Lymington artist Michael Turner on turning stainless steel in to super sculptures
PUBLISHED: 17:13 04 February 2015 | UPDATED: 17:13 04 February 2015
From a gigantic angel to a cantilevered leaping horse, artist Michael Turner is turning stainless steel in to super sculptures from his studio in Lymington
Down an intricate network of winding lanes, between Lymington and Sway, you will find a dusty gravel track leading to Setters Farm, a group of outbuildings occupied by various craftsmen and women and a small bakery that pumps out the most glorious smell of warm dough and jam each morning. Michael Turner’s small studio is positioned on a corner patch and it is here, nestled amongst other creative types, that he is able to mastermind his next piece of extraordinary sculpture.
From his laid back demeanor, it is hard to imagine Mike wrestling with intense mathematical equations, reviewing his designs with an overwhelming intensity and ploughing through extensive and exhaustive research material - all the attributes of a talented stainless steel sculptor with an expanding reputation for his significant level of technical ability and craftsmanship, and the ambitious nature of his stunning works.
Mike has come a long way since graduating in Design in 1997. At the beginning of his career, working from his parents’ garage, he used nuts and bolts and reclaimed steel to create all sorts of animals, reptiles and bugs. Although these were put together rather crudely, due to lack of experience and being fresh out of college, he had great fun experimenting and playing with ideas, and received a massive boost to his confidence when he sold everything he had made for his very first exhibition.
“This was such a pivotal moment for me. I knew what I did was new and interesting but until this time I was not convinced I should absolutely take a giant leap of faith.”
Deciding to use stainless steel as his main material, he wanted his work to be weather resistant and, with his unique vision, he could see how the true beauty of this often disregarded metal would shine when using polishing, painting and heating techniques.
Mike’s inspiration comes from the natural surrounding areas of forest and coastline and, having an affinity to animals, it is no surprise that his first major body of work consisted of animals and large reptiles, a natural progression from the bugs and insects.
“I always enjoy the late winter months in my studio. As someone who is captivated by nature, this season denotes the biggest change of gear and the vibrant colours we see during autumn inspire me endlessly. The start of the New Year always heralds a feeling of a ‘fresh start’ and I often find myself wondering what the year ahead will bring.”
Mike was delighted when the curator of the Gallery at Heathrow’s Terminal 5 ‘spotted’ his work whilst visiting artist Will Rochfort, who also has a studio at Setters Farm, and asked if he would like to become a regular contributor. As a result his sculptures have been shipped to countries across Europe, North America, South America and Africa, and he has recently been commissioned to complete a number of bespoke works including a 6ft long crocodile for a Russian buyer in the South of France, as well as a piece for a collector on the island of Jersey.
Being a coastal town with a rich history of boat building and yacht racing, Lymington, offers Mike plenty of resources for acquiring his materials. A keen advocate of up-cycling, Mike has struck up relationships with several marine businesses, all of which gladly offer him their off-cuts and unusable pieces of stainless steel in the hopes of seeing the materials designed and reborn into something even more stunning.
“Sometimes the idea comes first, but sometimes when I get the material, I go off on a bit of a tangent and go deep into my design and planning mode, which can include infinitesimal detail. It infuriates my wife but I tell her its all part of the creative process!”
Being lucky enough to have a presence in the local community allows Mike to give a little bit back, and is a big part of his ethos. Two of his older pieces, such as a seven foot Centurion, do the rounds at the various primary schools in the area; letting the children have them as a short term mascot, and something to admire in their playground.
The Studio at Setters Farm is packed to the rafters with pieces of metal in all shapes and sizes. Somehow they all have a purpose, and Mike can lay his hands on precisely the right piece at the right time, despite the somewhat chaotic ‘filing system’. There is also a tailors’ dummy that often stands on parade in the doorway adorning various items of clothing.
“Some of my pieces are more mathematically challenging than others and I have to give a great deal of thought to the calculations. The Leaping Horse was interesting as it was the first cantilevered piece I have worked on. More recently the 15ft wing span on my 7ft 5” angel proved testing, and I had to ensure that it didn’t pull the piece backwards.”
During 2014 Mike has worked on a great many commissions. The coloured resin work on Vespa was well received, and one of Mike’s collectors is looking at a piece for his overseas summer house. The Gallery at Terminal 5 requested another Crocodile at the end of the year and as soon as that was complete, the next big commission was a Phoenix coming out of the flames for a large manufacturing company. He comments: “The Phoenix was right up my street and I thoroughly embraced the project. There is something pertinent about the bird rising from the ashes while the year draws to a close. I am always keen to push myself and find solutions. I love what I do and each commission helps me expand my knowledge.
“I always enjoy delivering pieces to clients and seeing their reactions. Driving along with a 6ft stainless steel stag in the trailer can generate some interesting interaction with people, especially if I stop on the steep Lymington High Street to buy a coffee! ”
As the New Year kicks in, whilst most of the units at the farm are still in darkness, Mike has the oil drum lit and in the half light of the short winter days, is already deep in the midst of an undisclosed project for a particular collector.
“We had a flurry of activity at the end of the year and I’m excited to have some really great commissions lined up for 2015. One of my clients has really taken to heart the fact that I like to push boundaries and mix things up a bit, and has given me a real brain teaser to deal with,” he adds with a twinkle in his eyes. Watch this space!
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