Not every artist’s story follows a ‘normal’ path, and that is the case with artist Steve Williams. Glastonbury, world famous and UK’s biggest festival, is where Steve’s art career all began. And now, 3 years later, he has a solo exhibition of his sculptures and photography work at Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery!
We first met Steve at our ‘In Manchester’ exhibition where we displayed three of his sculptures. Now, only a few months on, he has a solo exhibition named ‘Stone’ showcasing 20+ pieces! ‘Faces and Forms’ is how Steve sums up this exhibition, but there is so much more. I got the chance to meet with Steve and he talked me through his work and his inspirations. When he first secured the exhibition with the gallery, it was supposed to be an exhibition of Street Photography, photography being one of Steve’s other passions that he used to do to keep his toes dipped in creativity. But whilst at Glastonbury festival in 2017 he went to the Stone Mason’s Arms in the Craft field, where he found some carving stones and a bunch of carving tools. The staff there guided Steve on how to get going, and he sat and chipped away at the block. He chipped in time with the music, almost in a meditative-type, trance-like state. And 7 hours later, he had finished! This was where his journey into sculpture all began.
As you enter the exhibition at Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery, you can see all of Steve’s pieces and clearly see the relationships between the sculptures, and how Steve created one from the next. Let’s start by talking about the ‘form’ side of his work. Here you’ll see that these pieces have a clear link to natural and organic forms. I am drawn to the ‘Erosion’ pieces, one of which, named ‘Erosion 1’, we had in the ‘In Manchester’ exhibition. Whilst at our exhibition, I liked to listen to people’s reactions to the work. Someone mentioned how it looked like a seashell, this is what Steve based this series of sculptures on – the forms you find at sea. However, it isn’t just any sea, Steve and his family have their very own ‘happy place’. They have been going on holiday to Crete for many many years now, and it always creates happy memories and creates new inspiration for Steve.
The sea theme is also present in his photography pieces which decorates the walls of the exhibition space. Each image is a photo of the shoreline from Steve’s ‘happy place’. They are blown-up, detailed shots of the water and rocks and stones underneath. What really stands out to me are the white reflection lines created by the sunshine on the water. Blown up in these images, they look as though someone has drawn over the photo in a white fine-liner, adding these flicks and squiggles of detail. Once I saw the lines in such a way, I could no longer see them as sunlight reflections. Each photo carries different details of the sea, some more in detail, some slightly out of focus creating an almost jelly-like image, each with a different colour palette. These colours and soft forms link back directly to Steve’s sculptures, complimenting them perfectly but also standing out as their own works of art too.
Speaking of the sea, one of the stand-out pieces for me is ‘Whale’. This sculpture, which is an abstract shape, giving the suggestion of a Blue Whale, is both beautiful in its design and in its colouring as well. Steve has done this stone justice in the way he has carved into it, letting the stone’s textures and patterns speak for themselves. Made from Purbeck Blue Marble, the detail in the stone is incredible, it reminded me of Gustav Klimt’s work, with gold flickers shining through. Steve said he wanted to create the ‘essence of the Whale through the simplest shape and form.’ When he collected this stone from a quarry, he felt the heaviness and the colour reminded him of a whale, yet this piece, he said, was harder to create than any of his face sculptures. I imagine this may be true with a lot of abstract or suggestive work. A face has commonalities, the same features we all recognise. You know when you have finished carving an eye, or a nose or a mouth for example. Yet with something like this, wanting to create a shape of a whale without physically carving a whale, that is for Steve to know when it is complete, when he has done enough and not taken it too far. That, as I imagine a lot of artists out there experience, is one of the hardest decisions to make – when to stop.
This leads me nicely on to Steve Williams’ face sculptures. The series that stood out to me were his homage pieces to sculptor Emily Young. Steve used to work in London, in broadband of all things, and he used to pass some Emily Young sculptures as he got off the underground. He always admired the work and felt inspired by them. Here in the exhibition, there are three sculptures dedicated to Emily. The favourite for me is ‘Emily III’. Steve says he tried to create that feeling of when you are on holiday, and the sun hits the skin on your face. You have just sat on the beach, and you are super chilled and the warm sunlight beams down over you. Man, I miss that feeling! The way this piece is displayed in the gallery helps to evoke that memory too. The sculpture is slightly looking up and the spotlight shines down over it. It creates such a calming and relaxing emotion, it really does remind you of being on holiday. Another sculpture that links back to Steve’s ‘happy place.’
It occurred to me that whilst I was chatting to Steve, he referred to himself as an amateur artist. I think, and I said this to him, he can now call himself a professional. Although he has only been making his art for a few years, and didn’t study art in education, he is here now, with a solo exhibition in a lovely gallery, displaying his incredible work. I think he, and all of us sometimes, need to take a step back and appreciate how hard we have worked and how far we have come. This is a really great exhibition and one of an artist who is truly finding (or perhaps found) his signature and his passion. Keep going Steve!
You can see ‘Stone’ by Steve Williams at Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery from 24th July – 17th September. At the exhibition you can scan a QR code that will take you to Steve’s website where you can find all the works and prices of the items too.