Welcome to the fifty seventh annual exhibition of The Society of Portrait Sculptors (SPS). This exhibition features a wonderful array of fine and exciting portrait sculpture. In spite of the pandemic, we have received a higher number of entrants than ever, with over fifty percent coming from countries outside the United Kingdom. This enables the SPS to provide a very wide ranging, rich and diverse experience of what is happening with regards to portrait sculpture from around the world.
The last year has been as challenging a time for the SPS and its members as it has been for society in general. However, resourcefulness and adaptability seem to have been everyone’s ‘stock in trade’.
For many members who have earnt their living in part by teaching, this year has been particularly difficult. Restrictions of studio space, availability of models, and limited air circulation have suddenly made teaching impossible. For Suzie Zamit, who organises the classes for the SPS, this year has meant a succession of lockdowns too. Only Ellen Christiansen was able to heroically continue with her class. For some, teaching on Zoom was just not an authentic enough tool to teach with, whilst others have found new and innovative ways to address their subject online. Many members in these circumstances have had to adapt hugely.
Other members have had a different experience. One person I spoke to, reflecting the thoughts of a few, said that they had really been self-isolating for the last thirty years and so ‘lockdown’ didn’t represent something wholly new. The solitary life of a sculptor! For those in this position, along with many ‘creatives’ enforced isolation has enabled re-evaluation, new approaches and taking stock. Photography, as ever, has been a very important resource especially for those commissioned to make sculptures of historical figures.
Whilst the inception of some very large projects has been stalled, members have resorted to working on smaller, more personal sculptural ideas. The ‘Stalling’ itself has allowed people to ‘catch up’ and address some commissions that had been left for a little time and to work on these projects at their own speed, rather than be confined to dates dictated by non-artistic criteria.
For a lucky few, their large projects seem to have straddled this period and so they just keep working. However even they have had issues with the supply of materials and delays.
One thing that has been particularly evident during this pandemic is the way many parts of the population, if they were able to, have turned to cultivating their own creativity. The interaction between the mind, eye, hands and materials has been a life-line to many that have been confined. This points to the importance of our tactile sculptural activity. Even for those teaching sculpture via Zoom it has been amazing how people find the tangible through this illusory intermediary; finding a sense of reality, community and physical creative expression. It has highlighted how, in part, all our interactions are an act of imagination and empathy and it is these faculties that make sculpting a figure in a class operating across the world, possible. These faculties are intrinsic to the creative part of portrait sculpture too.
As can be imagined, normal events organised by the SPS have been somewhat hampered and I have already referred to its effect on teaching. However, Hywel Pratley has been frustrated at every turn with his wonderful plans for The Friends of the SPS. Despite this Friends are still exclusively eligible to win a beautiful portrait made by Suzie Zamit this year, and we very much appreciate the Friends’ support.
In November the SPS lecture series provided the most wonderful presentation, delivered online by Michael Bird, concerning the extraordinary modelled heads of George Fullard. We are very grateful to Michael for this and to Rungwe Kingdon, founder of Pangolin Editions, for his support and help. Due to the shutting of the National Portrait Gallery for the next four years, we will not be returning to be a part of their lunchtime lecture series in the immediate future. However, we hope to resume our lectures in reality at 10/11 Carlton House Terrace some time in November 2021.
This year we have said goodbye to Poppy Field who has made a huge difference to the SPS’s image around the world through social media. We are incredibly grateful for all that she has achieved for us and wish her well in her future. Poppy’s activities have been taken up by Philip Hedgecock who will be able to build upon and develop Poppy’s achievements. So welcome Philip. I would also like to welcome five new members to the Society; Billie Bond, Bart Janssen, Les Johnson, Andrian Melka and Wu Weishan .
Every year I am in awe of and so grateful to the SPS council members and their commitment, energy, imagination, adaptability and enthusiasm. The council consists of Suzie Zamit (Vice President), Louisa Forbes, Hywel Pratley, Anthony Dufort, Thomas Merrett and Robert Hunt. They all give so much time and thought to the multiplicity of issues and activities associated with the Society and all done in a generous spirit of altruism.
This year, as with so many in the past, Fiona Whitehouse our Secretary, Administrator and Treasurer has been instrumental to the efficient workings of the SPS. Fiona’s professionalism, experience and clear, sharp intelligence is truly very much appreciated.
There is one element that holds the whole superstructure of The Society of Portrait Sculptors together, like a linch pin or key stone, and this is our Honorary Secretary Robert Hunt. Robert’s wise counsel and steadying experience makes clear what is practical and realistic from the array of possibilities in any given situation. It is Robert who enables the SPS to ‘be’ in its many parts and so thank you so much Robert.
Each year the SPS puts the majority of its effort into its exhibition. It is a matter of great pride that through the efforts of Council and Fiona, and in spite of the pandemic, we have again been able to achieve a splendid show online. It is however Thomas Merrett and Rebecca Salter that preside over the organizing of all the details and design of this incredible feat. This is something that hundreds of people are very grateful for, and I count myself amongst their number - it looks superb.
The exhibition still has a whole array of extraordinary prizes and I would like to thank the judges of these prizes for their invaluable contribution. So, thanks go to James Robinson from the V and A, Holly Trusted from the PSSA, the representatives of Heatherley’s and Tiranti’s and the Past President, Etienne Millner.
This year I would like to draw particular attention to The Founders Prize. This is a very generous prize, awarded biennially and tailored to those in the first fifteen years of their sculptural career. I must say I am envious of what it offers the formative artist. Beyond the excellent cash prize for the winner it also provides for a significant scale of sculpture to be cast in bronze. This is something few of us can achieve outside a commission and this provides substance and stature to the portfolio of an artist in early career. As well as this the bronze then enters into a prestigious collection of art assembled over decades by the Worshipful Company of Founders, and so something to add to the curriculum vitae too. Selection for this prize is made every year from those who sculpt figures exhibiting in the Society’s FACE exhibition. The next pages show the finalists’ sculptures and feature the work of Joanna Allan and the winner Bayasgalan Batmagnai.
We are undoubtedly living through very difficult times; however, it is so heartening to see a small organisation like the SPS pulling together to provide this excellent exhibition. Against an appalling background of millions dying or ill from Covid 19 we have assembled an exhibition that hopefully stands defiant against this scourge and makes a claim for the expression of human creativity.