“My favourite piece? The next one”: sculptor John Brown (OE 1940-1949)

“My favourite piece? The next one”: sculptor John Brown (OE 1940-1949)

John Brown has built a long and successful career creating abstract sculptures based on the human figure. His clients range from hospitals and churches to multi-national companies and private collectors, among them celebrities such as Elton John and Simon Cowell.

Born in 1931, John, who attended QE from 1940 to 1949, continues to work well into his ninth decade and to draw fresh inspiration from the contemporary world: a recent series was based on the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing, for example.

This year, he has shown his sculptures at several art fairs and exhibitions. One of his artworks was recently hired to appear in a City office scene in Steven Spielberg’s latest science fiction, Ready Player One. And this autumn. the University of Kent is showing two of his dance sculptures, Break Dance and Argentine Tango in an exhibition.

His work deals with human relationships and emotions, expressed in a simplified, abstracted way that aims not only for visual impact but also to stimulate thought and discussion. John’s sculptures range from interior pieces to larger pieces for the garden and are made in English stone, as limited-edition foundry-cast pieces in bronze, or in cast-resin metals, including aluminium and iron.

John’s sculpture training began at Hornsey School of Art and continued under Howard Bate R.A. at Hampstead Garden Suburb Institute, where he later taught sculpture and became Head of Art. John has worked as a freelance sculptor since September 1977 and was also with the institute from 1975 until 1993.

He married his wife Pauline (née Scott) in 1955. For the past 40 years, he has lived at the Bow House, “probably the oldest house in Barnet”. The house is situated in Wood Street, close to Tudor Hall – the home of Queen Elizabeth’s School for more than 350 years until it moved to Queen’s Road in 1932.

John’s website features a blog on which he posts news about his work as well as occasional articles giving advice, such as Top tips for choosing a garden sculpture and guidance on how to light outdoor sculptures.

The website also gives his personal account of how he works: “Sculpture has become my all-consuming work and, having developed a particular interest in the human form as a basis for my inspiration, I find myself constantly surrounded by sculptural ideas. So often the everyday encounters between couples in their ordinary lives spark a composition ready to be simplified and developed into a sculpture.

“I like to allow these ideas to germinate in my head before sometimes drawing a simple sketch; but I quickly go on to make a small three-dimensional maquette which enables me to visualise the whole work in the round. These maquettes are all-important – they hold the key to the final work.  Is it to be a stone carving or a large cast piece?  What should the scale be? Even, what will be the final patination in the case of a cast piece?

“I try to give my works a title; this has to be fairly concise – just sufficient to give the viewer a lead from which they can develop their own interpretation.  I like to think that their answers are not always immediate, but that, with time and consideration, they will form their own conclusion.

“I never think of a sculpture as being temporary; it’s wonderful to believe that it is permanent and can be handed on for future generations, though when asked to name my favourite piece, I always reply: ‘My next one.’”

Pictured here are The Conversation, a group of three standing figures carved in Ancaster stone from Lincolnshire, produced for clients who already possess several of John’s sculptures, and Joy of the Family, produced for Priors Court School, Thatcham, Berkshire.
Here is a selection of John’s public, hospital, church and school commissions:

  • The Listener – Barnet General Hospital
  • Mother and Child for St John the Baptist, Chipping Barnet
  • Supplication for United Reform Church, Whetstone
  • Crucifix for St Philip the Apostle, Finchley
  • Sculpture for the Darent Valley Hospital, Dartford, Kent
  • Celebration ll – Kaufman Cancer Centre, Bel Air, Maryland, USA
  • Tête a Tête in Harpenden Town Centre
  • Unison – Weston Park Hospital, Sheffield
  • Love of the Family – King’s College Hospital, London
  • Four sculptures for the Jeffrey Kelson Centre, Central Middlesex Hospital
  • Welcoming Christ – St Michael’s School, Finchley
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