Artist’s Studio: Kevin Francis Gray
A snapshot of the sculptor's East London studio
Ahead of his postponed show at Pace Gallery, Caiti Grove takes a tour of sculptor Kevin Francis Gray’s Bethnal Green art studio.
Artist’s Studio: Kevin Francis Gray
‘It took me so long to realise I couldn’t paint very well,’ says Gray of the moment he switched from painting to sculpture. It was 20 years ago. He had graduated from Goldsmiths with a First-Class Master’s Degree in painting – and suddenly took against his own work. ‘I’m quite determined so I think that overrode my lack of potential and talent,’ he explains. Gray’s self-deprecating attitude extends to his sculpture: ‘I’d love to say art was all I ever wanted to do and dreamt of, but no, it wasn’t, it was all I was ever good at, a by-product of circumstance rather than ambition.’
This modesty is a surprise. His work is monumental – huge marble or bronze pieces fit for a palace or a grand railway station, the backdrop for romantic embraces. In one, a boy is draped over a ballerina’s shoulder, her feet en pointe. It is so true to life you can almost sense the young man’s weight in her shoulder and ankles. One of his series features figures shrouded in delicate fabric, revealing the finely composed subjects beneath.
‘I used to carve quite figuratively,’ Gray says of these works. ‘And as the years have progressed I’ve tried to push the work to be more gestural. I felt the technique had more weight than the actual meaning, so I decided to follow a more abstract path and be little bit braver.’
His output in recent years is totally different. He captures huge recumbent nudes in big smudges and gooey chaos. They look mid-way through movement, as though their hard marble surfaces are about to melt to the floor. In his east London studio, he presents his work in plaster and marble figures on plinths. Some are destined to become larger still at his studio in Carrara in Tuscany – the home of the best marble and where Michelangelo sourced his sublime statue of David. There, in the heart of Italy, Gray runs a studio of artisans who rough out the piece before he finishes it alongside his main artisan, Jessica. ‘She is extraordinarily talented, so that’s really cool.’ She’s also one of the only women in a traditionally male-dominated field.
Gray’s upcoming show at Pace Gallery is to be another step-change, a move further into Gray’s exploration of abstraction. ‘Maybe it’s my age or where I am in my life, but these works are more fragile, more introspective. The stone itself can be sensitive and tender as a material – I don’t think it’s been used like that historically, so that’s quite exciting.’
How Gray sources his stone has also changed in recent years, too. ‘We’re not taking it from the mountain any more – that doesn’t feel right for some reason,’ says Gray. who now rummages through old yards in Carrara. This method only has a 30 per cent success rate, but many imperfect pieces of old marble are suitable as bases.
The successful cuts are about to arrive in London, now shaped into Kevin’s new oeuvre. They reflect his articulacy of feeling and frankness. ‘I’m putting my heart quite openly on the line, emotionally and intellectually. But I think when any artist creates a new body of work it can be raw and personal and you’re really giving everything.’
22 April to 30 May, Pace Gallery, London W1, kevinfrancisgray.com
Featured image: © Camilla Santini
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