Award-winning artist Nigel Hall has exhibited in over 100 solo shows across the world. He has received numerous awards, including the Pollock-Krasner Award (1995) and the Jack Goldhill Award for Sculpture from the Royal Academy of Arts (2002), where he was elected an Academician in 2003. Having been awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Chelsea College of Art, he spoke to UAL and Jack Malvern (The Times) about his memories of teaching at Chelsea, ‘swinging London,’ and his enduring fascination with landscape.
Q: How does it feel to be honoured by University of the Arts London with this award?
A: I feel absolutely honoured and delighted. I do have a great feeling from Chelsea College of Arts because I taught there in 1974, I became head of postgraduate studies in sculpture, and I did that for seven happy years until ’81… I had a wonderful opportunity to choose students, see them develop, and have time to work for myself, they wanted somebody at that time who was a practicing artist, who was a showing, exhibiting, and making. It was really quite wonderful, so when this came along, this great honour, I mean it was just magnificent. I’m very, very grateful to everybody involved.
Q: You often describe what you inspires you as ‘the geometry of landscape,’ can you explain how that came about?
A: Yes, I suppose it all started in the West Country and walking in landscape and drawing; how landscape is a sort of displacement of masses and distance, and how when you walk through landscape, the landscape itself seems to be in motion, so things that are close to you move fast and when you’re still the whole landscape is still. And that fascinated me, and that fascinated me in terms of making sculpture.
Q: How do you feel your work has evolved over time?
A: I always compare it to the game Chinese Whispers… each piece influences what the next piece will be, but it changes subtly. Within a range of ten, twenty pieces there’s not a great deal of change, but over several decades there’s a huge evolution. But that’s not entirely a true story because the real world, the physical world, emotional state and experience play a part to things you see, things you feel, come and affect that process, and things evolve through that process.
A: Do you work alone, or in a team?
In my studio I mostly work in solitary confinement, self-imposed and enjoyed so… I like to be hands on with the work, the work I make takes time, so time plays a part, as I’m making the work, I’m thinking. So the joy is the use of the hands, the physicality of it, and the way it allows the mind to dwell on other possibilities, and that’s for me an ideal day. And it’s less easy to do if there are people around.
Q: Were you encouraged to pursue art when you were younger?
They weren’t very keen on the arts at my school. They were very keen on the classics and rugby and getting people into Oxford or Cambridge so the arts didn’t feature very well, the art department at my school was pretty rudimental…. [My parents] were quite supportive. There were moments when they thought the future was rather uncertain for artists and they weren’t wrong about that, but here I am still surviving and living by my work, as I have for a long time.
Q: What was your experience of studying in London?
A: I had a wonderful time there. And gradually worked through three years and developed some ideas which, you know, formed the bedrock of what I’m doing now. It was a wonderful time. I had my second one man show while I was still a student in Paris. It was the time of sixties swinging London, and the galleries came over from London and wanted to get a slice of it. And they chose four of us to show in Paris, beautiful gallery, Budavar San Germaine. This is 1967, and that went quite well, but he liked what I did, and offered me a one man show, some time after, well I was still a student though, and that was very thrilling.
Q: Were you caught up in swinging London, did you have the clothes and the lifestyle?
A: No, the clothes at the college then were much plaster-encrusted jeans and very workmanlike. I didn’t change my lifestyle for swinging London, I was too much tied up in the studio work, it sounds boring but it was true.