Ben Barbour - Scottish Emerging Sculptor Award Finalist

Ben Barbour - Scottish Emerging Sculptor Award Finalist


Where are you from and where did you study?

I’m from London originally and studied the following: BA Fine Art Hons at The Slade School of Fine Art, UCL (1994-98); Postgraduate Diploma in Drawing at The Royal Drawing School (2006-7), MFA Fine Art San Francisco Art Institute (2017-19); Professional Furniture Making Course at The Chippendale International School of Furniture (2020-21).

How did you start making art?

I remember trying to copy a neighbour’s beautifully detailed pencil drawings of horse heads that he had made when I was about five or six years old using coloured pencils, although mine turned out looking more like sock puppets. Like most children that age I made lots of art at home and at school, but I continued as I got older and was encouraged to do so by my family and teachers.

Which art trends or ideas inspire your current work?

A fascinating essay I’ve been reading recently examines the role of haptic perception in the work and teaching of Josef and Anni Albers at the Bauhaus school. The Albers’ approach towards teaching and creating artwork still seems highly relevant today. They placed an emphasis on direct observation, touch and play with materials to better understand their essential qualities and encouraged learning through making. I find these values inspiring and useful in trying to make new work today, and I keep returning to them.

For the Edinburgh Park project I’ve been looking at the work of artist Maya Lin with her conceptual approaches in examining waterways and climate change. I’ve also been researching the work of Mags Harries and Lajos Heder, an artist and architect duo based in America who create site-specific public artworks often in relation to water and water-related issues.


Tell me about your recent work?

In my recent sculptural work, I’ve been exploring ways of incorporating traditional carpentry techniques in the making of contemporary sculpture. I have also been making two dimensional cyanotypes from folded paper, which retain a memory of their geometric sculptural form in the resulting image once flattened. These led to a series of prints which then became a short stop-motion loop. In my sketchbook I draw my sixteen-month-old twin girls as they crawl over and around everything in our sitting room at home.

Tell me about your favourite medium

Drawing on paper with marker pen or pencil has always been my ‘go to’ medium, but I love working with wood with its vital qualities as a local, natural and sustainable material.

Where do you find inspiration?

I’m very interested in using historical artifacts as a starting point for making work and somehow re-imagining the item or revisiting the techniques used in its construction to produce something new whilst retaining a link with the past. I very much believe in the idiom that inspiration is what comes to you whilst working- you need to be putting the hours in to get and then work through ideas.


Is Scotland a supportive place for new artists?

There seem to be a lot of residency and exhibition opportunities for emerging artists here in Scotland and a vibrant art scene.

How do you develop your art skills?

With each new project I aim to do something I haven’t tried before, whether this means using a new or unfamiliar material or technique, adopting a new approach or intentionally not using a technique or material I have grown familiar with. These parameters help push me out of my comfort zone into a place where unexpected things are likely to happen, which usually produces more interesting work.

How do you define success as an artist?

It’s a tricky one. Some of the recent books I have been reading which offer advice about how to become a professional artist continually equate financial success with artistic success. I personally view success as partly just being able to keep going in trying to produce interesting and challenging new work, although it is obviously great having exhibitions and selling work.


Why did you apply for the Scottish Sculptor Award?

I’ve worked in a Public Art department for several years abroad and was really excited at the opportunity to work through the concept design process and to imagine my own public artwork, with the potential to have the artwork realised here in the UK.

Tell me what your reaction was to visiting Edinburgh Park?

The size of the project is impressive, and it was fascinating to see the scale model up-close and to learn about the existing and proposed architecture and the range of intended uses for the site. It was also stimulating to experience the variety of public artwork already installed around New Park Square.

What impact would you like your art piece to have on Edinburgh Park – if you win?

When encountering my proposed sculpture, I would like visitors and residents at Edinburgh Park to experience a sense of play, to imagine the layering of histories that has taken place on the site over time, and to appreciate the fragile relationship between development and environmental sustainability.

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