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Page last updated at 13:17 GMT, Wednesday, 29 July 2009 14:17 UK
'Creative spirit' drives sculptor
Wax sculpture
John says working with wax to develop ideas is vital

World renowned sculptor John Doubleday believes his 'restless creative spirit' is the reason for his success.

For over 40-years the Maldon artist has produced bronze depictions of Nelson Mandela, The Beatles, Sherlock Holmes, Graham Gooch and Laurel & Hardy.

Despite his many achievements and accolades, John said he has always strived to improve himself.

"I tend to be very critical of what I've done, otherwise what would be the point of carrying on?" he admitted.

An 'inner urge'

The seeds for John's remarkable career were sown at a very early age, whilst on a family holiday to Norway.

"I stayed with friends of my parents who knew Michael Cardew, who was a very distinguished potter," he recalled.

John Doubleday
John's sculptures can be found all around the world

"While I was staying with them - I did nothing but play with clay and Michael said to me 'you ought to be a sculptor when you grow up.' I've never really thought of anything else and I haven't really done anything else really."

After studying at Goldsmiths College, John exhibited his first show in 1967 and has not really looked back since, producing both private and publicly commissioned work all around the world.

John believes that unlike some vocations, sculpture is something innate rather something that can be instilled.

"It can be taught," he said hesitantly. "But what makes people want to create is an inner urge.

"The arts have a sort of compulsion about them and you can't teach that. I think you can just about stamp it out of people if you really try, but it's not something which is taught.

"I think it's probably as much a symptom of intellectual or emotional insecurity and restlessness and a desire to explore and 'do stuff'."

Different perspective

John's approach to his work is more than just reproducing a likeness for the subject's physical feature and is keen to spend time with the person, if they are still alive, to capture the "feel of their personality."

Beatles sculpture at Cavern Walks
The Beatles sculpture in Cavern Walks is one of John's works

"It's a document which arises out of personal experience, so in years to come gives an inclination of what that person was actually like to meet," he explained.

"I spend quite a lot of time with a person trying to persuade them that I'm not trying to 'do a job' on them, but I need their trust so that they will disclose their personality and be happy to be seen for what they are."

John uses his sculpture of former Israeli Prime Minister Gold Maya as an example of how spending time with his subject helped him find a different perspective.

"She was hilarious - so funny," he recalled.

"She was completely surprising to me, because you'd think 'she's a tough old thing, people said she was the only man in her cabinet', but actually I was completely won over by her.

"One very surprising thing was, though she wouldn't say she was a good-looking woman, she was actually quite extraordinarily feminine."

Sherlock Holmes

Not all of John's sculptures have been of living people and in some cases they have never lived at all. So when it comes to sculpting a fictional character, such as Sherlock Holmes, John says thorough research is needed.

"All members of the [Sherlock Holmes Appreciation] society are absolutely certain what he looks like. But of course they've all got different ideas about what he looks like," he joked.

Sculpture of Graham Gooch
John's statue of Graham Gooch stands outside Chelmsford's County Ground

"Conan Doyle doesn't give you any clues, he just says he's very tall, he's gaunt, with a hooked nose and an eagle-like appearance. But basically that's it."

"In the original illustrations of Sherlock Holmes he had a straight pipe, but the meerschaum pipe actually came about in the first stage production, because a hook pipe is easier to project your voice over the top of. So now Holmes has to have a meerschaum pipe. So his image is a composite."

Never being satisfied

Like many people with a creative streak within them, John said he was always striving to improve himself, despite his many achievements and accolades.

"You're not very objective when it comes to your own work and sometimes, something will perhaps just encapsulate a feeling and you think 'that's done something'," he admitted.

"You're always looking [to improve yourself] and that's what I'm talking about with the restlessness of the creative spirit. It's about never being satisfied."


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