ALFRED RUSSEL WALLACE
This was a fascinating project because of the
remarkable personality of Wallace himself. Quite apart from his
groundbreaking work on evolutionary theory, he was a polymath of
Renaissance proportions who achieved his extraordinary eminence in spite
of disadvantaged beginnings, having to leave school early because of
family financial difficulties. If this sculpture encourages people to
take a closer look at the man it will have been a success. I would
heartily recommend Wallace’s autobiography “My Life” as well as his more
famous “Malay Archipelago” which deals with the period when his ideas on
evolution came to him.
Producing a sculpture of someone from the past is akin to writing a historical novel. In order to produce anything other than the blandest of portraits, you have to try to get inside the person, to understand and empathize– and then produce something which expresses both the personality and its historical context.
One of the most
fascinating historical issues relating to Wallace was that he developed his ideas on natural selection at much
the same time as Darwin, but independently of him. Like most (indeed,
perhaps all) amazing discoveries, however, their work did not come out
of a vacuum, and with hindsight, we can see how the time was ripe for
them –which is in no way to disparage their tremendous achievement. In
my sculpture, Wallace is reaching out for a bird of paradise, a creature
which fascinated him and of which he collected many specimens to send
back to England. But it seemed to me that the bird with which he was
preoccupied at the time of his discovery could also be seen as symbolic
of his ideas on evolution, which were, as it were “in the air” and ready
to be plucked from it by someone with remarkable perceptive capacity.
And that idea has had the happy consequence of enabling me to develop a
design in which the relation
between man and bird allows for an interrelation of form which I could
not have achieved simply by portraiture.
sculpture also had special resonance for me personally. Like Wallace, I
attended Hertford Grammar School, where my artistic abilities were
encouraged and helped under the tutelage of Oscar Chapman, a truly
remarkable art teacher. The school was a wonderful establishment, and a dictum of the then head of the
history department, George Duckworth, could well be applied to Wallace –
“you can’t keep a good man down”.
It was therefore a very great pleasure for me that the school
(now Richard Hale) was represented at the unveiling both by its band and
its headmaster. It was also a pleasure to give back something to the town which gave so much to me in my developing years.