Published On: April 1, 2024465 words2.3 min read

I have been thinking recently about the thorny question of the quality and suitability of public art which arises in the press now and then . There is also, of course, the matter of artistic merit, which can either be the opinion of the knowledgeable eye of the art critic or that of the ‘man in the street’.

I was particularly struck by the criticism regarding the proposal for a life-size bronze of Jane Austen to be placed in the Inner Close of Winchester Cathedral to commemorate the 250th anniversary of her birth in 1775. News reports describe the possibility that crowds of American Austen fans are likely to arrive in their hoards, and disrupt the peace of the surroundings ‘whilst taking selfies and group photos’ ! Despite these objections by the members of the Jane Austen Society, the plan has the support of the Dean of Winchester. The main criticism here appears to have had nothing to do with the design and skill of the sculptor, Martin Jennings, who is well known for his representations of famous people, including the new coins of our King.

Most recently, a truly horrendous figure meant to honour the late Prince Philip, which was erected without planning permission in Cambridge, is fortunately due to be removed. It remains to be seen where it eventually finishes up!

But all is not lost. Every two years there is plenty of controversy about the proposals for the vacant ‘Fourth Plinth’ in Trafalgar Square. In this case, the short- listed sculptures have been exhibited at the National Gallery where 10.000 votes were cast by the public. The commissioning committee have now selected a striding bronze figure of a woman of colour wearing a lapis lazuli dress and shoes by Tschabalal Self for 2026 and Andra Ursuta’s translucent resin sculpture of a shrouded figure riding a horse for 2028.

Although I have had several sculptures on prominent view to the public, there have fortunately not been any adverse reactions. When I was commissioned to create a sculpture of ‘Jack of Newbury’ for the new Kennet Shopping Centre in 1986, it was welcomed by the local public. The centre has since been rebuilt and I was glad to be told that my sculpture is now on display in Newbury Town Hall. ‘Tete a Tete’ was commissioned by the local branch of NADFAS (now renamed The Arts Society) to celebrate the Millenium. It still stands on Church Green, Harpenden and reportedly has been enjoyed particularly by the local schoolchildren, some of whom have been seen caressing the sculpture as they come out of school.

Of course we must move with the times and present works of art of good quality. But surely there are plenty of sculptors who can fulfil this brief and produce creations of meaning, sensibility, beauty, or drama.

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