Colden Common artist Toby Saville on a career defining moment
PUBLISHED: 10:06 12 October 2015 | UPDATED: 10:06 12 October 2015
Colden Common artist, Toby Saville, has taken on a giant installation in the form of a quadriptych within Winchester Cathedral. He talks to Sandra Smith about how all his other commissions have led to this defining moment
If buildings were blessed with human qualities, their ability to observe, absorb and recall would ensure that ongoing generations could continually relive experiences, regardless of their triviality or historical enormity. Personal moments would remain forever current, events touching the wider community retaining a freshness of time.
The expanse of such experiences embedded within the structure of Winchester Cathedral is barely comprehensible. A place of worship, a tourist attraction and the longest medieval cathedral in Europe, with carvings and stained glass windows epitomising a richness of heritage similarly embodied in ancient floor tiles and sculptures, its witness ranges from private contemplation to royal weddings. Marking Time, however, is a project in which artist Toby Saville intends capturing the latest phase in the Cathedral’s existence.
“Art is constantly standing on the shoulders of centuries gone by,” the 40 year old reveals. “I feel a different sense of responsibility to this work and want to do justice to the Cathedral. When I did an undergraduate degree in Fine Art Painting my palette became things I found - I am fascinated by, and have an affinity with objects that have a history to them.”
Toby is infectiously enthusiastic about the venture. Indeed, the inference he shares is that every morsel of experience and knowledge he has gained since childhood at home, school and art colleges have culminated in this project, which materialised when Sophie Hacker, Arts Coordinator of Winchester Cathedral, saw Toby’s work at a Link Gallery for Hampshire Sculpture Trust exhibition last November. She recalls the impact of his images, “what immediately struck me was Toby’s ability to convey a sense of timelessness, suffused with a glimpse of history. Who better to invite to make a response to the changes the Cathedral is currently undergoing? His monumental paintings have the scope and scale to address these changes in a unique way.”
The assignment, celebrating the Cathedral’s evolution, instantly excited Toby.
“Sophie’s first question was: ‘How big do you work?’ My eyes lit up! She mentioned Winchester Cathedral and asked if I’d like to be involved in celebrating a period of change. I didn’t have to become a different artist, she entrusted me to do something bold and energetic. Boundaries were left to me. It was an open brief – a dream.”
The fervour Toby felt following this initial meeting spurred him on to engage in the project. His research began on New Year’s Day, a psychological milestone.
For a couple of months, the Colden Common artist visited the building at different times of the day and attended Sunday services to discern the atmosphere of the place. Being site specific, it was crucial for each painting to interact with the surrounding physical structures.
“There’s a coherent relationship between each of the four 8’x7’panels making up the quadriptych which are housed in equally spaced niches inside the Cathedral,” Toby explains. “Rather than design a specific composition and shapes within it, I knew it was important to have my research, drawings and photographs visible to me so I could select from them. There’s so much, and I knew this project had the potential to overwhelm so I had to be selective. Intuition and impulse are part of the process. I also used a technique I’ve built up over the years with numerous layers to my paintings.”
In a self confessed archaeological approach, Toby builds strata before physically sanding them back to rediscover previous depths which, in this case, provide a literal reference point to the Cathedral. It is a style that empowers the artist to both conceal past events and reveal the future. The four paintings were created simultaneously using mixed media.
“I relish fusing together artists’ and non artists’ paint such as oil and acrylic with household paint. I love gloss, emulsion and spray paint. Each has a different nuance. Here I’m asking these different media to coexist. There’s a visual sensation of paint. If they click there’s an appreciation. I’ve given a lot of thought to the weight of paint. Oil gives me a lovely rich, deep, dark quality whereas emulsions are thinned and appear more fragile. Tonality is influenced by the type of paint. I also scale up brushes to meet the scale of work. It’s incredibly exciting.”
Toby’s commitment to this project is admirable given his duties as a full time Fine Art Tutor at Barton Peveril Sixth Form College where he created the panels.
With both parents working as art teachers, teaching is as much a part of his DNA as art. Growing up he was used to being surrounded by works of art and, during his formative years, he embraced abstract before figurative. After completing his degree he became Artist in Residence in Loughborough where he enjoyed sharing his knowledge.
“Teaching enriches and informs you. I’m very comfortable in an educational situation.”
Toby smiles when I ask about the origins of the project’s name, denying Marking Time has any reference to the classroom.
“My interest has always been human history written on objects. Marking Time does not refer to a specific event…it is designed to mark a time of change.”
The abstract nature of the quadriptych is a modern response to the classical design of this stoic, manmade structure with its worn, textured surfaces. The two contrasting styles, Toby believes, could be a benefit and hopes his paintings will encourage people to view the Cathedral in a new way: “If they challenge people, that’s okay.”
For an artist to undertake such a mammoth and public commission is testament to an unshakeable self assurance. Toby not only possesses this quality, more importantly, he is revelling in the magnitude and responsibility of the task.
“I’ve learned the skill of managing a project to a specific timescale and being true to one’s own creative interests. This is a new experience, hopefully a stepping stone to something else. The panels remain in the Cathedral until 20 September. Maybe then they will have an onward journey. If someone has the space and can accommodate them, they might resonate with a different situation.”
Another major project is planned for autumn 2016 as part of a joint exhibition tackling the subject of the South Downs National Park. Meanwhile, there’s an aura of destiny about Marking Time. It is as though Toby has spent his life practising for this challenge. And perhaps that is why he has embraced the project rather than allowing it to overpower him.
“All the work I’ve done prior to Winchester Cathedral has led strangely and conveniently to this project,” he concludes.
The contemporary nature of Toby’s artistic style will inevitably prompt reaction. Yet whatever range of opinions the quadriptych provokes, the marrying of diverse textures and materials surely facilitates a fusion if not an appreciation of assorted eras and experiences.
Marking Time captures Winchester Cathedral’s history and simultaneously celebrates the present, making the project not only aptly named but appropriately positioned in one of the county’s most ancient and admired buildings.
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