Interview with sculptor Pete Webster

PUBLISHED: 21:49 04 July 2012 | UPDATED: 21:34 20 February 2013

Interview with sculptor Pete Webster

Interview with sculptor Pete Webster

Steve Ovett is Brighton's own Olympic gold medal winner. A statue of him was stolen in 2007 but now its sculptor Pete Webster has produced a new one in time for the 2012 Games

A new bronze statue of Olympian Steve Ovett that will be unveiled on Brighton seafront this month was first created in a studio in a quiet garden near Brighton.

Casual visitors to Pete Websters studio were greeted by the somewhat other worldy sight of the life size statue of Ovett in clay at the far end of the room.

The dark brown mud man captured in mid run was racing towards the door. The surreal nature of the image was further enhanced when Pete started to water it with a garden plant sprayer.

This, of course, was to stop the clay drying out before the casts were made that would begin the process of turning the clay model into the finished bronze. After the new statue is produced, Pete will reuse the clay.

Pete Websters first sculpture of Steve Ovett graced Brightons Preston Park for 20 years before thieves attacked it for its scrap metal value. Sadly, only a foot remains although Pete does have a part of the leg that was recovered for sentimental reasons.

The sculptor is remarkably restrained in his views about the thieves and their motivation. But he was delighted when he was approached by businessmen, who wish to remain anonymous, who asked him to produce another statue to Ovett in his home town.

His new statue of the 800m champion on Brightons seafront will be unveiled by the athlete himself before the 2012 games start.

The new one still captures Ovett in action but is not a copy of the original and was made for its location on the seafront. Pete spent a lot of time perfecting the silhouette of the statue as it will stand out against the background of the sea. The new statue will be protected by its much more visible setting and also by closed circuit TV cameras linked to the police station.

The first statue took around four years from start to finish, including months and months spent raising the money to produce it.

He got the idea while he was sat in a taverna in Greece.

I was on holiday and the race was on the TV and I had just finished my degree and I thought it would be a great idea to do a statue of Steve. When I came back to Brighton nobody seemed to be thinking the same and it took a number of years to convince people.

Originally Hove council wasnt interested and Steve was living in Hove but Brighton said they would have the statue and thats where Preston Park came in.

Pete started the new one in January and it will be ready for its unveiling this month. Ovett One cost around 9,000 to cast.

Ovett Two will be 40,000, showing the huge rise in the cost of the raw materials since 1987.

Pete said the process was quicker this time because he did not have to raise funds for the project and he already had the research and experience of last time, including the runners actual shoes, shirt and shorts and iconic photographs of Ovett in action by Eamonn McCabe. He made hundreds of drawings for both statues.

If I was starting fresh I would have made more drawings and more maquettes. A lot of the main decisions were made years ago although I cant remember the last time I had any time off since Christmas!

During the initial research he travelled to London to see McCabe who was then picture editor of The Guardian and brought a folder of photos back on the train.

He was spreading them out on his table in a quiet corner of the carriage when he became aware of someone looking over his shoulder.

I thought, Oh no. I didnt want to explain why I had lots of photos of Ovett and started to put the pictures back in the folder when I realised it was Steve himself!

At the time Ovett still lived in Brighton and Pete used to see him running many mornings when he was on his way to work at Cardinal Newman School at Hove where he taught Art at the time.

When I used to walk from my house to Cardinal Newman I would often see Steve running in the morning when I was going and again in the evening when I was coming back. I think we were on nodding terms but I darent speak to him.

He met Ovett to ask his permission to do the sculpture and the runner gave him his kit to help his research and used to come down to see the work in progress.

When Brighton said they would take the sculpture I met up with Steve a number of times and chatted to him about it. We had long chats and we discussed the possibility. I am in awe of the man as an athlete and what he did for kids. He would do training sessions and charity work all for nothing.

He was very self-effacing. He wasnt sure about having a statue to himself and wanted to know that I was doing it for the right reasons which was to celebrate someone from Brighton who achieved so much and who I felt wasnt getting the recognition.

Long before the Big Society came up, Steve was doing all that.

The two kept in touch and Ovett gave his support for the second statue from his home in Australia.

The original statue was made in a studio in the old Brighton Slipper Baths loaned to him by Brighton Borough Council. The new one was completed in his garden studio.

Pete is now the head of the PGCE course, teaching the Art teachers of the future, at Canterbury Christ Church University. The university gave him some study leave to spend on the project.

His other work includes the Max Miller statue that stands by the Pavilion Gardens Caf in New Road and community art work that is now on display at the American Express Community Stadium in Falmer.

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