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Ian Middleton

September 23, 2014

Figure In A Landscape

 

Ian Middleton’s sculpture is passionate, sometimes angry and often humorous. It is certainly not indifferent. As a self-confessed ‘media junkie’, he works from observation taking themes from current affairs, religion and environmental issues, using found objects to stimulate his visual ideas. However, he says, ‘the work is not constrained by these forces but is free to evolve independently while maintaining the intensity of its origins.’

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Take Away Bronze 33h x 51cms

The view from Middleton’s studio is breathtaking: a parceled landscape rolling out across the valley up towards the hills above Lyme Regis. Below, his garden is filled with sculpture: stacked white cement pillows, a meerkat in typical stance surveying the vegetable patch, a Parthenon horse’s head guarding the terrace. His workshop is crammed with objects, tools, working materials. Molds queue up on the floor; a scatter of bronze long-necked chicken heads litter the bench waiting to be released from the residue of the casting process and a plastic giraffe sits incongruously in a boat.

Growing up in the flat Fenlands of Cambridgeshire, he early on, became aware of the big skies and low horizons, which silhouetted everything against a pale background distorting perspective and scale. That perception of scale has stayed with him and is central to his arrangement of objects. As a child he visited Ely Cathedral, that magnificent English Perpendicular structure reaching up endlessly and impossibly to the heavens. In the Lady Chapel, he came across stone statues, their heads severed and faces battered in a shocking act of desecration by Cromwell’s men. It gave him a lifelong distrust and dislike of religion, feelings that came to the fore again with the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan in 2001.

 Mayfly3

Mayfly Bronze, 17h x 34cms

Middleton’s sculpture is figurative. He casts found objects and constructed pieces, often in multiples, assembling them into strange hybrids, which play with scale and question stability, real and metaphorical. His work is process based, time consuming and technically challenging, reference the casting of the boat into the bronze surface in Mayfly so that it floats across the cover of the book. Rough visual notes give way to process and response to materials once the making is under way, or ‘I may try things out in wax, and different elements come and go as the dialogue evolves.’ His is an art of juxtaposition, sometimes of serendipity: a gathering together of apparently disparate things, which suggest associations, which topple preconceptions and ask questions of the viewer. An art of change and experimentation, of random couplings and risk takings which bring to mind the Surrealist sense of dislocation typified by Lautréament’s often quoted line ‘beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting-table of a sewing-machine and an umbrella!’ His work is critical of politics or religion but never proselytizing, didactic or polemical. Alternative scenarios for serious issues are often mediated through humour.

Tea Party

Tea Party Bronze, 35h x 32cms

Constantly re-inventing his own sculpture and refining his ideas Middleton challenges people to step out of their comfort zones. The distortion of scale where boats and apples, buildings and books occupy the same space is deeply unsettling. In Mainline a skyscraper, emblem of capitalism or financial crisis, sits impossibly on soft pillows. In Tea Party, a response to the American gun lobby’s intractable attitude following the Sandy Hook massacre of twenty children and six teachers, a large tea urn floats on supplicating tiny hands. Only a couple of these little fingers are holding up this large unwieldy object, such a simple way to say something quite profound. Middleton’s iconography is idiosyncratic and original, and open to interpretation. There is something grotesque and suffocating about an apparently innocent plaster Madonna cast in bronze and gagged or maybe saved from toxicity by a tiny gas mask. Cast bath-toy ducks with targets tattooed into their sides swim along the top of a full size ciment fondu mattress or perch on top of a pile of bronze egg-boxes.

 Pot Luck (2)

Pot Luck Bronze 35cms high

Experiencing Ian Middleton’s sculpture is destabilising. World-views shift, certainties are just out of reach. Weightlessness is suddenly synonymous with bronze. His ideas are illusive; they require and repay the time spent on them. He plays with viewers’ perceptions on many levels making them repeatedly adjust their idea of what they are looking at; nothing is quite as it seems. His art is one of impossibilities and improbabilities, at each glance it presents a different front. No surprise that he sees things in the round and is always interested in what is going on behind the object in front of him.

 

© Fiona Robinson 2014

Header Image  Figure in a Landscape Bronze, 44x27cms.

Article originally published in [Evolver] 81 May/June 2014

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