities into the finished piece or it won’t be Jojo.
You can’t make sculpture if your emotions are somewhere else, they’ve got to be totally with what you’re doing. Working on the piece, there’s a point when I can see it coming alive and the qualities of Jojo beginning to emerge.
Do you have an affinity with horses?
I love working with horses. They have a special quality. Their body language is subtle and precise; they can easily detect one’s emotions and react accordingly. There is so much more going on in them than is outwardly obvious, which is fascinating to observe. I feel lucky to have owned, ridden and studied horses’ behaviour almost all my life. Every horse is very different. My inner connection with each horse and observation of their individual qualities have helped me a lot.
I had one commission for a retired polo pony called Marmite. She was a very good polo pony but the unusual thing about her was that, she was also exceptionally friendly. She really loved her owner. So my plan was to get her at the moment when she’s seen him and is turning round saying, “Yesss”.
To model a racehorse or polo pony, do you take measurements? Or photographs?
I rarely take measurements or photographs because I’d rather watch the subject, partly because when you see what you want, it’s a timeless moment. You’re never going to get that ever again. If you try to fix it, then it’s lost. It’s a fluid process; more like a feeling.
I began doing polo sculptures because of seeing the beautiful relationship between horse and rider, both at the peak of their ability. In polo they move together with one-pointed focus on the ball. So all the movements and lines in the sculpture can go towards that. Eyes, muscles (as there’s always a choice as to which muscle to emphasise), all the dynamics flow in one direction. Then you’ve also got the challenge of a portrait of an individual horse and a particular rider. It’s about capturing all those qualities, linked by the game, in that timeless moment.
Have you had any outstanding big civic commissions?
Several, but the Horsham heritage Sundial is one of my favourites. The council wanted to create a trail around Horsham and district called the Horsham Heritage trail, beginning with a large sculpture. Two supermarkets put up the money and are situated on opposite sides of the square so we had to please both of them. The idea emerged to use the trail features in chronological order, from dinosaurs, and a Roman road to Gatwick airport and many other features found in the area.
The poet Shelley was important to Horsham so after searching through his poetry I found what I was looking for in the line “The one remains, the many change and pass”. This perfectly reflected the sense both of movement and eternity on which I based the whole piece. The sun shines through each section of the sundial and all the lines of the modelling go to a point in the centre. These represent “The one remains”. The outside band depicts the “many change and pass” with the chronological time element and numerous varied subjects and activities.
One supermarket got the sundial side and the other faces the sculpture side, so everybody was happy. There were opportunities to include lots of animals and mythological creatures, unicorns etc in the undergrowth. The foundry could only cast it into the bronze in little sections, in around 90 pieces! I then had a lot of work to chisel and enliven the actual bronze itself.
The large public commissions are particularly interesting as they involve working with many different groups of people; councils, architects, engineers, planners and all of us working as a team.
How has the study of philosophy affected your sculpture?
For me, sculpture and philosophy are so intertwined that it is hard to separate them. Meditation every morning and reading words from the wise are key for me. They enable my mind to clear and allow space to start the day fresh and new. I aim to move straight to the studio after this period as it is the most productive time of the day. Having meditated and cleared my mind, it is much easier to see the old and tired ideas coming up; these are just death to creativity.
This preparation also allows me to view the work far more objectively, and the temptation to see it in a negative light and hack it all to pieces or throw it in the bin is easier to resist. Sculpture requires a fine balance between discipline and free creativity. These philosophical practices enable the balance to come more naturally with a keener vision.
The beauty of sculpture is the complete joining with my subject, no separate identity. Listening with the deer, concentrating with the falcon and when making the 28 feet-high Leeds birds, I was up there flying with the flock, very exhilarating.
With the lifesize Swan Fountain there was the opportunity to bring peace and tranquillity into a very busy public place.
The practice of just watching and letting it happen allows the clay to come alive as if by magic. I think it’s experiencing this magic and seeing the clay transform and take on life before my eyes that has been fascinating and fun ever since being given my first lump of clay aged seven.
I feel so lucky and grateful to be making a living at playing all day and to have a job that is so conducive to the philosophy practices.
Watch this 30 minute film of Lorne’s work especially the sculpture of Prince Philip above:
Visit Lorne’s website: http://lornemckean.com