Martin Jennings FRBS wins the prestigious PMSA Marsh Award for Excellence in Public Sculpture for second time

Three 2018 PMSA Marsh Awards – for Excellence in Public Sculpture, for Excellence in Fountains, and for Excellence in Conservation respectively were made at a ceremony in central London on 6 November. The Award for Excellence in Public Sculpture was presented to Martin Jennings by Iwona Blazwick OBE, director of the Whitechapel Art Gallery . Unveiled this month a year ago at the BBC’s headquarters at Broadcasting House in London, Jennings’ winning sculpture, a meticulously researched statue of George Orwell (fig.2), typifies the sculptor’s uncanny talent for capturing the essence of his subject. A delighted Jennings declared ‘I’m thrilled my Orwell statue has won this year’s PMSAMarsh Award. Most of all, I’m pleased that it draws attention to Orwell himself and to his pursuit of truth in political journalism, needed now more than ever’.

Martin Jennings described his subject as ‘an ethical and intellectual hero’, adding that he ‘anatomised totalitarianism and the misuse of language for political ends with unequalled precision. In our own febrile times, he illuminates the path for those who seek clarity, decency and honesty in public discourse.’

Jennings felt that his statue ‘needed to express both his mental and physical angularity’. He explained that Orwell was ‘a member of the awkward squad and his tall bony frame was almost purpose-built to express this. Several inches over six feet tall, with cabbage-patch hair and a lamentable moustache, consumptive, built like a scarecrow and with a potting-shed wardrobe to match…’.

One of the criteria considered for the award is the sculpture’s sensitivity to its site. As Guy Braithwaite, one of the judges, perceptively pointed out ‘the austere palette of dark-toned patinated bronze against the palest grey Portland stone echo the stark contrasts of the times Orwell lived through and documented. In a stroke of genius, the statue has been placed right at the edge of the forecourt at Broadcasting House, deftly evoking Orwell’s ambivalent attitude to the BBC’.

Jennings asserts that Orwell ‘would never have been one to occupy a plinth with ease. I’ve represented him leaning perilously forward from his own, as if from an orator’s soap-box. With one pugilistic fist on his hip and the other hand jabbing his cigarette at us as we pass by, he demands that we direct our thoughts to the quotation inscribed in the wall next to him (fig.3). These words from his proposed preface to Animal Farm are a rallying cry for the idea of free speech in an open society’.

The runners up were Nigel Boonham FRBS for his authoritative bronze statue of Dr Martin Luther King Jr at King’s Quad, Newcastle University and Gillian Wearing’s inspiring bronze figure of the suffragist, Millicent Garrett Fawcett, the first public sculpture of a woman in Parliament Square, Westminster.

The PMSA Marsh Award for Excellence in Public Fountains went to Spanish sculptor, Cristina Iglesias for a captivating metaphorical work, Forgotten Streams (fig.4). This water sculpture outside Bloomberg’s new European Headquarters in EC4, references London’s lost rivers and particularly evokes the ancient Roman Walbrook watercourse. Bloomberg’s new Foster and Partners building stands on the site of the Roman temple of Mithras, which was located on the east bank of the Walbrook river, which over the ages has become buried beneath the city. Iglesias explained that in this work she uses water ‘as a material that works with time and movement creating sequences that affect the perception of the beholder’. She has skillfully used this granite and cast bronze water sculpture to recreate a place of rest and spiritual tranquility.

Other shortlisted works in this category were Angela Conner’s Renaissance at Hatfield House, Hertfordshire and the Queen Victoria Square Fountain by the Fountain Workshop in Hull city centre.

The 2018 joint winners of the PMSAAward for Excellence in Conservation were Skillington Workshop Ltd and David Odgers Conservation, the project consultant, for their painstaking work on the Crystal Palace Park Sphinxes at Bromley, Greater London (figs.5&6). Other shortlisted works in this category were Barbara Hepworth’s The Family of Man (1970) at Yorkshire Sculpture Park conserved by Laura Davies, Lyndsey Morgan and Tessa Jackson; Peter Laszlo Peri’s The Sunbathers(1951) at the Royal Festival Hall, London conserved by Tessa Jackson, and Charles Raymond Smith, Perseus and Andromeda Fountain (1858) at Holkham Hall, Wells-next-the Sea conserved by Ian J M Cable Architectural Design (Design Consultant), Miles Water Engineering Ltd, Messenger Conservation and Holkham Estate (Project Management).

The three awards were presented by Iwona Blazwick OBE, Director of the Whitechapel Art Gallery, who also gave the keynote talk ‘Beneath the Pavement, the Beach!’, exploring a new approach to public sculpture and referring to recent examples in the City of London.

Jolyon Drury retired as Chairman of the PMSA’s Marsh Awards at the beginning of 2018. The PMSA would like to record their gratitude to him for introducing additional judging criteria and for his diligence in maintaining the excellent standards of the awards. Keir McGuinness, PMSAVice-Chair and former Turner prize judge, has been appointed the new Chairman.

Aurora Corio