Messenger, depicting “a young, powerful woman”, will be unveiled next year in front of the Theatre Royal Plymouth, which commissioned Joseph Hillier to create the work. It is now being cast at a foundry in a tiny Welsh village, using the ancient technique of lost wax casting.
Hillier was inspired by the split-second pose of an actor rehearsing for Othello on the theatre’s stage.
The sculpture, spanning seven metres high and nine metres wide, is too large to be put together inside the foundry. It is being made in sections and once its 200 bronze panels are complete, 30 master craftsmen and women will weld them together.
Hillier said the piece will be the largest bronze sculpture in the UK by volume – at 25.6 metres cubed and will weigh nine and a half tonnes. “It’s a really big piece. If I lay on the floor I’m the size of one of the feet,” the Cornish-born sculptor said. But, despite this, “the pose is very small. She’s like a coiled spring… ”
Talking about how he saw the completed legs section for the first time, he said: “As I approached the piece in a valley in Wales, in this foundry, I was taken aback because I wasn’t quite expecting to see the scale. But she still had this lightness. She felt light on her feet. Sometimes when you make things on a really large scale they become heavy and earth-bound, so I was really pleased to still get that sensation.”
Visitors will be able to walk under Messenger’s body “into the theatre, like an archway”.
“There have been people inside the sculpture for months, wielding it,” Hillier said. “I’m incredibly grateful for the work that so many people have put into it." He said of its unveiling next year: “The piece will be put together in parts and hopefully we can bring it into the city centre in one piece. If possible we’ll do that, but it’s a very difficult thing."
He said of the work: “It’s a young powerful woman, a potent force, about to transform the world by her actions… It’s a metaphor for what great theatre does.”
Messenger, which began in the form of 3D-scans taken from an actor, is being cast at the Castle Fine Arts Foundry in Llanrhaeadr-Ym-Mochnant. It will be installed as part of Theatre Royal Plymouth’s £7.5 million regeneration project.
Theatre chief executive Adrian Vinken described the work as “mind blowing”. It commissioned the sculpture as a celebration of Plymouth “at the heart of the arts and culture scene in the South West” saying “the sculpture is a monument to the creativity of theatre”.
“We always knew we wanted this piece to have scale and impact but it’s only when you come here and see a small section of it and feel the excitement and pride from those working on it, when it starts to really dawn just want a big undertaking the project is and how many people are involved in bringing it into reality,” he said.