Canary Wharf: Discover Patricia Volk’s vibrant clay sculptures with Cornucopia

Artist’s mid-career retrospective at One Canada Square brings more than 40 of her works together

Artist Patricia Volk with some of her pieces
Artist Patricia Volk with some of her pieces – image Matt Grayson

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“It annoys me slightly when someone describes me as a ceramicist or a ceramic sculptor, because I don’t think the fact I’m working with ceramics has anything to do with the pieces I produce,” said artist Patricia Volk.

“I have no interest in doing glazes or anything like that – I’m not a potter.

“I also have no interest in repeating things – I like to keep changing and developing. I like things to look as though they’re slightly unsteady, as if you would have to put your hand underneath them to stop them falling over.”

Cornucopia, a mid-career retrospective featuring more than 40 of her sculptures, is currently filling the lobby of One Canada Square in Canary Wharf.

The exhibition, which will remain in place until June 10, 2022, is free to visit and open every day.

The brightly coloured forms, often twisted and curled in on themselves, present a stark contrast to the marbled hues of the tower’s ground floor space.

“When I’m making the piece, I never think of how people might respond at the other end,” said Patricia.

“But I would like to think that people would enjoy seeing them, and maybe that the work would give them something to think about as well.

“I hope people are moved and might pick things up that I might have been thinking about subliminally. There is a series of pieces called Source – very simple forms – that I really liked doing.

“They’re a contradiction with the totem pole pieces, which are quite complicated, because they are very simple forms with a drip.

“They have to be made properly because the drip won’t go where it’s supposed to if they aren’t – I can’t tell you how much satisfaction I get from doing those drips.”

As we talk, it becomes clear there’s a real connection in Patricia’s life between the work she creates and her own and others’ reactions to it.

Born in Belfast, she wanted to be an artist from an early age.

More than 40 of Patricia's works are on display
More than 40 of Patricia’s works are on display – image Matt Grayson

“It was what I always wanted to do – I can remember when someone asked me when I was five years old what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I said I wanted to be an artist,” she said.

“My father was a member of the Ulster Arts Club and, when my mother wanted to get rid of me on a Sunday morning, I was packed off there.

“I remember walking around and looking at the paintings on the walls and the beautiful sculptures. It was a fantastic place and it was something to aspire to, definitely.

“I’m very dyslexic – I can remember starting school at the beginning, drawing a picture of a wedding and my teacher calling in another teacher to have a look at what I’d done – that’s where all my self-esteem came from. 

“I was completely obsessed with drawing – people would come up and ask me to draw a picture. I always won the prizes.”

With no portfolio, however, art college was an impossibility and Patricia got a job in the textile industry before moving to London at the age of 17.

Again unable to get into art college – something she admits would have been a remote possibility for someone of her age – she nevertheless found work and stayed.

“It was when everybody believed that London was the most exciting place and two of my friends decided to leave home,” said Patricia.

“We were very, very young, and I thought I’d just do that as well. My mother was delighted to see me go and I just stayed.

“Things happened, circumstances happened. I got a job very quickly here and I got married very young and had a child.

“I came over in the April and the Troubles started in the August.Then there was no going back.

“It was a bad time, but people here were very kind to me. I got a job as a typist and then went to work in advertising and met my husband.

“The group he was with had all been to art college – they’d done film and TV.

“Then, one night, in my mid-30s, after 16 years of not drawing, I picked up a pencil and thought that I could still do it.

Patricia's early work focussed on heads
Patricia’s early work focussed on heads – image Matt Grayson

“I said to someone that I had always wanted to go to art college, so I took a year out, went to adult education classes at the Camden Institute and Islington Institute, and did life drawing and clay modelling. 

“I remember someone walking in and seeing a figure I had done, and saying that I’d got something – that I could do it, and it gave me such pleasure.

“Looking back, there’s always been someone who has said something like that when my confidence has been at its lowest, to pick me up and make me look forward.

“In that year out I got a portfolio together, applied to Middlesex Poly because someone said I had to do a foundation course.

“I went to a party and someone asked what I was doing, and I said that I wanted to go to art college but I’d never get in because I was shit, and they got my address, got an application, sent it off and, although my husband said I’d never get in, I did, and that day was the happiest day of my life.

“For the first time, I hadn’t told any lies about my qualifications and I’d got in because of what was in my portfolio.

“So then I started my education at Middlesex Poly, and went on to do three-dimensional design. After I’d done my degree it was my mindset to go out and earn a living.”

And to a certain extent, that’s what she did.

Constantly altering and changing her approach she’s progressed from making monumental heads to writhing coloured forms and vibrant totem poles.

Recognised as a Royal West Of England Academician and a fellow of the Royal Society Of Sculptors, her work can be found in numerous private, national and international collections including the Swindon Museum And Art Gallery.

Perhaps her success can partly be explained by the forces and inspirations at work within her pieces, absorbed throughout her life.

She said: “As a trainee designer in Belfast, the lady who ran the company had come from Vienna with absolutely nothing and had certain ways of doing things.

“She taught me how to do patterns so no material was wasted. Even now when I roll out a big slab of clay I’m thinking ‘100% economy’. 

“It’s interesting how the things that happen to you when you’re a lot younger have such a dramatic effect.

“What’s important to me about my work is that it keeps me sane when I’m feeling down in the dumps. 

“It’s fascinating that pieces I’ve done which people find uplifting may have been done when I’ve been feeling depressed.”

Patricia's pieces are made from clay and often hollow
Patricia’s pieces are made from clay and often hollow – image Matt Grayson

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- Jon Massey is co-founder and editorial director of Wharf Life and writes about a wide range of subjects in Canary Wharf, Docklands and east London - contact via jon.massey@wharf-life.com
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Leamouth: Typewriter artist James Cook set for Trinity Buoy Wharf exhibition

Workshops will also be on offer for those who want to have a go at typing out their own pieces

James Cook will be showing his artwork at Trinity Buoy Wharf

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When I was a young child, my parents gave me an old typewriter to play with. I loved hitting the keys, hearing that distinctive, hypnotic clacking sound, twisting the knob that made the roller revolve. 

But I couldn’t really comprehend what it was for. Even though this was the 1980s, by the time I came of age to make marks on paper, computer keyboards had already replaced the old mechanical machines with their inky ribbons and staccato rhythms. Fun for a kid – a relic of a bygone age, perhaps – but nothing more.

It’s fortunate James Cook didn’t have that experience.

While studying A-Level art in 2014, he developed an interest in inventive ways to make marks, drawn to David Hockney’s iPad paintings.

“Then I came across Paul Smith, who had used typewriters,” said James. “What really caught my attention was his story.

“Born in 1921, he suffered with cerebral palsy his whole life. At the age of 11, his parents gave him a typewriter because he couldn’t hold a pencil.

“But, instead of writing, he ended up creating drawings, which was his passion. He only learnt to speak and walk as an adult, but at the age of 11 he was already creating these amazing pictures – drawings of the Mona Lisa and it fascinated me that it was even possible to do such a thing.

“Immediately after I had read about him, I started trawling around charity shops trying to find a typewriter – at first without much success.

“Then an elderly couple in one of the shops overheard that I was looking for a typewriter and told me that they had one belonging to the man’s late mother.

“It had been sitting in the attic for about 40 years, not being used, and they suggested that I could come round and collect it.”

After a few squirts of WD40, James got the mid 1950s Oliver Courier going and began to experiment.

“I was lucky I picked that typewriter up and that I didn’t give up straight away,” he said. “As time has gone on, I’ve discovered that there are some models that just don’t work for this kind of work.

“But what I had was a very expensive, very mechanically precise machine. If this hadn’t been the case I might not have stuck with it.”

They include landscapes and portraits
They include landscapes and portraits

Perseverance paid off however and James now makes his living generating work on his collection of 40 typewriters, painstakingly using them to tap out artwork, either from life or photographs.

It’s exacting work, with drawings typically taking between a week and a month to complete.

“Usually the typewriters have 44 keys, so I have those parameters to work within and choosing the characters to use is one of the most interesting parts of making these drawings,” said James.

“I’ve been doing this for about seven years now, mostly part-time, and more recently full-time, and I’ve learnt by trial and error which particular character works.

“If I’m drawing a portrait, and I need to recreate someone’s skin complexion, most people want to be seen in the best light, so even skin tones require a character that has a large surface area, like the ‘@’ symbol.

“That’s also good for shading, which can be achieved by hitting the key more softly.

“If someone has dimples or freckles, then I might use some asterisks, because it’s a much sharper mark, whereas the underscore is a perfect shape for drawing horizontal lines in an architectural drawing, like the bottom of a window sill, or doing brickwork.

“Achieving curves is very difficult, especially if you’re working across multiple sheets, because they all have to line up.

“Typewriters inherently want to go from left to right so they’re great for straight lines, but not so good for verticals and curves.

“So what I’m doing is using my left hand to ever so slightly twist the paragraph lever by a minuscule amount while I’m typing to create a curve, like the roof of The O2, for example.

“I can’t think of any other way of drawing that requires you to use both hands in this way. Your right hand is on the keys and your left hand is responsible for making sure you stamp that mark on a very precise point.

“Once it’s been made that’s it, there’s no way of undoing it – I won’t use Tippex so mistakes become part of the drawing.

Every drawing is made by painstakingly typing to make marks
Every drawing is made by painstakingly typing to make marks

From April 1-10, the largest ever exhibition of James’ work ever gathered together is set to be held at Trinity Buoy Wharf, with many of the pieces created at the east London location in Leamouth. Entry is free.

“Visitors will see the biggest collection of my work to date,” said James.

“It’s mostly pieces from London locations, usually drawn on site with views of places like Greenwich Park, the Thames Path and Trinity Buoy Wharf itself.

“What’s also important for the work is to add a second layer of information, so the drawings are not just about piecing together various characters, they also contain concealed messages or hidden lines of text.

“I’ve often done that more recently when I’ve been working on location and I’ve spotted something, or when a thought pops into my head, especially if it’s the middle of winter.

“I did some of the drawings in January and it was pretty cold outside, so a lot of the messages are me complaining how cold it was.”

James draws many of his pieces on location
James draws many of his pieces on location

Every weekday during the exhibition, James will be hosting free workshops for those who’d like to try creating their own typewriter art.

He said: “When people look at my art, usually it’s not enough, they want to know how it’s made.

“The idea is these groups of about five will get to sit in front of a typewriter and have a go.

“It won’t be creating finished masterpieces, but hopefully we’ll have some fun and it will be a start. 

“They can bring along pictures to inspire their typing or I can provide them for reference.”

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Canary Wharf: How Wallace Chan’s Titans sculptures are set to arrive on the estate

The multidisciplinary creator will show a collection of 10 artworks made from titanium and iron

Multidisciplinary creator Wallace Chan
Multidisciplinary creator Wallace Chan

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Cabot Square in Canary Wharf is many things. A place to sit in the sunshine and eat lunch, somewhere to dip a hand in a boisterous fountain and cool off, a spot to relax with food and drink under the plentiful trees.

But it’s also, increasingly, a site of cultural confluence. Not long ago artist Liz West placed Hymn To The Big Wheel nearby for Summer Lights 2021.

The location was almost within earshot of Boisdale, a venue frequented by Horace Andy, who sang the vocal for the Massive Attack track that inspired the work.

Now it’s the turn of Chinese multidisciplinary creator Wallace Chan to be part of a connection. 

His five-metre sculpture Titans XIV is set to be placed in the square as part of his forthcoming exhibition Titans: A Dialogue Between Materials, Space And Time on February 21 and when that happens a loop in time will close.

That’s because it will stand across from Henry Moore’s colossal bronze Draped Seated Woman and, without the English artist’s work as a source of inspiration, it’s likely a showcase of Mr Chan’s work would look very different. 

“Starting at the age of 16 as an apprentice carver, I was working mostly with gemstones – coral, malachite and agate, for example,” he said.

“I had to learn to be very flexible, because stones always yield surprises and you have to adapt to them.

“With agate, for instance, every layer can reveal different patterns and you have to keep modifying your ideas because of the restrictions of the materials.

“I had to constantly compromise to attain a sense of freedom while working with them – that experience taught me that you have to be adaptable, that changing what you’re doing is normal when you’re trying to create something.

“At the start I was using opaque stones but I eventually moved on to transparent or translucent ones.

“That’s when I realised it was about more than working in three dimensions, because of the way the light interacts with the stones and the colours and effects that creates.

“I had this idea that I wanted to chase light and capture shadows using different angles.”

Detail from Titans I by Wallace Chan
Detail from Titans I by Wallace Chan

This deep dedication to his craft has led Mr Chan to become one of the leading jewellery designers of his generation with a career that’s seen him patent the Wallace Cut as a method of carving refracted designs into gemstones themselves. 

His pieces sell for tens of millions of pounds, but when talking to him there’s a sense that he probably isn’t really interested in all of that.

This is a man who, after all, following the death of his mentor in 2001, spent six months on a zen retreat living as a monk – meditating, fasting and tending to the sick and the dying – emerging to state: “I realised that the ability to dream and create was my way of life. I dream, therefore I exist. I create, so I live.”

For Mr Chan his creativity is now and has always been inextricably linked with the materials he works with.

“Even when I was primarily using gemstones, I was already exploring,” he said. “It’s always about the nature of materials, time and space.

“What I am doing today comes from what I did in the past – that will always be the foundation of what I’m going to create.

“While I was focused on jewellery making I became tired of just using gold, silver and platinum. I was constantly looking for new materials.

“I first read about titanium in a newspaper article and spent about eight years figuring out how to incorporate it into my work.

“When I succeeded, it became the embodiment of my jewellery. But I also had a feeling that, like humans, materials should grow – I wanted to find ways to make larger pieces.

“That’s when I went back to a memory I had from 1986, when I went to see an exhibition of work by Henry Moore in Hong Kong. It was huge – there was a lot of fuss about it, so I went to see these sculptures.

“I was really surprised because they were so large. When I was working with gemstones I’d sometimes make carvings the size of a fist, which I thought then were too big.

“But Henry Moore had used metal to create really large works – that was a seed in my mind, a moment of inspiration but at that time I knew nothing about casting.

“Then about 20 years later, I started to use iron, bronze and stainless steel to create works. They weren’t as big as Moore’s pieces, but they were bigger than my jewellery. 

“I felt something wasn’t right with them, though – I was looking for a material that would reflect the spirit of the times, something contemporary and futuristic.

“So titanium became the natural metal to work with – it’s way more long-lasting and so it was the perfect material to create something more monumental with.”

Mr Chan's work will be in Canary Wharf until April 8
Mr Chan’s work will be in Canary Wharf until April 8

Mr Chan’s exhibition in Canary Wharf, which is free to visit and runs until April 8 with the majority of the work placed in One Canada Square, is an opportunity to see the fruits of his intentions.

Curated by James Putnam, it features 10 pieces in total, many juxtaposing impervious titanium with the russet tones of oxidising iron as a meditation on time and its varying effects on different materials.

Three of the works – Titans XIV, XV and XVI have never been displayed publicly before.

“The five-metre sculpture – Titans XIV, which will be in Cabot Square – is about not having a sense of space or time or consciousness,” said Mr Chan.

“It’s about mindfulness, that nothing exists except the moment. It was a big surprise to learn it would be displayed near Draped Seated Woman – Moore is someone whose work I greatly admire.

“I was so shocked and inspired by what I saw at his exhibition in 1986 and I’ve always appreciated his work, but I wouldn’t have ever considered something like this could happen back then.

“I cannot explain it but I feel like some divine power is at work and I can’t thank James and Canary Wharf Group enough for this opportunity.

“I’ve always felt that I’m between cultures. I go to temples, but I also go to churches. I admire sculptures made in the east and also in the west.

“The first pieces I really got to know were the works by Michelangelo so I am influenced by all kinds of things.

Detail from Titans V by Wallace Chan
Detail from Titans V by Wallace Chan

“Putting titanium and iron together in my sculptures is a way of combining the most futuristic and the most traditional materials I could find. They make a bridge between past and future.

“Greek mythology has also played a huge role in my works. I found great meaning in these ancient stories so they have always been an inspiration to me.

“When I was carving the winged horse Pegasus I would think about speed and force and I’d try to capture those elements in my work.

“We know the stories of the Titans – the punishments and the fights among the gods – but I really wanted to capture the beauty of them with these sculptures.”

This idea of forming a connection between two places is also present in another way in several of his Titans sculptures.

“When it comes to iron, it’s interesting,” he said. “We’ve known about it as a material for 5,000 years – it’s always been a part of our lives, our architecture, our tools and in our daily routines.

“But I remember when I was a child and my father was teaching me how to write the Chinese character that means craft and work. It looks like a capital I, the most common kind of iron beam.

“He told me it was like the sky on top, the earth underneath and the humans standing in the middle between the two.

Detail from Titans III by Wallace Chan
Detail from Titans III by Wallace Chan

“It means that as a person you have to stand on your feet and you have to be grounded. Secondly that you have to reach for the sky and that you have to understand you’re a bridge between the two. That’s why I use it in the structure of my works.

“When people are looking at any of my sculptures I want them to know that it’s always a projection of themselves. People should ask themselves if they are discovering or being discovered?

“It might look to them like there is light and that there are shapes and forms, but in a way they’re communicating with what’s in front of them – it’s something mutual.

“If the audience wants to take something away from this exhibition, then I hope it will be the idea that we can always transcend as individuals.

“It is possible to pursue many different roads at the same time, and it’s always fine to go from one scale to another – you can always be multi-disciplinary. Knowledge can be shared among different sorts of creations.

“I started carving 50 years ago and I’ve never stopped trying to expand the materials I use or the scale of my work and I work on many different projects all at once.”

Read more: How Potters Thumb can help you play with clay

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