Liverpool - The City of Sculpture

PUBLISHED: 17:37 08 August 2011 | UPDATED: 19:50 20 February 2013

Liverpool - The City of Sculpture

Liverpool - The City of Sculpture

This year marks a special anniversary for one of Liverpool's most iconic landmarks but the Liver Birds are just a small part of the city's sculptural heritage

From their perch high above Liverpools waterfront they have overseen a century of change. Since they were installed on the clock towers above the Royal Liver Building 100 years ago the Liver Birds have become
symbols of the city, their image recognised across the world as an instant shorthand for Liverpool.

Local legend has it that the liver was a mythical bird which once patrolled the shoreline. The famous sculptures - one male, one female - are supposed to protect the city, she gazes out to sea watching for the mariners safe return while he keeps watch over the city, looking out for the families of the seamen.

But while they may be the most internationally famous, the Liver Birds are far from being the citys only iconic sculptures. Liverpool has an immense wealth of public art; in its streets, its churches and on public buildings, almost every vista contains at least one example of sculpture, grand or small, traditional or contemporary.

From the statues of Victorian gentlemen with their straight backs and mutton chop whiskers to the bronze celebrations of John Lennon and Billy Fury and the brightly coloured superlambanana, youre never far away from a sculpture of some kind in Liverpool.

Robin Riley knows more than most about Liverpools heritage of sculpture.

A sculptor himself for more than 50 years, a former art teacher, local historian and member of several preservation societies around the city he is arguably the leading authority on Liverpools public artwork.

The quality of some of these art works is such that if they were stuck inside a museum people would flock to see them, the 77-year-old said. But because its in the street people walk past it and it gets taken for granted.

Many of Liverpools sculptures, statues and pieces of public art date back to the 19th century, a period of major growth for the city and increasing wealth for its leading figures.

The wealthy city elders wanted the best, said Robin. They didnt look to local sculptors, they employed the best in the land. Liverpool people decided they were second to none and there was a certain matter of pride and not wanting to be outdone by anyone, in whatever it was - ship design, buildings or art works.

All the great buildings were designed by the top people. Even with the cathedrals that tradition went on. The history of the citys buildings is terribly important and the pride of Liverpool plays a big part in it.

Robins impressive Georgian house, once also home to his friend Beryl Bainbridge, overlooks the cathedral and is packed with examples of his own artworks - a pain to dust, according to his wife Linda.

Robin, a trustee of the Liverpool Architecture and Design Trust, has work around Liverpool, including the Hod Carrier in the museum of Liverpool and has created series of guides to the sculptures around the citys world
heritage site.

I have been involved in sculpture since I was 23. I was commissioned to do an awful lot of work in buildings around Liverpool, churches, schools... but I am a very minor figure in terms of sculpture and Im not interested in what people think of my work. If I see a piece of mine in situ, I only see the mistakes.

The standard of some pieces around Liverpool is staggering, Robin added. I know people who have come from Europe just to look at the monuments and breath-taking buildings in Liverpool.

With sculpture its not just a question of seeing it, you need to go a lot further. Its like reading a detective novel, realising what has been left out is as important was what is included. You need that prior knowledge to be able to know what you are looking for. You have to give a lot to it before it gives to you.

There is still stuff happening in Liverpool at a surprising rate while there is a dearth in many other areas of Lancashire. Theyre not all loved immediately - everyone hated the superlambanana at first but eventually realised that children loved it and the city has now taken it to their heart. I cant explain why people here take things on board so readily.

And across the city, in a modest mid-terrace house on an estate near the M58, Pauline Hughes agrees. The whole city is dominated by the Liver Birds and there are some amazing pieces around the city, she said. Even modern pieces like the superlambanana have become iconic.

For the last 20 years Pauline has been creating characterful sculptures in the front bedroom of the home where her grandparents used to live.

Most of Paulines early work was in ceramics but after four months of work was smashed in an accident, she now works in bronze. Being in bronze adds to the weight of them, the solidity of them and gives them a timeless quality, like so many of the pieces around the city.

I often wonder how my bronzes would look on a monumental scale.
I try to achieve that on a small scale.

I like people to live with my work, to see it every day and for it to be a part of their lives.

The figure has always been central to my work, and to western art in general, and its nice to put my own stamp on it. It is a complex form but I like simple things and things with a lot of clarity and thats the challenge for me, to reduce the complex form to its most important parts. I like to exaggerate some features and not create a true likeness.

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