Let there be life
Bollington artist Jane Robbins takes inert materials and brings them to vibrant life through her very touch, gifting the joy of physical memory to her clients. Cheshire Life: November 2018
In times gone by a portrait, whether painted or sculpted, was very much the sole purview of those with wealth and an elevated perspective of their place in the world. Then photography happened, and suddenly everybody could acquire a visual memento of a life. Portraits formed in paint or bronze became relatively rare, even among those whose staircases were lined with them. Having met Jane Robbins and seen her work, I can only feel that this is a huge shame, but I also feel considerable joy in my discovery of what is possible when one looks a little further.
‘I describe my work as traditional, but with a contemporary twist,’ says Jane. ‘I work with bronze, but often add a modern medium such as resin to enhance the final finish. A small girl may hold coloured balloons, for example, or a bronze bust might sit on a transparent polished plinth. As well as bronze I work in stone, resin and clay. What this all means for the client is that the cost of a sculpture can be surprisingly good!’
In between major, public commissions such as her recent sculpture of Emmeline Pankhurst for The Pankhurst Centre in Manchester or the bust of Ken Dodd, commissioned by his wife Lady Anne Dodd to sit in the Reading Room in Liverpool Library, Jane works on private commissions and pieces that spring from her own imagination.
‘I work with Northern Makes gallery in Bollington, where they specialise in contemporary paintings, sculpture and ceramics. My gallery work includes nudes, hand and balloon sculptures and a series of dancing, shall we say ‘comfortably sized’ ladies. Sometimes in bronze but mostly in resin. A recent development has mixed marble dust or bronze dust into resin, to create something that looks just like the real thing, but weighs and costs like resin.
‘I have just completed a sculpture of a cat for a lady some distance away, who has managed the whole process via email. I’ve also been working on an increasing number of briefs from Romania, for busts of departed loved ones that will be encased in a clear window within a grave stone. One interesting commission was for a bronze moon-gazing hare, with a removable head, in which ashes will be stored and the hare then placed in the garden.’
Not all of Jane’s work is ‘in memoriam’, as it were. She has worked on bronzes of children, adults and animals that are still very much in their families’ arms.
‘I think that to create a sculpture of a child, to capture them in that moment of life, is a beautiful thing. Unlike a photo, in sculpture you can actually bring something of their character to the piece and then it’s held forever in place. It’s tactile, people love to hold and touch them – and it’s a real talking point too!’
Jane would love, she says, to help people feel that sculpture is totally accessible.
‘It’s not an egotistical thing,’ she says. ‘A contemporary style overcomes all of that. And then people say, “oh bronze, I can’t afford it,” but there are so many different mediums in which I work that this simply isn’t true any more. With media such as clay or resin you can have multiple pieces made from the same cast, and every member of the family can have one.
‘People can come and see me in my studio or we can work remotely. Customers are always surprised at just how easy it all is.’