Sussex sculptor Philip Jackson's landmark for heroes

PUBLISHED: 13:19 01 June 2012 | UPDATED: 21:27 20 February 2013

The statue of Peter Osgood destined for Stamford Bridge

The statue of Peter Osgood destined for Stamford Bridge

Sussex sculptor Philip Jackson will have his latest work, the biggest public monument of its kind in London since World War One, unveiled by the Queen this month...<br/><br/><br/><br/>Words: Terry Timblick

DEEP in the Sussex countryside, a tight-knit "band of brothers" has been prepared for a spectacular mission at the heart of Britain.

On June 28, where Hyde Park Corner meets Green Park, the seven-man squad is due to make an heroic impact when sculptor Philip Jacksons latest and grandest work (the biggest public monument of its kind in London since the Great War) is dedicated by the Queen.

As a tribute to Bomber Command, the 19-ft high, non-triumphalist landmark, with the heavy bomber crew as its centrepiece, will be seen by many as a worthy if overdue tribute to war-winning sacrifice, for 60 per cent, 55,500 of those fliers, died in the cause. Philips father initially served in the Command.

Objections to the memorial cite the severity of the bombing of Dresden and Leipzig part of Bomber Harris fierce, Churchill-approved strategy. But Philip, from the rural vantage point of his studio/gallery near Midhurst, acknowledges the eight-ton bronze as a gesture by a thankful nation and as among the most important works in a creative surge begun about 25 years ago.

Royalty leads this sculptural cavalcade, with the Queen in equestrian mode for her Golden Jubilee statue in Windsor Great Park, the Queen Mother in The Mall, Manchester Uniteds "Holy Trinity" of George Best, Denis Law and Bobby Charlton grouped near Sir Matt Busbys likeness at Old Trafford, Bobby Moore at Wembley, the In-Pensioner at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, the twice life-size Falklands Yomper at Portsmouth, and a powerfully fashioned and assorted mix of people scattered round the globe, from Saudi Arabia to Argentina and the USA "one of my most important markets".

But if we want a purely Sussex Philip Jackson sculpture trail, whats the route?

He says, "Start at Chichester Cathedral, where St Richard stands outside to greet you, and inside, above the Lady Chapel, theres Christ in Judgement. Up the road at the theatre is a classical figure of Minerva. Come to Midhurst and see Mother & Child at the Convent of the Sisters of Mercy, and at South Harting parish church theres the Angel Gabriel, a private commission in memory of a lost young life."

Back at base theres a striking, teasing mix of the old and the new. In the superbly appointed gallery dwell those enigmatic figures that Philip is perhaps most famous for the often hauntingly mysterious, always elegant Venetians, conspiratorially gliding straight out of Don Giovanni. But surely, arent they basically all the same?

Their creator pardons such naivety: "Look closely and youll see that the body language varies. I have been to Venice many times, for research is essential preparation for every work I produce, and the subtleties of detail are what make the difference. Im happy that little groups of them are in places as contrasting as Beaulieu and The Cipriani in Venice.

"In creating St Richards sculpture usually I start with a three-dimensional sketch in wax or plaster as the basis for the eventual much larger bronze piece I had the freedom of knowing there were no contemporary images of him but the challenge and constraints of projecting a humble, generous-hearted scholar and man of God.

"Biographical swotting up helps to give me creative insight into character and historical context. Its also a delight to meet and discuss the commission with highly knowledgeable clients. For my 1994 Mozart figure in Belgravia, for example, I started by going to the Mozarteum in Salzburg to absorb myself in his music and life."

The Jackson journey into the substantial world of bronze sculpture began as an 11-year-old, eyes wide, imagination alight, at amazing, inspirational pictures in his grandmothers art books. A volume of contemporary sculptures sealed young Philips fate: he just had to create such pieces himself, and so, after art school, a spell as a press photographer, and working with such major British sculptors as Henry Moore, he landed his first commission in 1987, a competition-winning National Peace sculpture for Manchester.

Jacksons sculptures have been unveilved by dignitaries including the Queen, Baroness Thatcher and a former Archbishop of Canterbury. While he always keeps a keen professional eye on such innovative contemporaries as Antony Gormley, he remains strictly focused on his own work, with commissions to produce, later this year, a figure of Prince Philip for Windsor Great Park and a living legend to add to Old Traffords soccer icons Sir Alex Ferguson. "Of course the recession is having an impact on the art world," says Philip, "but Im lucky enough to have sufficient commissions, a mix of the corporate and the public, to sustain me foreseeably. Thats one of the advantages of my line. Sculptures never wear out. As investments they last hundreds of years," he says.

At that, his wife Jean "my muse" smiles in agreement. She cant see him (mid-sixties) admitting to being worn out and retiring.

Philip uses various foundries, depending on the size of the job, in a process which he says is "basically unchanged since Michelangelos day". Philip recalls with awe seeing that master sculptors fingerprints on a maquette at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Inspiration indeed.

Bomber Command, like every other piece from our own maestro of shapes, has a special place in his affections. Each work makes distinctive creative demands in capturing authenticity and the always vital animating spirit.

Sussex experiences the perennial Jackson-inspired flourish when, with Jean, Philip showcases some of the best established and comparatively new sculpting talents in Britain for Chichester Festivities (24 June 14 July), but sculptures in the Paradise garden by the cloisters runs June 25-July 28, and Philip gives an illustrated talk about his Bomber Command piece at 6pm on July 3 at St Johns Chapel.

For more details:

Latest from the Sussex Life