Birth Of A Foal — Enzo Plazzotta Sculpture

London Newspaper Group — 06/13/20-06-1980


Report by Christopher Long

This series of photo features followed the process of the creation of a bronze sculpture of a foal in the studio of Enzo Plazzotta – a good friend for several years until his death.

By Christopher Long

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This strange-looking tangle of steel armatures and welded tubes may not be a 'thing of beauty and a joy for ever' as it stands now, but Chelsea sculptor Enzo Plazzotta will be showing News readers how he transforms this skeleton into a life-size study of a young foal in a series of pictures over the next few weeks.

The 700lb bronze foal has been commissioned by an American collector from Oyster Bay, Long Island, and will probably take Mr Plazzota about four or five weeks work as he models the clay prior to making a mould of the finished work and casting it in bronze.

"The present stage is absolutely vital," he explained at his Cathcart Road studio. "We have to be absolutely certain that these armatures and the basic 'skeleton' are correctly proportioned, because as soon as I start to put clay on it, it is too late to alter the frame".

In fact it took Mark and David, Mr Plazzota's assistants, several days to finish the basic assembly, based on illustrations in a French book about horses.

Horses are among Enzo Plazzota's favourite subjects, although he is probably better known for his many nude studies and for portraits of dancers such as Anthony Dowell, Margot Fonteyn, David Wall, Merle Park, Antoinette Sibley and Nureyev, as well as a recently admired series of portraits of the actor Robert Powell.

Now that his assistants have completed the basic framework and covered it with chicken wire, the next stage will be to put on the clay ready for modelling.

Birth of a foal illustrates costly sculpture processes

The 'birth' of a Chelsea foal was nearing completion when this picture of sculptor Enzo Plazzotta was taken at his Cathcart Road studios.

"I'm really quite pleased with it now," said Mr Plazzotta as he made the finishing touches to the life-size clay model which, after three weeks' work, was soon to vanish under layers of carefully applied plaster prior to being cased in bronze for delivery to an American collector.

"There have been problems working on this scale compared with the much smaller foal I did some time ago. I'm still not sure, for example, what I am going to do about the eyes which are always fundamental to giving life to a sculpture."

"Normally one tends to dig deep into the eye to give an impression of a dark pupil, but on this scale I shall have to experiment."

Which he can afford to do because the clay is kept moist throughout, allowing him to make constant changes and improvements.

The small, feathery lines which cover the foal's body are also vital, he says, adding to the sense of movement and complementing the shape, texture and lines of the animal.

Soon, however, the plasterers arrived, dividing the foal's body up into sections of manageable size for casting. These sections are delineated by strips off metal pushed at right angles into the clay, projecting about half an inch from the surface so that the plaster mould of one half of a leg, for example, can be lifted off, giving a perfect negative impression on the outside. These sections can then be reassembled to produce a hollow mould which is filled again with plaster (which doesn't stick to the outer casing) and which leaves a finished duplicate of the original clay model.

From there, the casting process is undertaken by a foundry specialising in bronze sculpture, using the 'lost wax' technique for more detailed parts of the animal such as the tail.

"People sometimes wonder why sculptures are expensive to produce," said Mr Plazzotta with a wry smile. "There's quite a lot involved as you can see!"

And not made easier by some of the foundries, it seems. In a moment of rare pique, the sculptor lashed out at the inefficiency and expense of the foundries.

"See that casting over there?" he said, pointing to a vast 'Hand of Christ' with a nail embedded in it. "Three times I've sent that back for exactly the same mistake!"

They keep chipping off Christ's finger-nails.

Captions to original illustrations:

1. The basic outline of the foal emerges as studio assistants build a steel framework of armatures which will be strong enough to withstand the weight of the wet clay which will eventually form the basis of the casting.

2. Enzo Plazzotta

3. The very recognisable form of a foal begins to emerge modelled in clay, at the studio of Chelsea artist Enzo Plazzotta in Cathcart Road, West Brompton.
The life-size foal, specially commissioned by an American collector, began life a tangle of wire, tubes and armatures before Mr Plazzotta and his assistants covered the basic framework with clay. Eventually, the finished model will be cast in bronze from a plaster mould.
But at this early stage there are already a lot of improvements and experiments to be made before he is satisfied with the result.
"One problem is that I am working from a much smaller bronze which I did some time ago and not all the techniques can be adapted to a larger-scale version," he said.
"For example, I'm still not certain how I'm going to work the tail and mane so that the hair looks realistic. Also, as you can see from the photograph, I'm going to have to do a lot more work on the line of the belly and the chest - the chest is really too prominent at the moment!"
And as he modelled and talked, news came over the radio of a man who had anaesthetised an elephant in Africa and quickly made a plaster cast of it before it came round. "It would be a lot less work to do it that way," Mr Plazzotta agreed with a grin, "but not really quite the same thing, is it!"

4. ... and modelling a model, Jane Hargrave, for a study which Enzo Plazzotta (right) was particularly pleased with. Here, it's the line of her mouth rather than anything else which is occupying his attention!

5. Enzo Plazzotta puts the finishing touches to the clay model of a foal at his Chelsea studio.

6. The clay model is cut up and a plaster cast of each section taken.

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© (1980) Christopher Long. Copyright, Syndication & All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
The text and graphical content of this and linked documents are the copyright of their author and or creator and site designer, Christopher Long, unless otherwise stated. No publication, reproduction or exploitation of this material may be made in any form prior to clear written agreement of terms with the author or his agents.

Christopher Long

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