David MACILWAINE – Sculpteur

The Bass Player
Steel rods / Barres d’acier
Dim : H 2m  X Ø 80 cm X 90 cm

The Saxophonist
Steel rods / Barres d’acier
Dim : H 1m80  X  Ø 80 cm X 1m

A film by Jason Osborn of David Macilwaine making the sculpture Walk Don’t Walk in June 2009.
The sculpture is based upon a painting of the same title by David from 1978.
Original score by Jason Osborn.


I first fell in love with art as a ten year old when I was taken on a summer holiday to Rome by my parents. It was 1957 and apart from the glamour of espresso coffee which hadn’t yet reached England and the girls sitting side saddle by Papal decree on their Vespas, the sheer power and passion of the sculptures, paintings and buildings had me enthralled. I could hear the lions roar in the Coliseum and the titanic figures of the Trevi fountain and the Piazza Navona were more romantic and heroic than anything I might have seen at home. It would be another ten years, having completed my education with a degree in philosophy and psychology, before I could begin to experiment with the idea of making art myself. The sixties and early seventies were the perfect time to do this as we were all swept up in the heady mix of new music, graphics and fashion.

I first began painting whist working in other jobs, but it didn’t take long for it to become the predominant interest in my life. In 1980, following successful exhibitions in both London and New York, I turned my attention to sculpture. With my wife Rose Gray and our four children we had decamped from London and were living in a beautiful farmhouse in the foothills of the Apennines, about 20 minutes from the coast at Viareggio.

The inspiration to start making sculptures came from living near Pietrasanta and Carrara, arguably the most important centre for producing sculpture in the world. Friends like Barry Flanagan introduced me to the marble workshops and foundries there and I became hooked. Being so close to Florence, Pisa and Lucca I was living amongst the most beautiful renaissance buildings and sculptures – a daily encounter with Michelangelo and Donatello!

The medium I chose for my sculpture was rusty steel wire, something which was in plentiful supply as it is used everywhere to support the vines that cover so many hills in Tuscany. The wire is strong, malleable enough to bend by hand and I discovered I could create sculptures by drawing with the wire in 3D space.

Starting with small pieces, I discovered the essential pose of a figure could be captured in the flow of the line of wire. I make things which are recognisable in the sense that you can identify with the character, be it a pianist, a juggler or a person walking their dog. The poses are iconic in the same way an illustration in a children’s book captures your imagination, what Cartier Bresson called a « decisive moment ».

After nearly 30 years of working in this way, manipulating the wire has become second nature.

Usually, the sculpture is created from a continuous piece of wire and I think it is this which gives the pieces energy and ingenuity.There is a continuity in the way the line develops and the empty spaces surrounding it become an indispensable part of describing a character.

More recently I have begun to make larger versions of my sculptures which can live outside and I have introduced colour, a liberation which has enabled me to incorporate my love of painting into the sculptures. This scaling up involves using a thicker steel rod which I heat to bend, something which makes me feel like an old fashioned blacksmith with my anvil and acetylene torch working away on the street outside my studio. A large piece involves up to 15 metres of steel rod and the
comments from passers-by as I wrestle with this and develop the sculpture is one of the treats of how I work.

The technique I ‘ve developed has led to other applications, most notably the logo for « The River Cafe », the restaurant my wife founded with Ruth Rogers in 1987 and the graphic of David Gilmour playing guitar which he used on his CD « David Gilmour in Concert » and « On an Island ».

If I had to summarise what I hope I achieve in my work, it would be wit, energy and romance – maybe a tall order, but not if I remain true to expressing what I see.

Most of the sculptures I make come from a sudden inspiration, something glimpsed which evokes a magical moment or captures a person ‘s charisma. I enjoy the challenge of working to commission as much as realising the fragments of my own imagination. If I can fulfil a clients ‘ idea for a sculpture, then I feel I ‘ve succeeded in creating a shared awareness as well as a thing of beauty and what could be more satisfying for both of us than that.

I am especially pleased to be exhibiting at Clifton Nursery and the canal site because it enables me to create a show of both large and small pieces in a garden in the open air, a living and breathing environment.

Notes on certain sculptures
« David Gilmour in Concert » – a piece I created after seeing David perform a solo show surrounded by his guitars, a set up which reminded me of a circle of wagons drawn up in the wild west. His stance is uniquely recognisable and I guess he felt the same as he put a picture of this on the cover of his CD « David Gilmore in Concert » and got someone to animate it as part of an ad for this on TV.

« The Cowboy » – I love the challenge of capturing something like a cowboy wearing a stetson. On one hand it’s an enlarged version of a children’s toy, on the other it’s an homage to all those westerns from John Ford to Sergio Leone.

« The Pianist » – I sat in on rehearsals with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and produced a series of sculptures of the musicians. A grand piano is a sculpture in itself and I have tried to capture the relationship between the pianist and the instrument which seems part struggle, part dance and the rest just magic.
All the musicians I have made are like dancers with their particular instrument. Whether it’s the « Saxophonist », the « Bass player » or the « Conductor » with his baton, they sit or stand and hold the instrument in a way that makes them perfect partners.

« Zephyr », « Feeling Apprehensive », « Man on Wheels »   et al. -with some of the sculptures I have no idea from where they originate. Everyone has a view of what they might be about, but these are personal impressions and the sculptures are fundamentally ethereal. Literary critic and writer, Al Alvarez, was kind enough to liken some of my sculptures to
poems and I am grateful for the comparison.

« The Kiss » – it does what it says on the label’A raunchier take on Rodin’s classic.

« Woman with a Parasol » – Another dream which celebrates the beautiful shape of a woman and the brilliant, romantic era of Toulouse Lautrec and the Belle Époque.

« Diver » – is someone perfectly balanced and aerodynamic, poised for a moment between the sky and water.

« Viareggio » – a sculpture which celebrates time spent on the beach with lines of deck chairs, sun umbrellas, bronzed bodies and the sun shining on the Mediterranean.

Carly Simon
Paul Simon
Mike Nichols
Alex Michaelis (architect to David Cameron, redesigning Queens Park Rangers football stadium, etc.)
Caroline Michel
Matthew Evans
Jamie Oliver
Hannah Rothschild
Richard and Ruthie Rogers
Alan Rushbridger
Graeme le Saux
Alan Yentob and Philippa Walker
David Gilmour