His work – sometimes
comical, sometimes sad, but always thought-provoking and entertaining –
is derived from his favourite kind of wood. “You know how
every animal or plant has a Latin tag? The one I like best is
‘gratis’,” he smiled, gratefully
acknowledging friends and neighbours who call with pieces of wood they
think will appeal to his artistic nature. “I think I have
spent less than £500 on wood in 60 years.”
His interest in carving
began when he was an eight-year-old boy, and in his 20s he attended
sculpture classes in Birmingham. Born and brought up in the
Black Country, he later took a BA in sculpture at the University of
Central Lancashire, Preston, at “the ripe old age of
56” and, in the last year of his studies, moved to Hebden
In John’s hands a
pub table top becomes a rural idyll as a ploughed field takes shape. The roots of a
tree trunk, skilfully carved, become willowy figures.
In some there are aspects of
self-deprecating humour, such as in “Imagine You’re
a Tree”, harking back to the days of “Music and
Movement” sessions at primary school, when youngsters were
invited to use their imagination to portray other living things. John
portrays himself in his root carving set apart stiffly from the other
characters, who move sinuously to imagined music.
John said: “I have
a preference for the human figure and face but can carve almost
anything, given enough reference material.
“Humans are the
animals I see most often and I draw them at every possible occasion –
in cafes, on public transport.
“I have used a
full range of tools from a chainsaw down to a scalpel. Most of the work
has been done with hand tools – gouges, chisel and mallet.”
Visitors to Todmorden may
have seen his Alice in Wonderland sculpture
behind the town’s swimming baths. “Go to the top
car park and, with your back to the main road, look to your
right,” he said.
John prefers to use wood to
create his pieces rather than modelling with clay.
Clay sculpting has a nasty end,” he
said. “You throw the product in the fire and 20 per cent of
it breaks in the kiln and is useless.”
Lines of Conflict, by 14
members of the Yorkshire Sculptors’ Group, will be exhibited
at Scarborough Art Gallery, The Crescent, from October
26 to January next year. The exhibition, which has a First World War
theme, is open daily (except Mondays) from 10am to 5pm.