Waves of Compassion was commissioned by Brighton and Hove City Council working with the Norfolk Square Gardens group, who have worked tirelessly to transform Norfolk Square from a run down space which people didn’t want to go to into a beautiful and much loved community garden in the centre of town. The City Parks team kindly made three historic cast iron “dolphins” available to be repurposed. These had been languishing in a yard at Stanmer Park since the Victoria Fountain at The Old Steine was re-made by Dorothea Ltd in 1995.The “dolphins” are the original castings from 1846, which had deteriorated to a point where they could no longer support the weight of the fountain which fits on top. However they were in themselves substantially intact. The fountain was originally commissioned to celebrate Queen Victoria’s twenty seventh birthday. In researching the history I found that these “dolphins” which were carved by Brighton sculptor William Pepper, were based on an old Dutch painting of Jonah and the Whale by Pieter Lastman dating from 1621. Lastman is an important Dutch artist, in part because Rembrandt was one of his pupils. The similarities of the expression, the eyes, the lateral fins, and the crest/fin running along the fish’s back are strikingly similar to Pepper’s modelling, and the overall swirl of movement in the body is similar also.
The project evolved from the primary desire to restore and preserve these historic castings, and then safely present them in a place where people can get up close and touch them. Secondary to that was the opportunity to create a new, less massive artwork which fits onto the top where the fountain originally sat, without damaging anything. I was fascinated by the juxtaposition of the Jonah story and the Queen Victoria story so I came up with a wave form upon which four interchangeable shipwrecks sit, one at a time. The idea is that the Gardens Group can swap the shipwrecks over with the change of the four seasons, each time giving the sculpture a different meaning.
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