StrayArt with Johnny Messum: The significance of bronze


Last updated Oct 18, 2020

StrayArt is a monthly column written by Johnny Messum, Director and Founder of art gallery and centre, Messum’s Wiltshire, London and Harrogate.  Johnny’s passion is for contemporary art and sculpture.

Each month he will look at art, exhibitions and events across Yorkshire and sometimes further afield with the aim of guiding and inspiring us.


It is a challenge to feel clear about the immediate future. We have new structures to adhere to, I have visors supplied for my team in the car, along with the NHS track and trace QR code to go in the window.

What should have been alongside me instead, was the formidable British sculptor, Bridget McCrum, whose family, the Bains, hail from Leeds. Now in her late eighties she was planning to come to the opening of her show in James Street.

Along the way I had imagined us discussing sculpture in the landscape, something that is taking on added dimensions, not least because it is one of the few places where we can safely view art without PPE, but also because it is, in itself, interesting and complex.

Amongst the myriad attractions of Yorkshire, the landscape has to rank amongst the highest. It is a daunting partner to duet with as a sculptor. There is nowhere this subject is more comprehensively demonstrated than at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, where I went to see the work of a friend, Sean Henry, and of an artist I am showing in London, Jorgen Haugen Sorensen.

Set into the landscape there, each work takes its cue from the ground around it. I sometimes think that of all the artists, perhaps only local boy, Henry Moore, had the swagger to meet the rolling landscape toe to toe, so to speak. His work stands resolutely chest open to the wind and wilds.

A stunning life-size sculpture ‘Seated Figure’ by Sean Henry at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Above picture and featured image credit: Jonty Wilde curtesy of YSP.

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The rule of thumb in placing sculpture in the landscape is one of scale and context. Seldom best placed in wide open spaces, they often prefer the same locations humans do, close to the house, in glades between shrubs or woodland corpses. This is seen well in the locations chosen in the Himalayan Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grewelthorpe, near Ripon, which is open to the public until November 1, 2020.

Utopia: A stunning vista of the Himalayan Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grewelthorpe.

Sculptures placed outside really come into their own in the autumn. They become the key focus until the verdant spring surges forward once more. It is the perfect time to head into the open air as the greenery falls away and the landscape itself becomes more architectural.

Do be careful though with the choice of materials; the weather does not spare sculptures any more than other objects, so stones need to be wrapped if it gets cold and on a hot afternoon rub beeswax into the exposed bronzes. Perhaps the artist who most willingly accepted the ravages of time is Cheshire-born artist, Andy Goldsworthy, whose work picks up and changes with the rhythms of the seasons.

Next time I shall be bringing the boat to harbour so to speak and talking about living with art in the house – combining old and new objects and thinking about ways of displaying artworks to their best advantage.

Messum’s Yorkshire is open from Thursday to Saturday 10am-5pm. For more information, visit the website by clicking here.


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