November 14, 2017

Interview with Sculptor & Furniture Maker, Steven Clark, of Den Holm

Minimalist sculptor, Steven Clark of Den Holm, is one of my favorite sculptors right now. Here is an interview where Steven discusses what led him to stone masonry as well as his creative process...

Tell me a little bit about yourself, Steven. How did your early life shape your career as an artist?
I grew up in a village – a really quite quaint little place: six hundred people, two pubs, a petrol station, a choch (shop), a school, a butcher’s and a bakery. You were basically left to your own devises at a very early age and I had plenty family in the area as well – grannies, uncles and aunties, so it was good place to grow up. School was reasonably enjoyable until I got to about 14-15. At that point, I started to pull away and wanted to start earning more money. So, from an early age of 16, I ended up becoming a Stone Mason/Brick Layer (this is quite natural for that area – basically all the lads that aren’t really academic end up becoming “tradies”). I really enjoyed my job for the first two years, but then felt that I wasn’t getting enough responsibility and was beginning to grow out of it.

At that point, I started to travel around to festivals – going away for summers, etc. And it was during that time my eyes were opened to a whole different world, which is when I began to become drawn to Fashion. Seeing other people make their own outfits at festivals made me want to make my own as well, so that’s what I did; I bought myself a sewing machine and spent a lot of time up in my bedroom sewing. After a while, my friends started putting in orders for my outfits pre-festival. My dad thought I was absolutely mental because I was quite an avid soccer player at the time, and played it at a good standard, so my dad was like, “What are you doing? Why aren’t you football training!?”

This interest led me to apply to college in Glasgow to study Fashion. After the first year, my lecturers pushed me in the direction of Textiles – they said I was good at working with different textures and forms and that I had a creative mind in that aspect. After that, I ended up in Manchester studying Embroidery which was a really loose term for my studies. When you say Embroidery, everybody thinks of grannies sitting around stitching, but it really wasn’t that – there were girls in my class who were working with video, sound and moving pictures. I ended up working with building materials after my lecturer said that “the only thing that makes you different from everyone else is your past experiences” so you really need to bring them into what you’re doing in order to give yourself a different dynamic. This process led more into sculpture even though I was studying embroidery.

What inspired you to become a stone mason?
I wasn’t inspired to become a Stone Mason. It just started as a job where I learned the skills in a really good environment with really good teachers. I worked for one of the biggest companies in the area, if not the biggest, and we used to work on a lot of historical projects in Scotland, so we got a lot of time to learn. It wasn’t about rush, rush, rush. It was more about getting the jobs done perfectly. I saw Stone Masonry as a good job, but I didn’t see it creatively at all. At that time, it was as far away from being creative as I could possibly think of.  

What does “being creative” mean to you?
Being creative is just natural for me – I can’t stop it. It’s not like I can switch it on or switch it off. It doesn’t matter if I’m in front of stone or sitting at home in front of the TV – something will catch my eye. It might be a plant pot or it might be some piece of fashion, or, I could just look at something in the room differently than I did the last time and my mind will start wondering what can be done with that material and what forms and what shapes can be made with it. So, it’s endless. I’m re-designing toilets when I’m sitting down having a toilet, you know! I’m re-designing everything – cars, the lot.

Talk me through your typical sculptural process from the initial inspiration to completion.
I have the block of stone in front of me and I draw directly onto the sculpture – the shapes and the forms that go alongside the brief. I have mood board sheets and maybe some key words to go along with it – some strong adjectives. That’s a way for me to tap into what the clients wants and then I hope to give the client not what they’ve seen already, but something different. That’s the exciting part for me. It can be a lot of pressure, but it’s like a drug that you chase – trying to give somebody something they didn’t expect, but at the same time, hits all of the brief points.

There’s a stylistic theme in your sculptures that is primitive, raw and textural. Is your work based on anything in particular? Are there any underlying motifs that carry throughout your work?
I’m learning more about where my work comes from the more I talk about it, but it’s just basically working off of the back of the last texture I made – I try not to make the same texture or shape or the same feeling. So, it’s continually moving and not stuck trying to be perfect. I guess my biggest hate in the world that we live in is that all of the objects around us are all perfectly round, perfectly square, fit perfectly – it just becomes so boring. I feel that there’s room for things to function well, but they don’t need to highly function all of the time. They can function and look beautiful. Just like people – we don’t function at the same standard as all of these products or machines that we have. It really jars with me, so that’s why my shapes are the way they are.

How have you created a space in your design studio that is conducive to your creative workflow?
My workspace is basically a sculpture in itself and it has taken me a while to get it to the point it is at now. I need to add to the space before I feel comfortable working in it and I’m always changing it – the guys that work for me must think I’m absolutely mad! The amount of times I’ve painted walls or stuck a bit of stone somewhere and then knocked it off… I see the space as a project just as much as every bit of stone that I make. It needs to change all the time, it can’t stay the same.

How would you describe your interior living space? 
My interior living space is really built off of my wife, Robin (aka Bob) – she’s the driving force behind that. At the moment, we’re living in rental properties and you can’t get too excited about rental properties, because you can’t do what you want to the space, so I never really feel like it’s my space. You can put as many objects in space as you want but until you knock down a wall yourself, it doesn’t really feel like your own space.  

What makes you feel at home?
Wherever Bob and scout, my little dog, is. Doesn’t matter where if it’s a building or not it just matters where Robin and Scout are.

Describe your perfect day or weekend.
I’m still an avid football player so my weekends can sometimes be consumed by playing football. Afterwards, I’m absolutely nackard (tired) on Sunday because I’m getting a little bit old now – I’m 33 and my legs aren’t moving as quickly as they used to! Sunday is my day with Bob day, so we make something happen on that day. It doesn’t matter if it’s a day trip, just a day around the house, or just a day spent in bed watching movies or a TV series. I’m in the studio more that I should be. I’m only 25 minutes from it and I’m just constantly going up to the studio. Even when I’m nackard, I make an excuse to get up there. My excuse at the moment is to go up and water the plants! Robin gets a bit annoyed because I’m constantly out and about but it’s a project that I’ve dreamt about for a long time and it’s finally starting to come to reality, so I find it difficult to tear myself away from it. But I love day trips to the sea – it’s the only place that really calms me down. I get the same feeling from the sea as I get from doing yoga. I need to do yoga more often. I keep saying this to myself, but one day I will put it in the program!

Where do you find the most inspiration?
I find inspiration everywhere and I try to get inspiration from different places. For example, when I was studying fashion, I wouldn’t look at fashion for inspiration, but I would look at other objects, arts, etc. Now that I’m making sculptures and functional items like furniture, I’m looking at fashion a little bit. I try always to have a twist on the way I look at things and I try to not to be so literal.

What other artists do you admire and why?
When I was in university, I was really inspired by Marx Lamb – I like his process. I like the way Henry Moore talked about sculpture; he didn’t get uptight about it or talk about it in this bullshit artist verbal diarrhea way – he just talked about it honestly. If he didn’t have an answer for something, he would just tell you that. And that’s where I like to come from – I don’t always have an answer for why I’ve done something in my work. It’s boring if you always have an answer for why you’ve done something. Can you not just do it and then not attach words to it? I find that words don’t live up to the object. You could write a novel about one sculpture and it still wouldn’t add up to it. It’s like a photograph – how can you write about something you can see visually? You could write forever. For that reason, I don’t always like to talk about art as such. Just let it be what is it and hopefully people enjoy it or get some sort of discussion going around it.

What do you love most about your job?
I’m in charge of what I do. I get up and its freedom and its exciting, its adventurous. I always have to be doing, so being in charge of myself allows me to apply as much doing as I want.

Connect with Den Holm: Website // Instagram

Images: 1 - 21 (provided by Den Holm)


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