Bird Artist: Theodore Gillick

Note: This is an archived article from the previous Bird Watching website...

If you have ever watched a bird, marvelled at their flight or particularly, held something like a finch in your hands, you will know it is a kind of foolishness to try and make one out of a few kilos of metal.

But that is the aim, and sculptor Theodore Gillick tries to describe in static, solid form a soft surface, quicksilver movement, an inner life and subtlety of the highest order. This outlook for today’s sculptors is very contemporary: Artists are looking at the world around them with the eyes of David Attenborough, describing what they see without superiority, grandeur or symbolism. It is the study of nature in its most natural state; a view through a telescope brought right up close so that you can touch it.

This should be, and is, much more difficult than it looks. A painter is able to describe a grouse rocketing over the heather or a stooping peregrine. But there is no perspective, background or context in a sculpture and the artist needs to find devices that escape the restrictions of their art, to suspend a thing in space and to make it effortless. In Gillick’s ‘Rising Partridges’ the background – a sculpture in its own right – both describes and emphasises the direction and energy of movement, it suggests the wheat or barley stems and also holds aloft the rising birds. I have often startled coveys of these wonderful birds while out on walks and the clatter of wings and the thrum and whirr as they wheel away is the inspiration.

On the same walks Theodore found a woodland pool surrounded by a thick bank of reeds and his ‘Reed Warbler’ study is the result of quiet watching. The reed warbler often falls under the acronym ‘LBJ’ or ‘little brown job’, an insignificant, nondescript bird, but it has a delightful voice. The abandon of the warbler family’s songs – fluid, strong, at times reed-like and whistling, is as fine a celebration of life and the impulses of nature as can be heard. As in many of his other sculptures, Theodore’s aim is to convey to a viewer as much as possible about the bird’s characteristics. The whole design describes animal, habitat and habit in a single, unique image.

His design for a study of a barn owl appears at first to be contrived but the simple objective of ‘Night Owl’ was to make a nocturnal scene to suit a nocturnal animal. The circumference of the moon sets the rhythm of the piece and moves the whole imagery in a circular motion. All the parts speak to one another, and each element requires the other and justifies it, either in terms of the story or structurally. The little mouse at the bottom triangulates the fixings and makes it possible to balance the moon. The moon sets the scene and acts as perch. The owl perches and his posture is determined by the mouse below. There is no context in a sculpture, but one can go quite a long way to telling a complete story.

Theodore Gillick is part of, and understands perhaps as well as any of a growing figurative movement that is unconsciously working along these lines, and his bronzes of birds are among many British wildlife studies he has made. There are as many styles of bird and animal sculpture as there are people — some exemplary sculptors summarise a bird’s form to minimal detail and perfect surfaces. Theodore’s bird studies are full of life. His sculpture describes bird forms accurately, but the real aim that makes the pieces come alive is their identifiable character and interior life and the ability to capture a fleeting memory. One can therefore expect to find quiet and sensitive forms, and at other times an intensity that concentrates itself into a work bursting with life.

Theodore Gillick will be exhibiting his sculptures at this year’s Olympia, The London International Horse Show 13-19 December 2011. You can view his other sculptures by visiting his website New works come out of the foundry each May. Studio appointments very welcome and very enjoyable and can be arranged directly with Theodore Gillick.