Words Sarah Langton-Lockton Photographs Neil Brown
‘You’ve done this before.’ ‘No,’ said Nik Glancy to the art college tutor who was introducing him to sculpture. He may not previously have put chisel to stone, but in an instant he had found his calling. ‘I picked up a chisel and just started carving. It felt like coming home.’
‘I still have two carvings I made that day,’ says Nik. ‘There was definitely a spark that has never gone out.’ This is outstandingly evident in the exhibition of his latest work – sculptures and drawings – at the Branching Out Antiques Centre in The Mall in Faversham until 30 March. The sculptures, on plain white plinths, are scattered, in curated informality, among the old and beautiful artefacts in the long-vacant motorcycle showroom that has been sensitively transformed into a handsome theatre of a shop.
The work on show ranges from small birds displayed in a vintage glass cabinet, to arresting pieces exploring multiple themes; most pieces are carved from French limestone, which, says Nik, is similar to the stone used for Canterbury Cathedral. ‘Most of my work,’ he explains, ‘is about the relationship between humanity and our environment, be that nature, the landscape or animals.’ He is interested in the unconscious and in dreams and there is a mythic quality to his work. It is representational and organic in form but with an element of abstraction.
His sculptures tell a complex story, combining human and animal forms with architecture and the elements – fire, water and smoke. They are arresting and beautiful and invite contemplation and study. ‘The natural world,’ Nik says, ‘is an endless source of inspiration, and it needs protecting.’ He says that we are the first generation to know that we have damaged this world almost to extinction. ‘Since the industrial revolution, in just 200 years, we have destroyed an ecosystem that has taken billions of years to form.’
‘I am not a banner waver,’ says Nik. ‘Someone said to me recently that the ideas within my sculptures are beautifully put rather than bashing people over the head. I see myself as an artist whose work comes out of an exploration of oneself and the world around one.’ He elaborates on his formation as a sculptor: ‘When I went to art college in the early 1990s it was the beginning of the Young British Artists (YBAs). Their work just left me cold. It was the art of the ego…somehow insincere and corporate, posturing rather than genuine feeling.’ He says he would find himself wandering away from the fashionable galleries. ‘The Victoria and Albert Museum, the Museum of Mankind and the British Museum – these were the places that fascinated me.’ He also loves churches and graveyards, and says they are ‘philosophical and thought-provoking places’.
Nik was born in London. His family were totters in Battersea where they had a wood yard. They sold firewood around London from a horse and cart. They were poor: six people to a bed, with overcoats for blankets. In the summer, for generations, the extended family travelled to the Kent countryside to work as fruit pickers. In the 1970s, when Nik was five, the whole family, his mother and father, two older sisters, much younger brother and granddad Frank, moved to Chilham. Frank, a ‘hugely important person’ to Nik, was ‘an extraordinary writer and poet, who was pulled out of school aged 10.’ Family members, he says, share an artistic vocation. His mother, who is a potter, would put on art shows, and all the children, including Nik from a young age, would contribute paintings. ‘My mum gave us a love of art just for itself,’ he says.
Nik’s formal training began with a pre-foundation year at Canterbury Technical College, where his sculpture tutor, Patrick Crouch, helped him discover, and then nurtured, his talent as a stone carver. At the age of 17, Nik and a few others were asked by Patrick to work as his assistants in his studio in Littlebourne. This privileged experience confirmed Nik’s decision to be a sculptor. ‘Patrick taught me the fundamental principles of sculpture and has become a lifelong friend.’ Next came a foundation course and a degree in fine art sculpture at the Kent Institute of Art & Design, now part of the University for the Creative Arts.
‘At that time,’ says Nik, ‘in the 1990s, there was a real clash going on between representational sculpture and the conceptual work of the YBAs.’ The prevailing philosophy was for protest art. It had to be challenging rather than beautiful. ‘Luckily,’ says Nik, ‘there was a counter culture and a few teachers who were getting us to look at the history of art – that’s what inspired me.’ He is glad to have learnt about human emotion, thoughts, feelings and beauty.
That partly explains, he says, why the idea of showing his work at Branching Out appealed. ‘I’ve always found museums more interesting than galleries. Museums are inclusive, and most galleries are not.’ He tells the story of an upmarket gallery owner whom he approached with his portfolio. ‘Are you a somebody?’ asked the owner. Having said he was not, Nick asked: ‘Don’t you even want to look?’ The gallery owner replied: ‘I want to know whether you are financially worth investing in.’
After college, thanks to Patrick Crouch, Nik had a placement doing decorative stonework as part of the restoration of Canterbury Cathedral. This led to him starting up a business restoring stonework and timberwork in historic buildings. He categorises his work as falling into three categories: restoration work; sculptural commissions; and self-directed artwork. It is the latter that features in his current exhibition. ‘The self-directed work comes out of a conversation with myself – it might be something I’ve seen or something I’m thinking.’ Ideas develop as he sculpts: ‘I know exactly where it’s going and have no idea where it’s going.’
The idea for the exhibition came from Sophie Norton and Judith Monk, founders of Branching Out Antiques. Nik was working on the church they live in, St John the Evangelist, in the Brents. ‘Vandals had broken in and damaged a lovely old oak door. I had sourced some very old oak. That’s what I’m good at doing, new work that blends with the old – invisible repairs and alterations.’ ‘We were having a cup of tea and Sophie was talking about my artwork. I said I was considering putting my work in a shop rather than a gallery. Sophie said: ”Let’s do it”, and it snowballed from there.’
The idea proved quite difficult to transfer into practice. If dispersed among the antiques, the sculptures might have been difficult to spot. The solution has been to put them on plain white plinths so the artworks clearly ‘pop up’. The result is a beautifully curated exhibition of some very fine contemporary sculpture in a compatible and harmonious setting.
Tel: 07747 560223
Branching Out Antiques Centre
39A The Mall
Open Monday and Wednesday to Saturday from 10am to 4.30pm
Contact Judith or Sophie on 07742 117815
Words: Sarah Langton-Lockton. Photographs: Neil Brown.