Arts + Entertainment

Kent Artist Profile: Jason Mulligan

What’s so interesting about stone? You might ask that question, and for the uninitiated there may be a stock answer: nothing much. However, delve a little deeper and enter the world of stone sculpture artist, Jason Mulligan and it doesn’t take long to realise that stone has a lot more going for it than we might first think! The way it feels, the way it looks and, of course, what skilled hands can make from it mean that stone is not only fascinating to work with, but unique and beautiful too. insideKENT spoke to Jason about his love of stone, of art, and about how he captures his vision so perfectly.

If you had to define your art, how would you describe what you do?

I refer to myself as a contemporary artist/sculptor who specialises in stone.

How did you become an artist?

I completed a degree in fine art sculpture at the University of Northumbria and then went on to complete a one-year Bronze Casting Fellowship at the same university. When the studying ended, I was in need of work so applied for several artist assistant roles. In 1994, I started my first art-related job, working with the Japanese stone carver and Henry Moore Fellow, Hideo Furuta. I then went on to work with British sculptor, Paul Mason, and in 1996 I made my first trip to the marble quarries of Italy to assist him on a large public commission. On my return I knew I had caught the ‘stone bug’ and that my search for mastering this new medium to work in had begun.

As I knew there was so much to learn, rather than return to university, I got an apprenticeship with stone sculptor Hamish Horsley in London and worked as his assistant for five years. This involved working in all aspects of the production of stone sculpture, including enlargement by triangulation from maquettes, major exhibitions, international symposia, and numerous public and private commissions.

How do you choose your subject matter?

Influences within my work stem from a passion for stone and a direct interest in archaeological and anthropological objects.  The motivation for my current work focuses primarily on research around cultural objects and a fascination with prehistoric stone artefacts.  This layering of historic and geological referencing has many influences from a variety of sculptural forms, such as mysterious tribal objects to ancient fertility figures and religious statues. The intention is to recall some past primeval state while playing with the ambiguity and form of the artefact and the work invites the viewer to multiple readings, where the mystery is in their elusiveness. 

What is it about stone that fascinates you?

How long have you got! It’s a uniquely physical encounter when you come into contact with any stone, whether it be one you are carving or one you come across in the landscape. The process of carving has such a seductive pull on you that it can slow you right down, making looking, seeing and problem solving a very meditative exercise.

Stone as a material can convey notions of density and mass as well as fragility and lightness. I am continually looking around for new stones to carve and with each new block come its very own challenges. The stone will always dictate to you how and what can be done with it. It is always exciting working with a natural material like stone, as you’re never quite sure what the results will be. With experience, I’ve started to become more daring with the scale of my sculptures. My work now explores everything from tactile, handheld pieces to monumental sculptures 4-5 metres high, however with this increase in scale comes new logistical challenges of lifting, turning and moving.

What is the most unusual, daring, or interesting commission you’ve ever received?

I worked as a stone sculptor on the Tibetan Peace Garden, situated in the grounds of The Imperial War Museum, London. One of the biggest challenges faced was translating the highly detailed Kalachakra Mandala, which is normally only seen as a circular sand painting. This was the very first time a carving had ever been made in such detail as the Mandala, which took myself and three other stone sculptors nine months to carve. It was all made worthwhile when all the sculptors involved got to meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama when he came to London to open and bless the sculptures and garden.

What has been your proudest artistic achievement to date?

I suppose the one stand out achievement that has enabled me to further my career as a sculptor over the last 10 years was in 2008 when I was elected a member of the Royal Society of Sculptors. However, every time you apply for a public art commission or a selected group exhibition and you get selected, it is always seen as an achievement.

Where can we see your work?

At Godinton House Sculpture Exhibition 18 until 12th August 2018.

What does the rest of 2018 hold in store for you?

I have just been commissioned by Dandara Ltd, Tunbridge Wells, to create a site-specific artwork for their development at Knights Wood, which will be unveiled in November this year. I have also just taken delivery of a five-tonne block of Irish limestone for a garden sculpture, which I am about to start working on for a private client.

Then, on a smaller scale, I have been invited back as part of the KPG Annual Art Exhibition at Sevenoaks School this October, where the sale of artworks made by Kent-based artists is in aid of local mental health charities.

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