Our series of photographic portraits by Neill Menneer shows Bath people at work.
Alan Dun, Sculptor
Originally from Bristol, I first explored Bath and the surrounding countryside as a teenager on my road bike. Cycling gave me a taste of freedom, second only in importance to making things. Making things turned into making sculpture, and this a lifelong entanglement. Some of these early rides made me feel a connection to history, to Roman Bath and to Avebury’s neolithic landscapes, and all this has been an enduring inspiration in my sculptural toolbox. As well as being an exhilarating sport, cycling introduced me to the value of meeting new people and exploring new ideas. Those early visits were to a stone-blackened city, buildings stained by centuries of coal fires. It was full of whispers of past lives, but was also emerging into the late 1960s. Old values were being challenged, and a cultural rebellion was in full swing. I saw a sculpture show at Widcombe Manor that included cutting-edge work by sculptors such as Anthony Caro, whose work I still admire. And a festival concert was headlined by Led Zeppelin – we all loved it, but I’m not sure residents knew what had hit them.
Seeking the anarchic energy of the capital, I studied fine art at Chelsea School of Art in London and stayed for a further 30 years before moving to the Limpley Stoke valley. The Kennet and Avon connects my interest in history and landscape. For a commission to design the canal’s 200th anniversary memorial in Bath, I created a large cast-iron sundial that marks the passage of time and alludes to the industrial age.
While my enthusiasm for cycling endures, my speed has declined. When asked to sculpt a sport during the 2012 Olympics, I chose track cycling. Trying to express the power and exhilaration of the race in bronze, I twisted a tyre into a strip of velodrome with two cyclists – part-human, part-machine.
I feel lucky to live in Bath, a beautiful city with a proud Roman history. The Roman sculptors had incredible technical mastery. I think it’s important not to slip into nostalgia. I’m currently making a series of bronze sculptures inspired by the innovative, microtonal music of Georg Friedrich Haas. We are now seeing the impact of digital technologies on the world of design. In the 1980s I established a company fusing art and technology, so enjoy the work of Bath University’s ICIA, which often presents artists or performers working with, or inspired by, new science.
Recently I’ve sculpted the owl for the Minerva’s Owls of Bath art trail – and I have been lucky enough to sculpt all Bath’s public art trails. The owl references Roman sculpture in homage to Aqua Sulis’s goddess, Minerva, and is a Little Owl (Athene Noctua), Minerva’s symbol – a characterful species whose UK population is declining due to loss of feeding habitats. My wife works for Bath conservation charity, Rainforest Concern, so I am increasingly aware of the fragility of our natural world and the need to protect it. I hope Minerva’s Owls raises funds and awareness for all the charities it is supporting, including the Little Owl Project, and the pioneering new RUH Cancer Centre.
At its best, art, like science, can be utopian – it can look outward, explore the world and imagine how to make it better.
PORTRAIT: Neill Menneer at Spirit Photographic. Visit: capturethespirit.co.uk, tel: 01225 483151