Jane Austen statue in Basingstoke marking the 200th anniversary of her death
PUBLISHED: 11:33 23 February 2017 | UPDATED: 11:33 23 February 2017
Hampshire will mark the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death this year. The starting point is a new statue of the author in her home town, created by sculptor Adam Roud
In October 1800 Jane Austen described visiting the Basingstoke Assembly in the Market Square, “It was a pleasant ball, and still more good than pleasant, for there were nearly sixty people, and sometimes we had seventeen couple. The Portsmouths, Dorchesters, Boltons, Portals, and Clerks were there... I danced nine dances out of ten.”
Almost 200 years after her death Jane, a local girl who became one of the most famous women writers in the world, will return to the Market Square where she danced the night away, this time in glittering bronze.
Maria Miller, MP for Basingstoke, initiated the idea of a sculpture to highlight Jane Austen’s connection with the town and local sculptor Adam Roud, born and bred in Ellisfield near Basingstoke, has been commissioned by the Hampshire Cultural Trust to create the life-sized statue.
Back to the present, dear reader and it’s December when I visit Adam in his dusty, cold studio, a large tractor shed overlooking the idyllic countryside of Farleigh Wallop. It is surprising to learn that famous works such as Antony Gormley’s ‘The Angel of the North’ and several of Damien Hirst’s pieces have been in this very studio, when Adam was commissioned to ‘chase’ them - a process of finishing the bronze with various tools, including welding pieces together, and refining the metal so that it is smooth and in one piece.
Inside there are ghostly white sculptures at different stages of development and in various positions, bulls standing, bulls lying down, bulls turning, as are horses, deer, owls and figure studies. Adam has been commissioned privately to create a bronze bust of a man and he is in the process of sculpting a copy in white marble, hence the sprinkling of marble dust covering much of the studio. He tells me he is a keen cyclist and a member of British Cycling, riding his bike is his relaxation. In a corner there are some large models of Sir Bradley Wiggins, Adam is a great admirer of the first British cyclist to cross the winning line of the Tour de France.
He is equally passionate about creating abstract sculptures, extracting the essence of a pose, which is condensed and gives a sense of movement and shape.
Jane Austen left her writing for posterity but sadly there are no portraits of her, apart from one drawing by her sister, Cassandra. So, Adam has made some large generic drawings of Jane, based on her sister’s portrait, which are pinned up around the studio, they cleverly depict movement and the swirl of her dress.
“It is an opportunity for me to put a twist and curve into her body. It’s an exciting project because of who Jane Austen is and for me as a sculptor, showing what I can do. I’m reading a bit about her as a person, she was a bit unorthodox and maybe missed out on an ideal life. I don’t want her on a plinth, I plan to have her just walking in the street so that we are walking with her, probably holding a book which is a nod to her writings, with her looking over her shoulder at the life she didn’t have” says Adam, who won’t know exactly how it will develop as “there is a constant pull between my hand and mind when I’m working”.
At the moment, the sculpture of Jane is just an armature, a steel frame, with expanded foam sprayed on, so that it can be carved and shaped. Adam will then apply warm plasticine and start sculpting. He prefers to work in plasticine rather than clay, which needs to be kept damp.
Adam has just started work on the maquette, a small version of the bigger sculpture, used to test the concept. There are mathematical calculations to work out, as the final statue will be Jane’s height of 5 foot 7 inches.
Adam is full of enthusiasm for this commission. He says it’s all hands on deck to complete the maquette by January 19 when there will be a launch at Farleigh House, the home of the Portsmouth family, mentioned by Jane in her note and with whom Adam coincidentally also has a connection. In 2000 he rented a studio and workshop on the estate.
Once the maquette has been made Adam has until the end of March to complete the life size bronze statue before it is cast.
At school he was only interested in art and history and out of school he was more interested in his BMX bike. His artistic career began aged 16 at Basingstoke Tech’ where he did life drawing classes and his 2D drawings eventually became 3 dimensional shapes.
He recalls fondly that the tutors there were very keen to tackle ideas and he credits two of his tutors in particular, Steve Towns and Paul Stork for opening his mind, “They were inspirational and I got more schooling there than doing my degree.”
He hadn’t been outside Hampshire before but accepted a place at Liverpool University to study sculpture and was initially homesick for the country where he says he “had lived in an isolated bubble compared to the grit of inner city life.”
After University he worked at the Foundry, Atelier, in Hartley Witney and then at Lasham near Basingstoke as a chaser for Morris Singer, the world’s oldest Fine Art foundry. His father had been a chaser here before him and had met celebrated artists such as Henry Moore, Paolozzi, Elizabeth Frink, Barbara Hepworth and Oscar Nemon. Adam had to get bronzes ready for viewing, “It sounds romantic but the job of a chaser is very disciplined and a daily grind. It’s a very physical and noisy process, metal has to be filed, welded and hammered.” Now that Adam is an artist it is he who sends his works away to a foundry to be chased.
In the tradition of renaissance artists, Adam has some generous patrons. He says: “Meeting Lord Rockley changed my life, I was so lucky to have met him. He asked me to advise him on making a sculpture for his garden. and I made a couple of pieces for him which enabled me to leave the Foundry three and a half years ago and to pursue a career as a full-time artist.” Lady Portsmouth commissioned Adam to sculpt a bronze sculpture. “It’s amazing to have had their support otherwise I would still have been working in the Foundry.”
Adam says: “I’m a traditional artist, I’m not going to be the next Turner Prize winner. I have to pinch myself that my work is in galleries in London and that I’ve been commissioned to do this important public work for my home town.”
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