Richard Sweeney

“I’ve always been interested in the arts. When I was very young, I was talented at drawing, which many people are but they tend to lose it. I definitely thought there was something there. When I was in my teens, I considered architecture. I was quite interested in buildings and what could be done there. But later on, as I started to study art and did the A-levels, it was then that I realized that perhaps like architecture is a bit too structured and restrictive. There is more scope for expression in art. I felt that was the important thing. I think I chose this path because it allowed me a lot more freedom.

I had some experience working with paper when i did my foundation class at Batley [School of Art and Design]. I think that stayed with me –  that such a mundane material like paper or cardboard could be used to create sculptural forms. When I went on to study 3-dimensional design at Manchester [Metropolitan University], I learned to work with very hands on materials like wood, metal, ceramics, and class. I used paper to model forms before I went into the final stages. I eventually decided to spend my entire last year just using paper and exploring what kind of forms I could develop.

The fact that paper is so tactile and requires such simple tools to manipulate is why I love using it for my work. Usually what I do is break down the larger works so the sheet size doesn’t have to be so great. It is actually difficult to create something from single sheets. With the pleated works, for example, you need to break it down to create each pleat. I don’t use specialist papers. They are all readily available papers, either drawing papers or watercolor papers. It’s pretty standard material.

I think that white best shows off the contrasts of the shape. There is no distraction from the shape. If I started introducing color, then that becomes the element that draws you, rather than the form itself. I did use color for my work with Tommy Hagan, which was a commissioned piece. I used his portfolio magazines, so the color naturally comes from his own work. It was a bit different from me, but I tried to think of ways to use the color because I had about 10 copies of the magazine. I could pick the spread that had a specific color palette and component to create the final product. because of the way it was made with the repetition of cuts, there was a nice pattern.

Beauty is a lot of different things for a lot of different people. Beauty, to me, in relation to 3-dimensional form, has something to do with proportions of a form. The proportions in nature are dictated by quite severe constraints. The repetition of forms is quite beautiful. Say with a flower, the symmetry of it, the repetition of the petals. It’s beautiful and appealing but you can’t say why.

Tetrahedron, which is one of the modular shapes that I produced in university, is one of my favorites. It just seemed to express everything I wanted to show about structure and symmetry. The thing about Tetrahedron is that you can actually push the sides in if you are handling it and it will flex, which is a bit unusual for an object in paper. Yet, it is so resilient.

Regarding Olympic Horses, I got the commission from the organizers of the Lincoln Flower Festival. They asked if I’d like to take on this project for the chariot. It was quite a challenge because I hadn’t work on something quite representational for quite a while. They really wanted to push the historical aspect of the event, specifically the idea of it being Greek in style, and they suggested that I look at that kind of material. I went to the British Museum and looked at the Parthenon Marble and did a lot of drawings to understand the anatomy and proportions. Luckily, where I live, Huddersville, is a rural area so there are a lot of horses. I got to make a lot of direct drawings from life. That was the main thing: getting the proportions right. Once I got that, everything else fell into place.

I constructed the skeleton, which was flexible so that I can pose the horse. I did a one-to-one scale. I just translated directly from the drawings. It sometimes takes several tries to make the right pattern. It’s all about refining and refining until you get the structure you want. The funny thing is when I made the skeleton: it was made of wood and wire but had no joints, so you could grab its back and move it in a funny, uncanny horse-like way.

I’m quite interested, at the moment, in fluid flow and fluid dynamics. I’ve got this great book that shows hundreds of illustrations of exactly that. They’re all photographs taken in a special water tank that has a continuous flow of water with metallic particles that goes around the object, so when its photographed, you see a stream of lines going over the object. I just like the idea of something having a linear geometry that is moving away from the more structured way of work. That was a big inspiration. I do photograph a lot, mostly of birds. I’m on the top floor of the studio and there’ s a fire escape where I like to stand and capture the pigeons on a slow shutter speed to show the motion. The idea of motion and curvature is something that i really quite like at the moment.

England is quite notorious for its creative industry. In my own field I’m aware of mostly the craft aspect and there’s quite a lot of high quality handmade objects coming out at the moment. But it does seem that people are getting a little tired with work that is conceptual. There’s a lot to be said to artwork that is directly produced by the artist. it’s a direct form of expression, which is crucial for all artists. You want to connect with your audience directly.”


For more of Richard’s work, check out his website.