Brochure Introduction 1999
Employing water as a sculptural material is William Pye’s speciality. His use of it in his water sculptures is as varied and flexible as the element itself, and through his work one can only wonder at the wide range of expressive possibilities this wayward material presents. Certain predictable factors give parameters to abstract compositions: water finds its own level, it becomes solid when extremely cold, it vapourises when very hot, and between these extremes, it may be directed, pumped, dripped, poured, splashed and energised. Water may be flat, still and reflective, it may ripple and babble, or roar and crash about surfaces. Its qualities may be used to evoke mood and interest unlike any other means available to the sculptor.
Water sculptures may succeed or fail spectacularly – they are rarely indifferent. William Pye has regarded water as an expressive medium since childhood. As a boy he played in the stream at his parental home in Surrey, making dams and waterfalls, and enjoying grubbing around the edges and learning to swim in the local Cuttmill Ponds, fascinated by their calm and mysterious depths. These hammer-ponds were the source of power for medieval iron workings - an echo of another material Pye brings to his work, together with bronze, stone and stainless steel. Pye now owns Cuttmill Cottage, and uses the garden as his laboratory as much as he does his London studio.
On entering William Pye’s studio visitors would be forgiven for thinking they were in an engineering workshop. Here are pumps and taps, hoses, spouts and tanks. Structures that would look more at home in the laboratory of an eccentric scientist confront the eye, and come to life when their progenitor turns a tap or flicks a switch. It is this endless search for different ways of giving shape and form to water, for experiments in timing a water performance, of ensuring that his structures work, that has built up Pye’s extraordinary watery vocabulary. He is consequently able to articulate the mood and form appropriate to the location of a water sculpture.
As an artist who works largely to commission outside of the commercial gallery system, William Pye applies his studio/laboratory practice to particular locations. These may be as many and varied as tranquil, private gardens, city centres, woodland glades, international exhibitions, memorial fountains, open-air sculpture parks, embassy courtyards, façades of buildings, airport lounges or entrances to hospitals. Frequently these commissions are awarded as a result of competitions, but they may equally come about through Pye’s growing reputation in this area of work, and clients knowing that the results are as technically reliable as they are beautiful and apposite.
William Pye was born in London in 1938. He studied at Wimbledon School of Art (1958-61) and at the Sculpture School of the Royal College of Art (1961-65). His sculptures of the 1960s were abstract forms and showed Pye’s preference for the traditional materials of metal and stone. Highly polished geometrical works in stainless steel of the 1970s, some of which included elements of movement, reflection and the use of light led him logically to consider water as an essential part of his artistic expression. The natural world that he explores in his sculptures is interpreted through water, metal and stone, where disarmingly simple concepts become the objects of utmost sophistication.
In his long career as a sculptor, there are milestone pieces achieved when concept, design, materials and technical innovations work in harmony. In the case of commissioned works add to these the location and the creative relationship between artist and his client. Early stainless steel sculptures such as Narcissus 1969 and Quillion 1970 are lyrical expressions of form, rhythm, movement and reflection. They both herald William Pye’s move towards using stainless steel in combination with water. Like water, the reflective surface of stainless steel takes its location into the form, it is a ‘chameleon’ material, evoking a sense of belonging whilst at the same time giving back light into its surroundings. The contrast between straight and rolling forms, geometrical and organic are also preludes to everything that emerges later in Pye’s work when water is combined.