David Harber’s Oxfordshire studio is a reminder of how sculpture was once made: not by a single person but a visionary artist-craftsman in charge of an atelier, making art for passionate patrons.
In one building, craftsmen painstakingly attach hand-selected Welsh slate within the mould of a huge hemisphere. In another, an engineer polishes stainless steel to shiny perfection, so that it will catch and reflect the sunlight when placed in situ.
It is a glorious example of the artist’s studio, perfected since the Renaissance, and updated with David as leader, stopping to check on progress and quality as he walks around the site.
From beginnings making sundials, David now creates a huge array of artworks – some in editions, others one-off – for a growing list of clients around the world. David’s work has moved from his earlier specialism of sundials to artworks for exteriors, interiors and, latterly, the creation of large pieces for public spaces, with a growing waiting list of people aiming to commission a bespoke piece from the workshop.
It is easy to see where ideas come from on a walkabout with David. He displays an inquisitive mentality, grabbing objects and holding them up for inspection in the light. A thumb-sized item resembling a glass honeycomb is taken off a shelf in his office, and rotated in front of my eyes.
As David turns it, one can see that it is made up of hundreds of tiny tubes that disappear from sight at each end, only to re-appear in swirling, silver-grey patterns as the line of sight changes. “Imagine this on a larger scale” he explains.
This is how a David artwork happens. A simple physical event like a shadow, reflection or ripple might produce a visual effect, leading him to experiment with materials to achieve and crystallise the effect in an artwork. Harber often describes these events as double-takes: moments of high visual intensity where something is revealed.
These visual effects might be called illusions, mirages or trompe l’oeils, but Harber determines to make them durable, translating them into physical form using materials – brass, copper, steel, stone – that will last hundreds of years.