Meet Rupert Till
For more than 20 years, Rupert Till has been producing wire sculptures inspired by the natural world. Imbued with a charming simplicity that belies the complex craft behind them, his pieces make a striking addition to the open landscape. Rupert exhibits annually at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. In 2012, he was awarded The British Sporting Art Trust Prize for sculpture by The Society of Equestrian Artists.
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As a child, I loved to draw and spent many of my school days outside drawing the buildings in pencil, charcoal and ink. At college, I took life drawing and life sculpture classes twice a week so, by the time I left to do a foundation course, I had a good understanding of putting lines on paper. Initially, my parents discouraged me from going to art school, as they were concerned about whether it would o≠er a stable career, so I looked for a course with lots of interesting opportunities. I chose mural design at Chelsea School of Art, as it allowed students to explore other media and experience real-life commissions.
I didn’t want to get sucked into the art world, but I did want a career in art. I decided to pursue sculpture and, for the final year of my degree course, I worked with plaster and wire armatures. After graduation, I used advertising, fairs and garden shows to expand my sculpture business before approaching upmarket garden centres in the US and Europe.
I was first attracted to working with wire when I returned to Yorkshire, where I was born. One day I stumbled across some old pheasant pens – stretched wire netting that had been discarded after the posts had rotted away. I was intrigued by the effect and eventually decided to ditch sculpting in plaster and work in wire. So in 1993, I began making dogs in wire. My first proper commission was for Jilly Cooper, and then my work was spotted at a major craft fair and proﬁled by the BBC. I set up my first studio in Hovingham, and I started making the animals I saw around me, including foxes, hares, hens and geese. The wire was perfect for scrunching up and modelling. Using bronze and copper came about through working with galleries, as it offers collectors value and guaranteed longevity.
I’m a country boy through and through. My holidays were spent working on a farm so I was surrounded by animals. I have a good photographic memory; when I’m working, it doesn’t take much to conjure up those formative experiences, and horses, roe deer, foxes and hares are still a part of my everyday life. I rarely resort to looking at a book or the internet for reference, but I do keep some samples in a freezer at the studio, which I can consult if I need to. If I have an exotic commission, such as reproducing a tiger or leopard, I’ll visit a private zoo to study the animals.
During my initial conversation with a client, I create simple pen and ink sketches that play with ideas. Once we’ve agreed on the look and feel of the piece, I can begin making it. I’ll often take photographs of the spot where it will be displayed and then I map out dimensions. After refining my sketch, I form a stainless steel armature, while my studio assistant prepares the copper or bronze wires by tying them into varying lengths. Making the sculpture is rather like knitting with wire, pushing, pulling and sewing together the various strands. Finally, I will sign the piece and install it in the landscape.
I live in the Cotswolds with my wife and three young children, in a stone house with converted stables where I have set up my studio. A typical day involves riding out and sculpting. I keep 11 horses and ponies, so my days tend to revolve around them. I work next to the stable yard, so I can pull one of them out to use as a life model or take one on a riding safari to observe roe deer or hares in the fields around where we live. I work best during the early morning or late into the evening.
The space is divided into three areas, which incorporate an office as well as room for all of my materials. The wire I use is produced in several sizes and I source it in the UK; I buy in 250 kilos of bronze wire at a time. I also have trolleys and a forklift so the pieces can be moved easily. I usually prefer working outside. It gives me the space to stand back and study the sculpture I am working on, which is hard to do within the confines of four walls.
I have a few projects, including a private commission for a sculpture to commemorate a National Hunt racehorse, in full flight over a hurdle in bronze wire. The challenge with this kind of piece is to really capture the character, power and movement of the animal. Fortunately, I’ve been given plenty of video footage that I can examine in slow motion over and again.
Ideally, I would like to produce on a larger scale, as well as continuing to work with the country’s leading garden designers. The Chelsea Flower Show allows me to showcase my new pieces to a wide audience and exhibit alongside some incredibly creative people. That alone is the perfect inspiration to keep creating in wire.
Rupert Till, 07921 771284, ruperttill.com.