What was the inspiration behind the sculpture?
I was flicking through one of my reference books on and animals and biology and the jerboa caught my eye. I thought it would look great in large scale. I had intended to site it unannounced, Banksy fashion, on Formby or Ainsdale Beach, thinking it would be happy amongst the sand dunes. But unfortunately, the logistics and legality questions made me chicken out.
What is the meaning behind the sculpture? Why did you choose a jerboa?
I suppose part of it was that jerboas live in the deserts around the Middle East, they are picturesque, cute and photogenic. This contrast to the portrayal we see of that area in the media was something I wanted to get across. I also enjoy playing with scale in this way, if you make something expected to be small on a large scale automatically it becomes surreal and interesting. I’ve used this technique before for public sculpture commissions, I have a piece in Cardiff called “All Hands” which is an enormous pair of hands clenching on rope. My sculpture “Skyhooks” in Manchester is also of this nature, that one depicts enormous hooks and chains. If you make small things huge it gives them an iconic quality.
Are animal sculptures an area of particular interest to you? Can we expect more?
Animals have always been a source of inspiration to artists of all kinds. I think partly because of the character they convey, but also because they are brilliant forms that have already been designed for you from millions of years of evolution. It’s an enjoyable challenge to make things that look like they are alive; it’s not always as easy as you might think.
Why did you choose Liverpool as the area to install the sculpture?
It was the idea of my friend, Chris Butler, who runs the Castle Fine Arts Foundry in the Baltic Triangle. He teaches a bronze-casting course at Yorkshire Sculpture Park in the studio I use currently. The jerboa was standing on top of a pile of pallets outside and he said “ I have a plinth for this” I’m glad I found it a worthy place to settle for a while, thanks to Chris and Cyntia at the foundry for making it happen.
How long were you working on it?
I think it was two or three months but that was whilst working simultaneously on all kinds of other things. George, my son, and me carry out all kinds of commissions and fabrication work at our studio but you can’t really plan for the demand, so the gaps between are when we get the chance to make things like this. In some ways we are just keeping our hands busy but there is complete creative freedom when you are not working to a brief. I often use these opportunities to make abstract pieces, abstract sculpture is a real passion of mine, I was strongly influenced by Anthony Caro as an art student.
What materials were used?
Mild steel, it is all hand beaten from sheet metal then welded together. This is a laborious way of working but I like the physicality of it. With this piece I left it outside to rust so it turned this rich shade of brown then varnished it to preserve that colour.
What has the reception been to it?
I can’t say I know too well, I haven’t been back to the Baltic Triangle yet since we installed it but even then I saw plenty of people staring at it within the first half hour, so I suppose that’s a good sign.
I work mainly in steel, beating the metal by hand. I like the physicality of this method. In between commissioned work, I keep busy making drawings, collages, abstract sculpture and sculptures of unusual animals. This Desert Rat is one of those.
So here it is in the Baltic Triangle-not exactly Formby Beach but not far off (geographically at least).
Questions from Christy Byrne