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Human clay

Updated: Mar 30, 2022

A wax figure group modelled on a drawing by Nicholas Poussin at the National Gallery's Poussin and the Dance exhibition. (c) Andrew Lacey 2021.

As a painter, I've always been interested in figure composition. Many years ago now, when I was a young art student at the Slade, I became frustrated by my inability to create compositions from imagination. Eventually, I devised a method of making figures and animals out of clay, which I could then arrange into a composition on a table and paint from life like a still life. I first made armatures out of wire coat hangers and string which I twisted into rough shape and then built up into nude figures using clay that I had purloined from the Institute of Education where I was attending pottery classes one afternoon a week.

Actually, I'd be lying if I said the idea was all mine. One of the tutors had suggested it as an idea to try out, at the same time noting that Nicholas Poussin (1594-1665) had used little wax models when working out his compositions. I looked through Blunt's recently published Drawings of Poussin, but that didn't really help much. Neither did Poussin's painted compositions, which to me looked too dry to be worked out in that way. None of the wax figures made by Poussin had survived.

So when I finally got to see the National Gallery's Poussin and the Dance exhibition, it was wonderful to be able to see the wax figures recreated by Andrew Lacey and Siân Lewis in response to some of Poussin's drawings.

I still have one of the clay models that I made at the Slade all those years ago. It is a model of a walking or trotting horse that I modelled using Eadweard Muybridges's photos of the horse in motion as a reference. Miraculously my little horse has survived all those decades of moving houses and studios. I recently made a little marble plinth for it and it now stands on the mantelpiece. I used it in two of my classically inspired figure compositions: Riders (1979) and The First Olympic Games (1980).

Riders (1979) oil on hardboard. Private Collection (c) Simon Pierse 2021

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