Planning permission was tardily but finally granted by Southwark Council at the close of 2004. As soon as 2005 began I was installed at the foundry, under the experienced wing of Jerry Hughes, its general manager. We started with great urgency as AB Fine Art's chief 'scaler-upper', Mark Jones was due to leave for another commission in Ibiza in mid-January.
Before Mark could begin it was crucial to ensure that the pose I had given Alleyn was physically possible. Roger Woodward, another craftsman at the foundry, who is nearly as tall as Alleyn is believed to have been, assumed the position - pretty difficult, as I wanted a pose as close as possible to the maquette; a pose that assumes movement. By photographing Roger aka Alleyn in the pose I could feel confident that the scaling up had the best chance of being completely plausible. With the maquette of Alleyn, and all the small waxes I have made, such initial accuracy is not so important because the internal wire structures are completely soft and pliable. Such is not the case where steel bars are cut, bent and welded to allow no movement and more importantly, no collapse under the considerable weight of the ensuing heavy wet clay.
With the steel skeleton rigidly in place, Mark then laid chicken wire around the body and partially around the limbs. Chicken wire provides sound purchase for the clay which is at the next stage pressed deeply through the mesh. The use of the mesh also reduces the weight, and therefore the strain on the skeleton. With clay crushed through the mesh, more and more clay was added, cut from its bag in thick slabs, which Mark expertly slapped onto the emerging Edward Alleyn.
With Mark now departed for the Ibiza commission I was free to work on the basic human form that he had left me. During this first foray into life-size sculpture it became abundantly clear that some form of internal road map was hard wired in me. The road map was the maquette, the greatly increased size far less of an issue than I had imagined. I was able to work through and beyond what Mark had left me with and begin to intensify his somewhat soft angles and to recreate the feeling of the maquette.
When it came to working on the boy, I found the chicken wire far to unyielding and after a couple of weeks tussling with it, which included a double amputation and the welding on of new and longer legs, it became necessary to abandon Boy One and start with another skeleton. Boy Two was built with virtually no chicken wire and has been far easier to work with.
Once the two figures had assumed approximations of their final appearance I began to 'dress' them. I hired a fine pair of breaches from Angell's, the theatrical costumier in Shaftesbury Avenue. Quite by chance they had Gwynneth Paltrow's gorgeous boy's costume from Shakespeare in Love on display. Even though I had a video of the film it is quite another matter seeing the rich textures of the materials used in real life. The contrast of textures and the bold juxtaposition of different materials is very much a feature of the period I had chosen for this sculpture - when Alleyn was still at the height of his acting career. I have dated his costume to circa 1597. In hiring the costume I was able to examine the construction of the trunk hose and apply this to the sculpture. The obliging Roger was once more co-opted to pose, this time in the trunk hose, so I could see how they worked in situ. I set out to achieve an equivalent strength of contrast in clay as is clear in the real padded breeches, (literally padded with bombast) and the vertical panes that lie over them.
I arrived quite by accident with the textured breeches, and soon after with the idea that the children from my daughter's school, coming to the foundry adding to this design with their own finger prints, prints that they may now enjoy finding for years to come in the finished bronze.
Quick on the heels of the children's imprints came the idea for Edward Alleyn's actual ring to seal the sculpted ring on Alleyn's hand. I mentioned the idea to Jan Piggott, Dulwich College's archivist, and he was immediately enthusiastic. He suggested that Graham Able, Master of the College might like to do this. With equal enthusiasm, despite jet lag from a trip to China, Graham Able came to the foundry and has now placed a fine impression of the ring in the wet clay which had been covered in oil so it would act as sealing wax. As an insurance policy we also took an impression of the ring in some very fine silicone.
The final touch has been the re-working of the cornflower design on Alleyn's collar. While I will be on hand for the coming months it is now the time for AB Fine Art to take the reins. I will now be watching the dismemberment of the two clay figures into as many as twenty six pieces and their reconstitution into a 600kg. life-size figure.