Chelsea Flower Show is less than a week away – just about time to introduce our final artist who will be exhibiting in the Artisan Area this year. We chat to Charlie Whinney of Charlie Whinney Studio, sculptor who explores the relationships between materials, people and the environment.
HAVE YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO BE AN ARTIST?
Not at all – I have always wanted to create things and make things better, but it is only in the last few years that ‘eco-design projects’ have become fully conceptual fine art.
I really enjoy being able to explore issues surrounding the environment and how we change it, both practically with useful design interventions and conceptually – and the two sides enrich each other.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR WORK?
It is mostly wood; we cut down selected trees from the sustainably managed forest next to my workshop and transform it into beautiful and useful things. In the studio we also teach people to steam-bend wood and sometimes do design-only work for other clients – every week is different.
WHERE DO YOU WORK AND HOW DOES THIS SPACE FEED INTO YOUR WORK?
There is quite a range, we have done corporate and public art commissions in Japan, Singapore, China, Europe and the USA. These projects result in a lot of time spent abroad and learning how different cultures work in different ways – it has changed my approach and attitude a lot. I try to let the space and how people will move in the space inform the design.
Recent community projects closer to home have changed everything again; I try to collaborate with non-makers and local people too, so they have some aspect of ownership over the work.
WHAT INSPIRES YOUR DESIGN?
Everything. The work feeds off previous projects, it’s also informed by the particular character and potential of the tree we are using and above all, the individual brief for each project.
WHAT PIECE HAS BEEN THE MOST FUN TO CREATE SO FAR?
It is always the last one! I spent a brilliant day at Sugar House Studio, Bermondsey this month and made 45 pots and lampshades with members of the public – that was super fun!
WHAT ARE YOUR HOPES FOR CHELSEA FLOWER SHOW THIS YEAR?
No big ideas as yet, let’s see what happens! I was here ten years ago, doing a big sculpture for Andy Sturgeon. It is really nice to back, it’s totally different and definitely less stressful this time… I feel really lucky to be involved with the Artisan Studios.
I am thinking of taking on some easier-to-make work, like flower-beds and planters which I can get my team to make without me being there as much – this will allow us to get prices down a bit and provide more regular employment, so if we got some sculptural architectural commissions that would be brilliant.
Equally I am always up for new projects, especially things we have not done before!