William Pye Water Scupture

The Financial Times, 19th May 2004

With more of his work to be seen in public in London than that of any other modern British sculptor, to say nothing of his many commissions for public buildings, civic spaces and parks and private gardens, William Pye must be as familiar as any artist.

His monumental Zemran, of shiny stainless steel became a landmark from the moment it was set up on the South Bank in 1971. Travellers passing through Gatwick airport's north terminal have for years been reassured by his twin cones, Slipstream and Jetstream, superstitiously tossing a coin into the water that streams from them.

Yet even now, in his mid 60s, he remains unfamiliar despite his professional success and the respect of his peers. While much younger sculptors have been elected to the Royal Academy, which he has long supported, he remains outside.

This is at least partly of his own doing. After his emergence from the Royal College in the early 1960s and the run of solo shows in the mid 1970s, he withdrew from his gallery, the Redfern, feeling it necessary to represent himself. Commission was following commission and it was no longer possible to produce the work - individual items and smaller in scale -appropriate to the gallery event. The consequence was that he seemed almost to disappear from the gallery-going art world. He lists two retrospectives in Who's Who - one at Winchester in 1979 and in Hong Kong in 1987 - and I remember another at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in 1978. And that, until now, has largely been it.

However, in all this time he has proved himself to be an artist not just of quality but also of true originality and lasting technical influence. It is his incorporation of water into his sculpture not just as a decorative additional feature but also as a material substance to be manipulated, modelled and controlled that his importance lies. It has been Pye who, through mastery of such arcana as surface tensions, rates of flow, shifts of character across different surfaces, qualities of drip, reflection, force and direction, has demonstrated what can be done with water.

He has always been intrigued by qualities of reflection moderated by particular circumstance and material but his fixation with running water really began in the early 1980s, when, in torrential rain, he noticed the rhythmical ripple effect of the flow across and down a steep and flooded road in Wales. This led directly to the Gatwick cones, which exploit that effect. But perhaps his most spectacular and adventurous piece, which in its visible aspect was of nothing else but water, was the Water Wall and Portico he made for the British Pavilion at the Seville Expo of 1992.

Since then, his work has continued to develop, with the considered formal statements marching hand in hand with technical experiment and investigation, often engaged with a certain glee.